shop   |   eNews   |   find a trail Better Business Bureau Accredited Charity
Russian River Valley wine country, Calif. © Rails-to-Trails ConservancyThe trails are a paradise for families © Sonoma County Regional Parks
Share this page:

Trail of the Month: November 2009
California's West County and Joe Rodota Trails

The fall grape harvest may be over, and most leaves will already be scattered on the ground, but late autumn in California's Sonoma County is hardly a time when outdoors activity freezes. Some locals might gripe about daytime temperatures that occasionally dip into the 50s, yet the countryside remains a temperate treasure for rail-trail lovers almost year-round. So squeeze a little more flavor from the season and head about an hour north of San Francisco to explore a pair of pathways in the Russian River Valley: the West County and Joe Rodota trails.

The two rail-trails—really two legs of the same continuous trail—share a Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway corridor between Santa Rosa and Forestville. They come together in the town of Sebastopol to form a paved, 13-mile "V."

Sebastopol does more than hinge the pathways. It marks a transition between two distinct trail personalities—backyards and businesses on the urbanized Joe Rodota, and then vineyards and ranches on the more rustic West County.

If you start in Santa Rosa on the Joe Rodota Trail, you'll head southwest for eight miles toward Sebastopol. This segment is highly residential and seamlessly plugged into the neighborhoods it passes. "It provides a transportation corridor for a lot of residents," says Ken Tam, a park planner with the Sonoma County Regional Parks Department, which manages both pathways (the Joe Rodota Trail was named for the department's first director). Tam has worked on the trails since 1992 and has watched them come together piece by piece.

Today, the Joe Rodota links directly to homes, arterial streets, shopping centers, restaurants, schools and business centers. It's become a highway, of sorts, with a need for exits and onramps like any other road. O'Reilly Media, a high-tech publisher with a business park outside of Sebastopol, even developed a small spur from the trail for their employees to reach the office or take breaks during the day.

And like most highways, the Joe Rodota is loaded with 'roadside' amenities. Many of these businesses, like Coffee Catz in Sebastopol, have become favorite watering holes for trail users. A coffee bar built in an old train station, Coffee Catz is often buzzing with customers in active gear. It's one of several easy options at the midpoint where you can recharge and socialize with fellow trail users.

Continuing through downtown Sebastopol, the pathway becomes the West County Trail—probably without you noticing the change—on its way toward Graton and Forestville. This second leg features a diversely agricultural feel as you zigzag away from town and into the ranches and vineyards of the Russian River Valley, one of California's many celebrated wine regions. Expect to pass right by a great many vines, and you'll have a couple opportunities to hop right off the trail for a wine tasting, including near Forestville at Russian River Vineyards.

The agricultural riches of this trail hardly end with wine, though. You can "get your goat on" at Redwood Hill Farm, known for its humanely raised goat milk products, or venture into fields where you can pick blueberries. Then there's the family-owned Kozlowski's Farms, whose store is famous for specialty jams and pies and dozens of other homemade treats.

If you manage to ignore all these sumptuous diversions and stick to the trail, you'll eventually end up passing through woodlands on your approach to Forestville. The final section into downtown is still in the planning phase. Yet Tam is optimistic the county will complete it in the next couple years, as the West County and Joe Rodota trails have proven themselves immensely magnetic and well-supported. "There are so many users it's unbelievable," he says. "As soon as we finished putting the asphalt down, people immediately started using the trail."

Everyone from cyclists to equestrians to bird watchers to kids and families has made the pathway a communal backyard. After all, says Tam, one of the great strengths of the trails is how they've helped shape and tie these four communities together. Residents get to meet their neighbors, and out-of-town guests gain easy access to the downtowns and countrysides that make Sonoma County click.

So whether you heard about these trails through the grapevine or just read about them here, you'll find the West County and Joe Rodota trails ripe for discovery. They offer something to please almost anyone, and not simply from the traditional rail-trail crowd. Foodies? Wine buffs? They, too, will find that savory and sweet attractions abound on these Sonoma County trails.

For more information, photos and user reviews of the trail, or to post your own comments, please visit

This month's Trail of the Month is generously sponsored by:


Related Links

Sonoma County Regional Parks Department

Santa Rosa Convention & Visitors Bureau


Trail Facts

Name: West County and Joe Rodota Trails

Trail Web site:

Length: 13 miles

Counties: Sonoma

Start Point/ End Point: Santa Rosa to Forestville

Surface type: Asphalt

Uses: Walking, jogging, bicycling, inline skating and equestrian (an unpaved horse path runs next to most of the trail); the trail is also wheelchair accessible.

Difficulty: Easy

Access and Parking: The best way to locate driving directions and parking options is to log into to access the map for the trail. Registration is free, and you will be able to search maps for all other trails in the database. Using these interactive GIS maps, you can zero-in on the street level and locate icons denoting trailheads, parking areas and other amenities.

The Sonoma County Regional Parks Department also maintains detailed parking and access directions.

Special note: In case you didn't notice, the sponsor of our Trail of the Month program is Fetzer Vineyards. If you're spending more time in northern California, you may want to visit their winery in Hopland, Calif., and sample some of their "earth-friendly wines."

Nearby Attractions: Among California's most famous residents are its towering redwoods, some of which have been around for 2,000 years. Just 10 miles northwest of Forestville is a protected grove of these ancient tree giants in the Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. You'll get to stroll through 805 acres of some of the tallest (310 feet) and oldest (1,400 years) redwoods remaining in northern California, so prepare for some major neck craning.

If you find yourself in need of a shopping spree, you may want to time your visit to catch the Dickens of a Holiday Crafts Fair in Santa Rosa, December 5-6. The $2 admission gains you access to more than 60 booths featuring jewelry, ceramics, pottery, clothing, stained glass, woodwork, toys and much more.

In addition to passing through celebrated wine country in the Russian River Valley, these trails run right near a broader collection of vineyards known as the "Wine Road." Ambitious wine lovers can organize a nearly endless tour of wineries and wine tastings in this part of the state. One way to hit a bunch at once, though, is to attend the 11th Annual Wine & Food Affair, November 7-8, in Healdsburg, Calif., about 15 miles north of Santa Rosa. Among the many participating vineyards is Lynmar Estate in Sebastopol. Ticket prices range from $60 for the weekend or $40 for Sunday only; open to guests 21 years and older.

One of many trailside refreshment stops © Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Leaves may fall, but temperate weather keeps the trails inviting year-round © Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy
The Duke Ellington Building
2121 Ward Ct., NW
5th Floor
Washington, DC 20037