The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” Now, medical professionals are calling it medicine.

A simple walk in nature shows measurable health benefits, doctors say – so much so that a new nationwide initiative called “ParkRx for Health” has them literally writing prescriptions for walks in the great outdoors. For Sonoma Valley and Santa Rosa area residents, the program – which launches Sunday, April 23 – will mean free parking for all participating visitors to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.

ParkRx is a collaborative program between health care providers and park professionals designed to improve the well-being of Sonoma County’s residents through regular exercise, fresh air and closeness with nature. Through the program, local health care professionals will prescribe low-impact outdoor activities, such as nature walks. Patients with these prescriptions will have registration and parking fees waived at participating parks and trails.

Team Sugarloaf will be offering a variety of hikes as part of the program:

  • Forest Therapy Hikes: Two to three hours of slow meditative walking in the woods, designed for improved mental and overall health. One hike per month, May through November.
  • Hiking for Fitness: An eight-week program beginning on Sunday, May 7. This series begins with an easy two-mile hike, and the hikes gradually increase in difficulty, culminating in a trek to the top of Bald Mtn.
  • Family Hikes: Every weekend from May through August, Sugarloaf hosts a Family Hike. Covering two to three miles and led by a naturalist, the hikes are designed get the whole family moving while learning about the park. Every third weekend, the hikes are conducted in both Spanish and English.
  • Self-Guided Hikes: Sugarloaf has 30 miles of trails of all levels. Pick a hike, bring your ParkRx prescription and get outside.

Other parks and organizations participating in the program include Trione-Annadel State Park, Jack London State Historic Park, Stewards of the Coast (Armstrong Redwoods State Historic Park), Sonoma County Regional Parks, and The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs. Participating health providers include Kaiser Permanente, St. Joseph Health, Sutter Health, and Sonoma Valley Hospital. A complete list of ParkRx for Health partners and events in Sonoma County is available at More on the larger program, which launches nationwide April 23, can be found at


Doctor’s Orders: Get Outside to Sugarloaf