Hikers: Sheila and Nat (humans) | Nova and Willow (dogs)
Start Time: 8:00 am, Pythian Rd trail entrance
Hood Mountain Regional Park is located in Santa Rosa. This The park consists of 1,750 acres of lush wilderness, varied ecosystems in terms of flora with outstanding hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails. It is a wonderful place for birders and scenic view lovers willing to do the work to gain the best vantage point. With plenty of picnic tables to choose from, next to lovely bodies of water, this mountain offers you a variety of experiences.
Leash Laws: Dogs must be on leash at all times, in every trail. Make sure you have a current and valid dog license with you, play nice and follow the rules.
Trail Difficulty: Though there are some flatter trails and loops, the majority of Hood Mountain trails are best suited for moderate to experienced hikers in good physical condition. Hike with a buddy and please remember to pack water and snacks for you and your dog.
Other information: The park opens at 8:00 am and closes at sunset. Parking is $7 per vehicle for day use. $1 per person (vehicles with 10 or more people).
Hood Mountain has a lot to offer for both dogs and people. Our hikers that day consisted of Sheila and her 1 year-old Catahoula-Pit mix Nova. Sheila and I met while attending Trish King’s Canine Behavior Academy and have been working together every Tuesday doing behavior evaluations of shelter dogs for Sonoma Humane Society (where Willow came from). Nova is young, bright, strong-willed and very active, so hiking has been a great way to exercise, bond and train together. Sheila is all about safety, both for herself and her dogs, that’s something I love about her, and considering how petite she is and how strong Nova is, Sheila always starts out the hike by keeping Nova on a Gentle Leader; this is a head-halter for dogs, designed to be a humane and force-free way to be able to keep control and is a great tool that helps teach your dog to walk politely on-leash. It should be mentioned that it is important to desensitize a dog to a Gentle Leader, by introducing it gradually and pairing it with only good and yummy things such as stuffed Kongs, etc. and only having the dog wear it for short amounts of time. Pictured above is Sheila adjusting Nova’s Gentle Leader. After a few minutes on the trail, and once Sheila knows Nova is in “hike mode”, she removes her Gentle Leader and switches over to her front-clip harness. She switches back to the GL as needed, especially during steep downhill work, where it is crucially important for Nova not to pull.
Right off the bat, Hood Mountain starts off with an uphill climb, we headed up to the water tanks via the Lower Johnson trail. It is paved for a short distance and then you can go off to the side onto lush trail. Take your time and warm up slowly. Remember to breathe, you will be needing your energy to reach Gunsight Rock.
Pictured above is Willow on a “stay” taking a little breather on that first hill. Due to the length, challenge and overall nature of this hike, I had Willow carry a backpack (by OllyDog) with water/food bowls, snacks and poop bags. This allowed me to make room in my own pack for extra water and snacks as well.
Lower Johnson trail stretches out for quite a while, it is easy to follow and the ground is soft and padded. In the fall (pictured), the leaves form a colorful and gorgeous blanket and it has that delicious damp earth and woods smell. Take it in and remember to take your time. During this first stretch, encourage your dogs to go potty, since there are trash bins to deposit poop bags in, so you don’t have to carry those with you. For this mapped hike, we came back down the same way we went up, so if your dog happens to “go” far from a trash bin, bag it and set your baggie off to the side, just remember to pick it up on your way back down.
We reached Panorama Ranch trail after some gradual up-hill switchback work, the trees start to thin out and the terrain becomes a little more rocky. We are now on our way to Hood Mountain Summit. Along the way, you’ll see some adorable dwarf trees and Manzanitas. Remember to take breaks and get some water and a bit of food when you need it.
They don’t call it Panorama for nothing!
Off we go to the Hood Mountain Summit. This is a steep up-hill climb. Watch your step and make sure your shoes have good traction. Regardless of the time of year or the weather, loose leaves, gravel or dry earth can make this terrain slippery. It’s steep and challenging, but it will be worth it. Find your breath and go at a comfortable pace for you and your dog.
The summit, funny enough, does not really offer wide scenic views immediately, you come out to an open area with a plaque detailing Hood Mountain’s history and a good place to sit, catch your breath, get some water and refuel. Trust me, you will want to refuel. Next stop, Gunsight Rock.
The trail to Gunsight Rock overlook is narrow and down-hill. This is a great place to practice no-pull, easy walking with your dog. Slipping here can be easy, so this is important. I taught Willow an “easy” command for this type of thing. She has never been a puller, but “easy” just means to be gentle and wait till I catch up with her before moving forward. To do this, I start her in a “right here”, meaning walking by my side. If she starts moving forward a little too fast, I say “easy…” and reward her when she stops or slows down. String cheese is a good thing to have here, when I first started training her, I would just allow her to nibble on the string cheese as we slowly made our way downhill.
We reached Gunsight Rock, and be warned, the terrain here is rocky and difficult. Be careful and only go to the view point if you feel comfortable. This is the view we hiked here for. Our dogs are agile, but we did not allow them to move too close to the edge. The skies were so crazy blue that day, without a single cloud. It was hot for a fall day and we had to refuel quite a bit, but the view was worth it. Sheila told me she almost walked in on someone proposing to their girlfriend right here, she hid behind the rocks and went unnoticed. 🙂
Once we caught our breath, we turned around and came back up the same way and started making our way down via the Upper Johnson Ridge trail. This trail becomes shaded once more (thank goodness) and we were met by a field of golden leaves. It is truly gorgeous here in the fall.
Sheila and the girls pose in a blanket of gold. We followed the switchbacks and decided to take the Pond Trail, where the terrain levels out for a much appreciated flatter and more relaxed end to our hike. When the water level is high, the two ponds are something to see, lush and full of birds. A great sight for a picnic. Past the two ponds, we took the Pythian Trailhead back to Lower Johnson and the parking lot.
Every time we hike with someone, we’ll ask these same questions and share their answers with you. I hope to highlight the things we all share as hiking enthusiasts, while learning from one another and creating a caring community of like-minded people.
In Sheila’s Words:
Who are you/ who’s your canine hiking buddy? (names/ dog’s age / breed(s))
- Nova, 1 1/2yrs, Catahoula mix
- Huckleberry Finn, 8 yrs, Rottweiler mix (Huck will join us on our next hike with Sheila)
When and how did you get started hiking together?
I’ve always enjoyed hitting the trails on horseback from a young age as well as exploring nature on foot. I started hiking a lot more when I adopted Huck. We’ve had a great time exploring the dog friendly trails of Sonoma County.
Why do you like hiking with your dog/ what do (both) get out of it?
I love being alone with my thoughts (and my dog) out in nature. I am always refreshed, recharged and invigorated after being outside away from the world. I don’t just enjoy it, I need it to feel whole. Huck is free from being so hypervigilant as he is in the hustle and bustle of suburbia. He can sniff to his heart’s delight and just move. He loves finding new places to explore too. Nova is learning to enjoy hiking, She was initially very worried and would only want to go places with Huck. Now she is developing bravery and confidence and has become an excellent off leash companion.
What’s your favorite trail to hike and why?
Two of my favorite trails are Oat Hill Mine Rd trail and the hike to Gunsight Rock via Pythian Rd. Amazing views and I feel so part of the land at Gunsight. Oat Hill Mine Rd has incredible geology and makes me feel like I am in another land altogether.
Do you and your dog have any rituals while hiking? (i.e. we always pack a lunch, we sit at the top for a while etc.)
With Huck, there are very little breaks. He wants to GO. So we GO. Nova likes to take cuddle breaks along the way.
What is the one thing you would advise other dog hikers?
Don’t forget your water and hike often!
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 Hood Mountain:
from Hwy 101 N, take the CA 12 E exit toward Sonoma. Turn left onto Farmer’s Lane, turn right onto CA 12 E/4th St. Turn left onto N Pythian Rd.