Hikers: Nat (humans) | Willow (dogs)
Start Time: 7:00 am, Sheraton (Alman Marsh) trail entrance
Shollenberger Park is located in Petaluma. This 165 acre wetlands park (with 16 acres of accessible trails) includes pathways that connect through Alman Marsh and to the Ellis Creek Treatment Plant. Shollengerger has restrooms, drinking fountains, a fishing pier and has well-cared for walking/bicycle paths. The paths do get narrow in some trails and it is a wide open space with no shade, so be careful on hot days. This is a great, relaxed trail for bird-lovers.
Leash Laws: Dogs must be on leash at all times, in every trail. It is a sensitive marsh bird habitat, so please do your part in helping to protect them while keeping it a dog-friendly place. Willow has a rock-solid stay (most of which we have practiced here at this trail!), which is why you will see her alone in most of her photographs for this hike.
Shollenberger Park is a popular group of trails here in Petaluma. It is a favorite of runners, birders, cyclists and families looking for a leisurely stroll. It is a flat, gravelly trail that is a good option when you are resting the knees after a steep, strenuous hike but still want to get out in nature with your dog. I have walked all three trails together (for this hike) and when in a time-pinch, I choose one of the three for a shorter loop. It has three different entrances, all of which I have listed at the bottom of this post. For our hike on this day, we started out at the Sheraton entrance, also known as the Alman Marsh Trail.
We mapped this hike back in September, and Shollenberger, being a marshy wet land, was showing signs of the horrible drought California has been suffering. The fields were golden at this time, but when the rains come, they turn a beautiful shade of green, and mustard seed and small wildflowers take center stage. The Alman Marsh trail is narrow and will take you along the water, bypassing Rocky Memorial Dog Park in the distance and connect you to the main part of Shollenberger Park via a bridge. Quite a few companies call this area home, such as Athleta and Camelbak among others.
If you love bird-watching, this is the trail for you. Shollenberger is home to many beautiful species, from cranes to swans. Birders are a regular sight here, no matter the hour. If you have your dog with you, please be kind to the birds and keep them on leash at all times. This is a great trail to teach them to be around birds and other animals and get rewarded for ignoring them, practicing polite, loose-leash walking etc. You will encounter runners, moms with strollers and small groups of people walking together, and the trails can get narrow. The best, and politest practice (in my personal opinion) is to let them pass you while you take your dog off to the side and put him in a sit or wait command. If we are letting another dog (or dogs) pass, I take care to give them enough space to walk around us. Shollenberger has many benches along the trail, and I have taught Willow to perch on them calmly to allow people with dogs, kids, bikes or strollers pass us by while keeping her safe and out-of-the-way. Most people I have encountered there appreciate this and are careful with their dogs as well.
In Hike 2, I mentioned the benefits of teaching your dog to “perch” on things to get them safely out of the way of anything or anyone they don’t need to be in contact with. Shollenberger has been a great training trail for Willow and I, especially because of the challenges and features it offers. Here, I can trust that people will most likely respect leash laws. It is a great place to practice “stay” commands with distractions. These fields are brimming with wildlife! I’ve seen everything from birds, to gophers, snakes and jack rabbits, so don’t forget your treats, a trusty leash and definitely bring water if you are going on a warm day. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the best and most useful training tricks you can teach your dog on the trail.
The best time to visit the park in my opinion, is at off-peak hours: first thing in the morning, 10:00 a.m. area before the noon lunch break or at sunset. I tend to prefer mornings to avoid the mosquitoes that tend to hang around at dusk.
My favorite part of the park is (ironically) closest to Ellis Creek Water Plant. Call me silly, but I like the gravel better, and as a trail, it is a little quieter and less crowded, even at peak hours. The trail is also wider, which is great especially if your dog needs a little more space from others. This trail wraps around a pond frequented by a plethora of water birds, from ducks to swans. You’ll often see people photographing birds here; if you have your dog with you, be kind and give them enough space so the birds don’t get spooked and their photo ends up being ruined :).
Keep your eyes on the sky during this portion of the trail and you’re bound to see a bird of prey or two, such as owls, vultures, hawks or falcons.
Whether you go for a run by yourself or with your dog, you take a stroll to catch up with a friend or you simply take some time to yourself to sit on one of Shollenberger’s many dedicated park benches to watch the birds, this place has a lot to offer, and it is definitely one of my regulars. I hope it will stay protected and open for people to enjoy with their families (dogs included).
See you next time hikers! Hope to see you on the trail. Be safe and be kind to others and help keep our trails enjoyable and protected.
Nat + Willow
Directions to Shollenberger:
Sheraton (Alman Marsh) entrance: Past 2090 on Marina Ave., Petaluma, CA 94954. The trail head is at the far back corner of the Sheraton parking lot, behind the hotel at the end of Marina Avenue.
Shollenberger entrance: Shollenberger Park Road, Petaluma CA 94954, at the corner of South McDowell Blvd ext.
Ellis Creek entrance: Access to the trail is just past 3880 Cypress Drive, at the corner where Cypress curves to the left.