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Get Fit while Hiking/Biking the Beauty of Sonoma County

On this second day of 2012, how many of us have already cheated on our New Year’s resolutions? Sadly, I have. My goal is to get much more exercise this year, and eat entirely healthy. Yet work needs to be done, so I am parked at my computer on this sunny holiday morning. And leftovers need to be eaten before they go bad, so for breakfast, I had a piece of New Year’s party cheesecake.

It was a small piece, certainly, and later today I will go out and run the backyard with my dogs (but yet, that last bit of cake is calling…)

Part of the trouble with keeping resolutions about health and fitness is that the idea can be so boring. Go to a gym? Really? With all those sweaty people? Eat tasteless twigs and berries? No thanks.

Except that we live in Northern California, so there is no excuse not to exercise. It can be simply a joyful way of life, as we hike the many amazing mountains, trek through endless forests, burn calories briskly walking our beaches, paddle our rivers and scamper through open meadows with our pets who love the outdoors as much as we do.

Here are some of my favorite places to frolic (and I promise I’ll ditch the cheesecake, and pack fresh fruit instead).

Whether you hike for exercise, recreation, or to take in a spectacular view, there are many wonderful choices in Sonoma. For these popular trails, remember however, no dogs allowed, and be sure to check ahead of time that the parks are open, since they close in inclement weather, for maintenance, and alas, some are being threatened by state budget cuts.

Overlook Trail, Sonoma. Perfect for hikers wanting a quick, no-challenge course that results in a breathtaking view of Sonoma, this picturesque, nearly three-mile loop path is within walking distance from the center of Sonoma. Bring your kids, bring your grandparents and in about 90 minutes you can make the entire route around and through and to the top of the hillside. To get there: Take First Street West from the Town Plaza. Just beyond the Veterans Memorial Building at 126 First St. East, look for a trail sign in the small lot to the right, next to the cemetery entrance. For directions and more info, click here.

Bartholomew Memorial Park. This 400-acre preserve located about five minutes from the Town Plaza offers more easy-for-all-levels-of-hikers trails with panoramic views of Sonoma and the Bay. As a bonus, you can also tour the museum and winery that share the property. In the hills behind the winery are approximately three miles of marked hiking trails, ranging from about one and three quarters to two miles in length and offering a variety of indigenous California vegetation to view - oak groves, manzanita, madrone, redwood-shaded fern grottos, and fields of spring wildflowers. To find it: at the split in the road inside the Park entrance, head to the left to park your vehicle, then look for the trails starting from either the west-end of the picnic grounds or via the roadway that goes off to the right just beyond the mansion. Directions/Info, click here.

More serious hikers looking for a more rigorous excursion can easily make the drive to two state parks, less than half hour from Sonoma Town Square.

Jack London State Historic Park, Glen Ellen. Here is an excellent network of trails that includes a nearly eight-mile round-trip trek up the Mountain Trail to the summit, or the newly-cut ten-mile round-trip adventure up Sonoma Ridge Trail. Each of these is an extension of the main trail that goes from the upper parking lot to the Lake, and they are rugged but well-maintained, winding through lush forest and meadows as you reach the top for wonderful views all across the Valley of the Moon to the Bay. It’s advisable to bring a cell phone and map, in case you wander off the trail. Or, just stick to the gentler Lake Trail, a 2-mile loop that features a large picnic area, plus vineyard paths past historic barns and cottages, the "Pig Palace" and silos. When you’re done, you can tour the property’s museums, like the House of Happy Walls. Directions/Info: click here.

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Kenwood. A wonderful wilderness property off Route 12 in Kenwood, just northeast on Adobe Canyon Road, the park houses a stars and planet Observatory. You can choose from a variety of trails of different lengths and challenges, taking you all the way up, if you like, to the top of Bald Mountain. Your trail might cover from two and three-quarters to three and a half miles to reach the 360-degree view of Napa and Sonoma Valleys, or even a "Planet Walk" on the Bushy Peaks Trail. Signs will point you the way – one particular favorite is The Canyon Trail that leads to a waterfall. Keep on mind that this is truly rugged hiking - be sure to bring sturdy hiking boots, wind breakers, hats, and long pants to protect against poison ivy. Directions/Info: click here.

Tip: It’s easier to keep exercise resolutions with a group. So be convenient, and be green, and reserve a Pure Luxury vehicle for your all your friends to car pool to your favorite hiking spots. From Town Cars to limos to small charter shuttles, Pure Luxury vehicle are Green Ride Global certified.

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