Cazadero is an unincorporated town in western Sonoma County, California, United States with a population of 2,347. Nearby towns include Jenner, Annapolis, Stewart's Point, Duncans Mills, Villa Grande, Rio Nido, Guerneville, Monte Rio, and The Sea Ranch. The downtown of Cazadero is quite modest, consisting of two churches, a general store, a post office, a hardware store, an auto repair garage, the well equipped main station of the Cazadero Volunteer Fire Department and a few homes.
Cazadero is generally regarded as the area from the confluence of Austin Creek and the Russian River along California State Route 116 along the Cazadero Highway up to the town. Cazadero Highway roughly parallels Austin Creek which is a principal tributary of the lower Russian River. Austin Creek flows southward through the town. Just north of the town, Cazadero Highway is joined by Fort Ross Road which is a winding, narrow road which meanders west before reaching State Route 1 on the Pacific Ocean near an old fort established by the Russian trappers in the 19th century. Located in the Sonoma Coast AVA, Cazadero can also be considered part of the Wine Country. Flowers Vineyard and Winery is in Cazadero. Cazadero is approximately 10 miles (16 km) from the Pacific Ocean, the rugged Sonoma Coast and the mouth of the Russian River.
Many creeks in Cazadero join Austin Creek as it makes its way to the Russian River. The principal tributary in the area is Kidd Creek which finds it source on the south east slopes of Pole Mountain which rises to approximately 2,204 feet (672 m) just a few miles from the Pacific coastline. The rapid rise in elevation from the coast to mountains west of Cazadero ensures that Cazadero receives substantial rainfall as Pacific storms come onshore in spring and winter releasing rain from clouds saturated with ocean moisture. Cazadero receives an average of 85 in (220 cm) of rain a year, and is reputed to be the second wettest town in California, after Gasquet.
The area is home to a number of camps, including the Cazadero Performing Arts Camp and Cazadero Baptist Camp, which is owned by the Costa Meda Southern Baptist Association. There are numerous vacation rentals in the area and ample opportunties for recreation in Cazadero, including fishing, hunting, swimming, boating, camping and particularly rich bird watching opportunities. Other diversions in the area include a popular bed and breakfast lodge, the CazSonoma Inn, which is located along Kidd Creek Road at the confluence of the forks of Kidd Creek amid a majestic redwood forest.
Cazadero is characterized by great natural beauty associated with first and second growth forests, year round and seasonal creeks, meadows and rugged terrain sculpted by abundant annual rainfall. Plant life in Cazadero is prolific. Stunning large redwoods as well as bay trees and oaks are commonplace throughout the area. Tanoak is a common species in the area, although sudden oak disease has put pressure on this species throughout Sonoma and Marin counties, including Cazadero. Numerous common and rare fern species abound in the redwood forests around Cazadero, especially along the creeks in the area. Other common plants include foxglove (digitalis) and posion oak. Rarer plants include one of California's only native orchids, the so-called "calypso orchid" (calypso bulbosa), which can be found on the floors of redwood forests, fern glens and boggy areas in the Cazadero area. Locations of this sometimes solitary orchid are often kept secret, given the danger of overharvesting by enthusiasts.
Although the calypso orchid has a wide range (i.e., it is circumhemispheric), it is classified as endangered wherever its grows, including all of California, the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Scandinavia. The plant's fragility is the result of two factors. First, it employs an unusual pollinator strategy which involves tricking insects into visiting the plant in a single episode (after which they do not return). Second, the plant is very susceptibile to injury or death if moved or disturbed. These reproductive and habitat issues make the plant very vulnerable to careless collectors and even careful logging practices.
Wildlife is also abundant in Cazadero. Numerous birds inhabit the forests and open areas of the region. Notable species include Stellar jays, ravens, hawks, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, juncos, sparrows, and white and great and lesser blue herons. Coyote, mountain lion, possum, racoon, mole, squirrel, otter and deer are common. Beavers have also been reported in the area. Aquatic life abounds in Cazadero creeks. Salmon, steelhead, trout, crawfish, salamanders, frogs, lizards, and newts are all easily found in the area. However, larger anadromous fish, such as coho salmon and steelhead are threatened throughout the region by habitat destruction, destructive logging activities and the pressure of unsustainable overfishing practices. Coho salmon were widely found in Cazadero streams before the 1960s. The reduction in the coho salmon population is controversial. Some contend the reduction is due to many natural and man-made conditions, including long-term trends in atmospheric conditions, such as El Niño, which causes extremes in annual rainfall along the California coast, the predation of coho salmon by the California Sea Lion and Pacific Harbor Seal, and commercial timber harvesting. The ocean going trout commonly known as the "steelhead," is still seen regularly in the streams around Cazadero, although in diminishing numbers. Among others, observations of steelhead in Austin and Kidd Creeks, remain common.
Cazadero was the northern terminus of the North Pacific Coast Railroad, originally laid as narrow-gauge track in the 1870s.