Monday Footloose Hiking

3/4/19 - 12/16/19



I started this Footloose series in 1984 and some folks have been hiking with me since nearly the beginning! Monday morning hikes are such a great way to start the week. We ramble on quiet trails mostly in Marin but also in San Francisco and Sonoma counties. We identify the abundant flora and diverse fauna in our backyard and learn about the geologic and human history of the Bay Area. Our endlessly fascinating and entertaining fellow hikers are yet another bonus! Sign up for one or both 14-week sessions. Warning: there is usually a wait list for these series as current hikers get first priority.

COST: $480 per series

DATE: Fourteen Mondays, 10:00 to 1:30

SPRING: March 4 to June 10, 2019

FALL: September 9 to December 16, 2019

The Cerrado, the Pantanal and the Amazon

6/17/19 - 7/17/19


GiantOtter for Starling_FabianoOliveira2


During this 15-day adventure in central Brazil we visit three of the richest biological regions on the planet – the Amazon, the Pantanal and the Cerrado. We fly to Sao Paulo and then on to Cuiaba, the vibrant capital of the state of Mato Grosso. One hour drive northwest is the charming town of Chapada and our very comfortable and intimate lodge. The little known Cerrado is the most diverse tropical savannah in the world. It has over 10,000 species of plants, of which 45% are exclusive to the region. There are over 400 species of birds and a diverse assemblage of mammals including the maned wolf, the giant anteater, crab-eating foxes, cavies, and tapirs.
The beautiful the landscape is reminiscent of the American Southwest except for those brilliant macaws and parrots flying overhead. The Cerrado feeds three of the major water basins in South America: the Amazon, Paraguay and São Francisco Rivers. And is an intersection of three biomes – the semi-arid Caatinga, the Amazon forest, the Atlantic Rain Forest. We are in the exact geographic center of South America – a true power spot. We hike, bird and botanize in this wonderland 15 degrees south of the Equator.
Next we drive south to one of the world’s most extraordinary natural areas and a UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Pantanal. It is an enormous wetland the size of Georgia. It is by far the best place to view wildlife in the New World. A mosaic of different vegetation types, this region teems with many of South America’s largest mammals—tapirs, jaguars, capybaras, marsh deer, armadillos, giant otter, and giant anteaters. And so many birds! Even non-birders can easily see 100 species in a single day. The flora and fauna of the Amazon and Atlantic forests to the north, the Chaco grasslands to the east and west, and the pampas to the south intersect in the Pantanal to create one of the most biodiverse regions in the world.
We stay in comfortable lodges and even in a Boat Hotel We explore by vehicle, on foot, and by boat. In 2018 we saw five different jaguars, hyacinth macaws, yellow anaconda, thousands of caimans, and so much more.
Then we fly north into the Amazon Ecosystem, where we stay at the remote and very comfortable Cristalino Jungle Lodge Reserve, a true rain forest sanctuary. This rich region of the Amazon has eight different species of monkeys, three kinds of sloths, frogs galore, toucans, macaws, screaming pihas, and more. Two amazing 164’ observation towers give us an extraordinary perspective of the canopy rarely glimpsed. It is the perfect ending to an amazing trip.

DATE: June 17 to July 3, 2019
July 3 to July 17, 2019

COST: $7950; Non-refundable deposit $500

The Farallon Islands

8/2/19 - 8/9/19



Just 25 miles off the Marin coast lies the largest seabird colony in the contiguous U.S.  These remarkable granitic islands—part of the City of San Francisco—are home to 250,000 seabirds as well as thousands of California sea lions, elephant seals, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, and a growing colony of northern fur seals. Late summer provides the best sightings (a chance to see blue and humpback whales as well as tufted puffins) and relatively flat seas. We’ll discuss the current research of the Point Reyes Bird Observatory (now called Point Blue) and tell tales of Sir Francis Drake and the early island “eggers” as we motor from Sausalito under the Golden Gate Bridge, skirting the scenic Marin coast, out onto the greatest ocean on earth. I first volunteered with PRBO out to the Farallons in 1979 and have been leading natural history trips there ever since. What an astonishing and biologically diverse world so close, yet so far away, from the rest of Bay Area.

COST: $135

DATE: Friday, August 2, 2019, 7:30 to 4:00

DATE: Friday, August 9, 2019, 7:30 to 4:00

Tuesday Footloose Hiking

09/10/19 - 12/17/19


The Monday hikes are constantly oversubscribed so I added a series for people in the North Bay especially Sonoma County. The territory covered is northern and western Marin, all of Sonoma and parts of Napa and Lake. We hike from 10:00 to 1:30 and from four to six miles. We identify the abundant flora and diverse fauna in our backyard and learn about the geologic and human history. Any one in moderately good shape should have no trouble keeping up. This a great gift to yourself and the perfect chance to discover the natural riches of the North Bay and to stay in shape..

COST: $420 per series

DATE: Fourteen Tuesdays, 10:00 to 1:30

FALL: September 10 to December 17, 2019

Natural History, Natural Mystery

9/13/19 - 9/15/19



The Cedars Preserve, in a remote corner of western Sonoma County, has a wild, otherworldly topography: unusual geologic formations, ancient forests of Sergeant Cypress trees, chaparral, seepage thickets, perennial creeks, waterfalls and pools, and massive talus slopes and barrens. The preserve contains five rare species of orchid and seven endemic plants that are found nowhere else in the world. Among the most surprising features of the area are the hyper-alkaline springs which seep from cracks and create large crystalline patterns along the pools. The Cedars is composed of 9,500 acres of terrain composed of ultramafic or serpentine rock. Over the past 200 million years, this specialized rock has been transported from deep below the Earth’s crust to the continental margin where it now sits above sea level. The bare cliffs and scree slopes that rise abruptly out of the Main Canyon are the result of this giant upswelling and are one of the best examples of such metamorphic reshaping. We have been granted special permission to camp in this magical area. Moving beyond the “usual” Footloose Forays experience, we will stretch ourselves by discovering the wonders of such an alive and ever-changing outer landscape while simultaneously exploring our ever-evolving inner landscape. The invitation is to reconnect with our inherent nature as we come to understand the ecology of The Cedars. An openness to explore inwardly as well as outwardly is strongly encouraged for this unique weekend adventure.

COST: $350

DATE: September 13 to September 15, 2019

Mono Lake in the Autumn

10/04/19 - 10/06/19


The eastern Sierra Nevada is glorious in the fall, the air is crisp, the sky so blue. The aspen groves will be shimmering in brilliant shades of burnished gold and orange as we explore the wonders of Mono Lake and environs. This body of water is over 1 million years old – a remnant of a much larger inland lake. Its wildlife, unearthly scenery, and life-sustaining streams were recently released from hostage to the water needs of Los Angeles. Bizarre tufa towers, fantastic cinder cones, spooky lava caves, gurgling hot springs, and dramatic mountain canyons are its backdrop. We will get intimate views of California gulls, coyotes and the nearly two million eared grebes that stop here in the fall. American Avocets, Western and Least Sandpipers, Snowy Plovers, White-faced Ibises, and Dowitchers are stopping to feed on their journey south. While this is not an official photography seminar, bring your camera because the photo opportunities are incomparable. A list of accommodations is sent upon registration.

DATE:  Friday, October 4 – to Sunday, October 6, 2019

COST: $370

Greatest Show on Earth: The Serengeti

1/28/19 - 2/27/19






Tanzania, not Kenya, has the best wildlife show left on the planet, and we will be there at the peak of 1 million wildebeests giving birth in a 3-week period! This is in addition to giraffes, elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards, gazelles, impala, hyenas, jackals, cheetahs, dikdiks, and zebras.  And the birds! Flamingos, storks, pelicans, white-crowned shrikes, eagles, bee-eaters, ostriches, rollers, and so many more.  Comfortable private tent camping combined with cozy lodges make this the perfect trip.  Resident Tanzanian naturalists accompany us throughout our visits to Arusha National Park, the Serengeti Plain, Tarangire National Park, Olduvai Gorge, and the Ngorongoro Crater.  I have been leading trips to the Serengeti every winter since 1992, and it remains my all-time favorite natural history experience. I have taken over 700 people on this safari and they have all had a phenomenal time and a life-changing experience. It remains the perfect choreographed itinerary with exquisite local guides. This is indeed the trip of a lifetime; you owe it to yourself.  If not now, when? And no, it’s not too hot, and yes, the food is delicious and it is definitely clamping!

COST: $9650 land cost (no change from last year) Non-refundable deposit, $500.

DATES: Both 2020 trips are already full. Please email to be added to the 2020 wait list or pre-register for 2021, which will be approximately Feb 1-14 and Feb 15-28, 2021


To register, please fill out and submit the form below.

To pay, please mail a check (sorry no charge cards), payable to Footloose Forays, for the full amount for domestic trips or the required deposit for international trips. You are officially registered upon receipt of your check.

Michael J. Ellis
Footloose Forays
1275 4th St. #311
Santa Rosa, CA 95404-3522

Please sign up early, as most trips fill quickly. A trip information package will be sent as confirmation. Call (707) 570-2187 or E-mail us at with questions.

Cancellation of domestic trips will be accepted four weeks prior to the trip. There will be a 15% processing fee. Cancellations received after that time will result in fee forfeiture. Cancellation policies for international trips vary. Please ask me for particulars.

Sorry but you must sign a Liability and Release form.