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In 1983 the US Army Corps of Engineers completed the Warm Springs Dam, and the almost limitless recreation opportunities of Sonoma County California expanded to include Lake Sonoma. With its fantastic fishing, boating, and water sports and the beauty of the surrounding wine country, Lake Sonoma is truly a vacation destination.
Construction on the Warm Springs Dam began in 1975 and was completed 1983. The earth fill dam was built in the Dry Creek Valley at the confluence of Warm Springs Creek and Dry Creek which is a tributary of the Russian River. Lake Sonoma, the resulting impoundment, was built for flood control, irrigation, water for municipalities and recreation. Water levels in Lake Sonoma fluctuate based on the amount of winter precipitation and Russian River inflows, so check current lake levels before your visit.
The dam blocks the migration of some of the native steelhead trout and Coho salmon. To replace some of the lost fish, the California Department of Fish and Game operates the Congressman Don Clausen Fish Hatchery behind the dam on Lake Sonoma. The hatchery raises Steelhead yearlings along with Chinook and silver salmon.
Lake Sonoma is best known for its largemouth bass fishing. The lake also has healthy populations of smallmouth bass, black crappie, redear sunfish, Sacramento perch, and channel catfish. The submerged trees from the flooding of the lake provide excellent fish habitat.
There are boat ramps and a marina, and visitors to Lake Sonoma can explore the water from a canoe, sailboat, or motorboat. Water skiing is also popular on the lake, but only in specified areas. There are some boat-in campsites, campgrounds, and primitive camping along some of the trails. There are almost 40 miles of trails near Lake Sonoma for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, including a trail to the Lake Sonoma Overlook. The overlook offers an almost 360 degree view of Lake Sonoma and the Dry Creek Valley.
Feral pigs left over from the early European American settlers live in the area around Lake Sonoma. Hunting, including archery, for the pigs along with deer and turkey is allowed in the Lake Sonoma Wildlife Area. Made up of 8,000 acres of oak woodland surrounding the lake, the Wildlife Area is a joint venture of the US Army Corps of Engineers and the California Department of Fish and Game. Peregrine Falcons have also been sighted near the lake. In addition to the wildlife, there are beautiful wildflowers from early spring to early summer. Lupines, Indian pink, and California poppies all put on a show.
The Warms Springs Recreation Area near Lake Sonoma has a picnic area with a group pavilion. There is plenty of room for a family reunion or any group outing. The Milt Brandt Visitor Center is open year round and has exhibits about the construction of the dam and the filling of Lake Sonoma, as well as the history of the Dry Creek Valley and the Pomo Indians. The Pomo Indians were the original inhabitants of the valley and have a rich tradition of basket making.
Lake Sonoma is 50 miles north of San Francisco and 13 miles from Healdsburg. Sonoma County has any amenity a visitor could want including restaurants and lodging options. The 200,000 acre Sonoma County extends from the Pacific Coast to the Mayacamas Mountains. Vineyards make up 65,000 acres and there are over 250 wineries including 120 around the Russian River alone. Russian settlers planted the first grapes as early as 1812. Today about 190,000 tons of grapes are produced in Sonoma County each year.
In addition to the water sports, fishing, wildlife and wine tasting, visitors to Lake Sonoma can stand in the shadow of the giant redwoods some of which are over 300 feet tall and 1,400 years old. A trip to Lake Sonoma is as varied as Sonoma County itself with something to please everyone.
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