Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area

9.73 Miles
3stars (3.00)9
2stars (2.00)
2point5stars (2.89)
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Looking east
Looking over one of the largest ponds roughly towards the east. To the right of the railroad bridge tower lies American Canyon. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Napa Valley
Looking northeast from the trail into Napa Valley. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Trail View
Coppertone walks along the north segment of the loop around the ponds. It's mostly open here with plenty of vistas towards mountains in all directions. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Abandoned building
Looking north from the trail towards an abandoned building. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Wetlands and marsh
Different areas along the trail hosted differing varieties of bird habitat. Here, deeper wetlands on the left contrast with the drier and thick grassy marsh on the right. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Looking back
Looking back on the trail towards the trailhead on the left. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Trail View
Coppertone walks along the trail on a berm between a marsh and a drainage channel. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Looking over one of the marshes from the trail. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Napa River Trail
The trail segment along the Napa River was popular with fishermen. The distinctive railroad bridge can be seen to the left. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Green Island Overlook
An overlook in marshland is not very high, but the flat terrain allows for distant views many miles away. Here Mount Tam can be seen just left of center. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
We finally spotted some large flocks of birds on the water as we started our hike. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Wetter wetlands
Though recent rains had increased the amount of wetlands at Hudeman Slough it had not translated into many more birds. (Photo by Austin Explorer)

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Log Entries
New Year's Hike
By Austin Explorer on 1/1/2022
Rating: 3stars Difficulty: 3stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 5.37 Miles Duration: 2 hours, 16 minutes

Coppertone and I didn't overdo New Year's Eve, so we were feel pretty good as we headed back to Buchli Station to hike the trails there.  Our previous trip here involved something of a time crunch, so we could not complete the loop around the main bodies of ponds here which we resolved to do this time.

We were surprised to find the parking lot almost full but we managed to find an open slot.  This time we elected to do a counter clockwise loop around the ponds.  Although the recent rains made the ground a bit moist a couple of days of drier weather mostly made the paths free of mud.  We only had to dance around a few mud puddles here and there.

The north and western portions of this loop are the rougher halfs of the journey.  The northern segment is open with only a few trees and shrubs here and there.  The western portion is more overgrown with the path looking for like singletrack and a healthy line of brush on our right side.  In the spring and summer the growth here might be a bit much so I'd recommend long pants.  It was cold today, so we were well prepared for that anyway.

Given the frequency of gunfire heard in the distance it was obviously still hunting season.  What surprised us was to see a pair of hunters in the brush along the path.  They managed to take take down a duck which fell into the water and their position was right in our path!  We passed by them with a wave and a few pleasantries as they fetched one of their kayaks to go fetch the downed duck.  Yes, the north and western stretches of the path around the pond are less frequented by walkers but it was still a surprise to see them this close, on it essentially, to a marked trail.

As the trail turns to the east the trail surface becomes wider with increasingly more gravel which meant no more mud worries for the remainder of the hike.  Plenty of people with binoculars were on the gravel trails looking at all of the birds in the various ponds.  Perhaps they were getting started on a big year.  We got our hiking year off to a good start by logging over 5 miles on the flat terrain.  We still have some more trail segments to map here, but perhaps we'll wait until hunting season is over.

Buchli Station
By Austin Explorer on 12/19/2021
Rating: 3stars Difficulty: 2stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 4.71 Miles Duration: 2 hours, 21 minutes

Coppertone and I happened upon some information online about this other hiking location within Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area.  We were thinking it was going to be similar to our visits to Hudeman Slough nearby.  We were surprised to find a good number of vehicles at the parking lot.  It turns out we were among the last to know about this place!

We started off at the trailhead and headed south along the berm separating two ponds of shallow water and marshes.  It seems most of the trails here are situated on the same "high point".  Thus, the paths are very flat and level, which makes for easy going.  There are a good number of birds foraging and resting here.  Though no expert birders we could state we saw pelicans, godwits, countless ducks, egrets, maybe a couple of grebes and a solitary swan.  If you are an avid birder then you should come hiking here.

Although there were more cars in the parking area than we expected, thankfully everyone seemed to spread out on the trails and we only passed by a few people during our outing.

There is a geocache placed along the trail that we picked up since we were passing by.

My plan was to complete the large balloon loop that circles the two largest ponds in the area.  In the end we were a bit time constrained and doubled back to the trailhead since we could not be 100% certain how much longer it would be to continue forward.  Next time we'll ensure we have enough time to complete the loop.  It also looks like there are a good number of other connected trails to explore in the future.

Mapping Green Island
By Austin Explorer on 11/21/2021
Rating: 3stars Difficulty: 2stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 4.62 Miles Duration: 1 hour, 59 minutes

Coppertone and I returned to Napa-Sonoma Marshes to map some of the few remaining trail segments we had not yet visited.  This time is was largely Green Island.  One might need to put Island in quotation marks because the highpoint of land is not entirely surrounded by water, at least not at this time.  There's a short paved road that connects it from the mainland and there's even a very spacious parking lot there.

We parked along the street on the mainland since we also wanted to map the path parallel to the road to get to Green Island.  Once we got to the island proper the reason for the parking area became more apparent.  The island is popular with fisherman who dotted the shore.  Green Island sports a house at its highpoint, which is fenced off.  It was once the center of a large area of diked ponds used for salt production.  The non-satellite view of the area on Google Maps still shows the uniform pattern of ponds once in place here.  The Leslie Salt Company started production in 1961 and was eventually acquired by Cargill.  California purchased the land in 1994 to begin the process of wildlife restoration which continues to this day.

We walked on the path which sits atop the berm forming the perimeter of the island for abount half of its circumference.  The we went back to our starting point to rewalk a stretch of the Napa River and San Francisco Bay Trail we had done on a previous trip.  We did this to finish off a spur trail we had neglected to map the last time around.  When the trail gets to the Napa River we turn left and walk as far as possible along a narrow spit of land with a well worn trail.

There is another congration of fishermen here and at least one of them seems to have had by far the best luck of any of them.  Still squirming on the ground as we walked by was a fish the catcher estimated might be 40 pounds and he could very well have been right.  One of his companions said it was a Perch, which might be true.  But it also resembled a Carp to my untrained eye.  Whatever it was, it was the biggest catch of the day we could see.

After reaching lands end we doubled back and to our car having mapped all of the known trail segments in the American Canyon area.

Revisit to Hudeman Slough
By Austin Explorer on 11/13/2021
Rating: 3stars Difficulty: 2stars Solitude: 4stars
Distance: 2.83 Miles Duration: 1 hour, 5 minutes

Coppertone and I made a return visit to Hudeman Slough to map out a few more trail segments we missed the first time.  But we also wanted to get a sense of the place with a bit more water in the "marshes".  During our previous hike in October we still had not received any rain of note since last winter.  Other than the two filtration ponds there was no water to be seen.

After some heavy rain in November we thought a return visit would be a refreshing change.  We wanted to see ducks and shorebirds like we had seen elsewhere in the wildlife area nearer American Canyon.  We did see a few more birds than during our previous visit here, but still not many.  And although there was more water in the marsh area we didn't see a single bird on the water, just a few sheltering along the shore.

It was a cold and blusterly day, so maybe the birds had more sense than we did.  Once we got moving long enough we were able to generate enough body heat to compensate.

For a good deal of the time during our hike we could hear a nearly constant volley of gunfire off in the distance to the east of Hudeman Slough.  Given the frequency of discharges it just had to have been target practice.

We didn't see anyone else on the trails.  The only people observed were driving or biking along the road.  We finished mapping what we believe to be the remainder of the trail segments in this unit of the wildlife area and headed back to the car to warm up.

Fagan Marsh Trail
By Austin Explorer on 10/31/2021
Rating: 3stars Difficulty: 2stars Solitude: 4stars
Distance: 3.44 Miles Duration: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Coppertone and I returned to the marshes to map more of the trails we had missed out on during our last visit.  This time we intended to hike the northern most extreme of Napa River and San Francisco Bay Trail.  During our previous hike in August we turned around before getting to the river.  We parked along the street on Green Island Road where we left off and continued north.

It's really not terribly long before getting to the Napa River and its distinctive railroad bridge.  The structure here is not simply an elevated path over the river.  Instead, it's a vertical-lift bridge that lowers a critical section of track into place when a train needs to cross.  At other times the section is raised high in the air giving ample clearance for any boat traffic on the water.

The Napa River trail officially ends here but just on the other side of the tracks is the Fagan Marsh Trail.  There is an unofficial, but clearly worn path between the two.  At first, the trail here just parallels the one we took getting out there, so there appears to be little need for it.  However, it eventually turns away from the main trail and that's where its value truly lies.

The path heads in the direction of the Napa Airport, where private planes be can seem coming and going at frequent intervals.  A small farm, complete with chickens and horses provides a bit of a rustic counterbalance to the upper crust avionic comings and goings.  We spot several rabbits darting at high speeds from one clearing to another as we pass by.

The time of year and recent rains may all play a part, but it seems like the waters around Fagan Marsh had more birds to unit of marsh that others we've seen in our hikes here.  Plovers and ducks were present in large numbers.  The ducks seemed particularly skittish when we passed "near" on the trail.  The fact that the trail here probably draws far fewer people likely plays a role in the birds seeking out this more remote spot.

The Fagan Marsh Trail dead ends at a locked gate that leads into the Napa Airport.  Here one can get a relatively close up view of the planes on the runway.  The previously mentioned skittish ducks seemed less concerned about the private jets coming and going than us.

We doubled back on the Fagan Marsh Trail to a second connector trail between it and the main path.

Wetlands Edge Linear Path
By Austin Explorer on 10/17/2021
Rating: 3stars Difficulty: 1star Solitude: 1star
Distance: 3.31 Miles Duration: 1 hour, 17 minutes

Coppertone and Imade a repeat visit to the Napa-Sonoma Mashes Wildlife Area to map out some additional trail segments.  This time it was the Wetlands Edge Linear Path that adjoins the main parking lot at the corner of Eucalyptus Drive and the aptly named Wetlands Edge Road.

Yes, at first glance this is just a sidewalk trail.  Look to one side of the trail and you'll see nothing but a street and single family homes.  But look in the other direction and you'll find the qualifications for a "hike", of sorts anyway.

To the west of the path lies most of the Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife area within view.  The mostly treeless expanse provides ample vistas miles off into the distance.  Views as far away as Mount Tam in Marin County are readily apparent.  Depending upon your luck, you might also spot flocks of shorebirds in the marshes either taking a rest or foraging for food.

We continued on the path until it ended up under the high voltage power lines cut through the neighborhood and cross the marshes.  Though a path continues along the power line path that seems likely a different trail and we were not sure how long it continues.  According to the park map at the trailhead their trail ends near the Turnaround marker in our map.

Hudeman Slough Hike
By Austin Explorer on 10/4/2021
Rating: 3stars Difficulty: 2stars Solitude: 4stars
Distance: 3.46 Miles Duration: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Coppertone and I ran across this trail (Hudeman Slough) during a bike ride we took a few weeks ago.  The kiosk near the trailhead clearly indicated there was a trail here but it was so weathered and opaque one wondered whether it was still officially open to the public.  It largely looked abandoned.  We made a note and promised to return.

Later in the day I tried to find some information about it online with little success.  It is part of the Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area under the auspices of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.  The WA page shows a map that includes a trailhead marker at Hudeman Slough, but that's about it.  Though the kiosk has been neglected the covered picnic tables at the trailhead actually appear in pretty good shape, so someone must be coming by now and then to check on things.

The map shown at the kiosk shows a 2.5 mile balloon trail through the Budeman Slough Unit of the Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlilfe Area with another smaller spur trail leading to the adjacent Ringstrom Bay Unit.  We started off walking along overgrown singletrack dirt trail leading to Ringstrom.  It seemed to peter out about a quarter mile from the start, which seemed about right based on the map.  Though it may be possible to go a bit further you'd really be getting to the water's edge in short order.  At least there's water here!

We doubled back to the trailhead and then started on what we thought would be the Budeman Slough Nature Trail balloon loop.  Unlike the path to Ringstrom, the trails here sit atop berms and retaining structures for several catchment basins.  They're all clear of vegetation and surfaced with gravel, making for easy walking.  Though on flat ground there are unobstructed views for miles due to a lack of tree cover.  Mount Tam was clearly visible in the distance as were numerous other peaks.

One could be forgiven asking where are the marshes in this so called marsh area.  The Ringstrom Unit exhibited some but the marshes in the Budeman Slough Unit were all dried up, a product of the time of year of our visit and the long standing drought the entire state is facing.  So rather than seeing wading birds we had to settle for those living amonst the dried out reeds and the crows and hawks circling overhead.  We did spot a couple of killdeer flying along a drainage ditch though.

When the trail crosses a narrow bridge the nature trail is supposed to perform a loop and lead back to this point.  We venture to the right but won't end up back here.  The maps show the trail turning left when getting to a gate at one of the two effluent ponds with higher berms on the property.  But we saw no such turn and the path up the pond seemed the only option other than turning back.  Later investigation on Google Maps shows no sign of a trail to the left either.  We ended up circling the pond and then heading east along the edge of the other pond back to the trailhead.

Effluent ponds sounds pretty gross, but it's not as bad as you might fear.  The water looked green but there was almost no smell.  We finally saw a couple of swans and a good number of smaller wading birds in them.  So it must not have been too bad.

There are a few extra trail segments we missed out of mapping due in part to the disprecency between the official park maps and the facts on the ground.  We'll try and time our next visit when we're likely to see some marshes and the birds that go with them.

Mike Hike & Bike Landfill Loop and Glass Beach Trails
By Austin Explorer on 8/22/2021
Rating: 3stars Difficulty: 2stars Solitude: 3stars
Distance: 4.21 Miles Duration: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Coppertone and I went back to the Napa-Sonoma marshes to maps some more of the trails.  Unlike our last visit here the parking lot was not full, so that was a refreshing change.

Starting off from the trailhead we did the Mike Hike & Bike Landfill Loop Trail.  That name makes it sound fairly gross but the landfill has long been capped.  It resembles a large hill, though with numerous water and methane pipes running in all directions on it.  One is not going to confuse it with a natural formation.  The ground squirrels didn't seem to mind the pipes and in fact use them defensively as they scurry about.

One need only look away from the mound to see scenes that at least appear more natural.  Marshes surround the landfill and some spots are teaming with wading birds looking for their next meal.  In other spots birds use the relative safety of water to rest on their long migrations.

The western side of the landfill seems to be very popular with Redwing Blackbirds.  We spotted flock after flock flying by or foraging on the landfill slopes.  I'm not sure that we had seen that many Redwing Blackbirds on any other hike.

Look for numerous Napa-Solano Audubon Nature Trail signs on this and other trails in the marshes.  Each provides a drawing and description of one of the many birds that can be seen from the trail.

After completing the landfill loop we crossed over a canal to walk the Glass Beach Trail.  Having seen a glass beach in Mendocino that was rather impressive, Coppertone was not expecting much here.  It is certainly smaller than the beach we'd seen north of here, but there is an impressive amount of glass nevertheless.

Much of the trail is a straight shot that follows both berms that define a canal leading out to the Glass Beach.  Along this path you'll also spot an impressive cluster of Century Plants, a few of which had impressive tree-height stalks reaching for the sky.  Previous stalks that had collapsed resembled tree trunks due to their girth.

In the end we totaled a bit more than 4 miles of hiking on very flat terrain.

Packed parking lot, but relatively empty trails
By Austin Explorer on 8/14/2021
Rating: 3stars Difficulty: 2stars Solitude: 1star
Distance: 5.26 Miles Duration: 1 hour, 58 minutes

Coppertone and I picked this trail because it was close to our home and one that we had not yet mapped.  A friend recommended this very trail on the day we were making this choice the day prior to our hike.  So we had high hopes for miles of flat easy trails to get some distance in.

We were a bit shocked to pull up to the parking lot and find it packed.  Overflow parking was lining the roads.  We actually thought about just abandoning the effort and going elsewhere.  In the end we found a spot along the road and decided to give it a shot.

I'm not sure exactly where all of those people were.  The trails were not deserted, but the number of people did not match up with the cars at all. It was strange and surprising, but in a good way.

As expected the trails were about as flat as could be.  This was a welcome change from the last outing we did at Hood Mountain where the steep slopes did our unconditioned legs in.

We followed the Mike Hike & Bike Trail from the trailhead to the junction with the Napa River Bay Trail and turned right.  The trail here also constitutes a disconnected section of the San Francisco Bay Trail.  There's a little bit of tree cover here, but enjoy it while it lasts.  Pretty soon the trees will disappear and you'll be subjected to direct Sun for much of the hike.  Remember to apply your sunscreen!

We saw numerous ground squirrels darting around the slopes of the levee on which much of the trail tops.  Entrances to their burrows dot the landscape.  You may also see them quickly traversing the trail itself as you near an area where they are foraging.

Wetlands attract plenty of shorebirds and there were plenty to spy along the trail.

We turned around at the end of Green Island Road since the spot could serve as a trailhead in a future visit when we'd explore more of the trail to the north.  We retraced our steps and headed back to the car, logging over 5 miles.