Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve,
California State Parks,
Sonoma County
In brief:
This 3 mile loop up and down hills and through ancient redwoods makes a very good alternative to Muir Woods, especially in summer.

Distance, category, and difficulty
:
This 3 mile loop hike is moderate, due to elevation changes along East Ridge Trail. Total elevation change is about 300 feet.

Exposure:
Mostly shaded.

Trail traffic:
Moderate-heavy.

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads and some short segments on pavement.

Hiking time:
1 1/2 hours

Season:
Nice all year.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Sonoma County, exit River Road/Mark West Springs Road. Drive west on River Road about 16 miles into Guerneville, and turn right onto Armstrong Woods Road. Drive about 2 miles, to the visitor center parking lot on the right just before the park's entrance kiosk.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/487

GPS coordinates* for trailhead
:
Latitude 3831'56.22"N
Longitude
123 0'10.06"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging
:
Gas, restaurants, stores, and pay phone in Guerneville. Bullfrog Pond campground, in adjacent Austin Creek, is a good staging area for a weekend of hiking at Armstrong and Austin Creek.

Traihead details:
No entrance or parking fee if you park in the visitor center lot (if you park inside the park, a $8 fee is charged). Large paved parking lot. Wheelchair-accessible restrooms on site. There is no designated handicapped parking, but the parking lot is flat, and there's more parking inside the park. Maps available (for a fee) at the visitor center. There is no direct public transportation to the park, but Sonoma County bus line #28 services Guerneville. From Guerneville's River Road it's about a 2 mile walk to the park.

Rules:
Some trails are hiking only. Most are open to hikers and equestrians. Cyclists not allowed on trails, but can ride on paved park roads. Dogs are not permitted on trails. Park is open from 8 a.m. to one hour after sunset.

The Official Story:
CSP's Armstrong Redwoods page
Armstrong Redwoods entrance kiosk 707-869-2015

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's Mendocino and Sonoma Coast Region map to get to the park.
Redwood Hikes has a great map and descriptions of this reserve, with gorgeous photos
• Download the park map pdf
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of an Armstrong Redwoods hike.
• David Weintraub's North Bay Trails has a useful map, and trail descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).

View 41 photos from the featured hike.




Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page





When bay area hikers host tourists in the summer, and they beg to see "the" redwoods, Photo of parking lot at Armstrong Redwoods State Reservemost of us grit our teeth and truck them out to Muir Woods. The bay area's most popular natural history spot, Muir Woods is always pretty busy, but it is crazy in the summer. Impressive redwoods can be found at a few other places around San Francisco (such as Redwood Regional Park in the east bay and Portola Redwoods in the south bay), but the park that comes closest to capturing that Muir Woods magic might be Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve, outside Guerneville in Sonoma County. Driving to Guerneville for a day hike means a lot of time on the road, so consider making a weekend out of it. Combine Armstrong Redwoods with wine tasting in Napa or Sonoma County, a visit to Jack London State Park, or a canoe trip on the Russian River, for a memorable wine country experience, one that active out-of-town guests should appreciate. Photo of the Discovery Trail, which features old growth redwoods If you care to camp, Austin Creek State Recreation Area sprawls just north of Armstrong Redwoods, and features 23 car camping sites, and 4 back country hike-in sites (one only 3.2 miles from parking).
      Armstrong Redwoods is a small reserve, with just over 800 acres, and features only a handful of trails. The Discovery and Pioneer Trails wander levelly along the canyon floor through the largest remaining old-growth redwood forest in Sonoma County, much in the manner of Muir Woods. Pool Ridge Trail and East Ridge Trail climb from an elevation around 150 feet, through the forest, and then leave the reserve to climb some more in the hills of Austin Creek. A loop combining East Ridge and Pool Ridge is a manageable length, but involves a lot of elevation change and some steep grades.
     For the featured hike, start at the eastern (hill) side of the visitor center parking lot and look for the signed start of the East Ridge Trail. This dirt path, open to equestrians and hikers only, is signed "Steep Trail," which may be a bit of an exaggeration, but probably scares most visitors back to the canyon floor. East Ridge Trail climbs almost completely under cover of redwood, Douglas fir, tanoak, madrone, and California bay. In the spring, you may see starflower, redwood sorrel, hound's tongue, and in early summer, trillium. The grade is mostly bearable, with a few steep stretches, and heart-sinking descents followed by inevitable ascents. Photo of East Ridge TrailThe trail is eroded in places and tree roots are easy to trip over. A couple of benches are convenient when you need a rest, although there are no views to speak of, just snatches of the west ridge occasionally glimpsed through the thick forest. Some shrubs, such as huckleberry, creambush, wood rose, and hazelnut, flourish in the deep shade. Monkeyflower is about the latest blooming plant; look for orange flowers that persist into summer. Beware of a few spots that look like junctions. This is a long 1.2 mile stretch, but you'll know the junction when you see it. Deer are common,and you may see turkeys, which scratch their way through fallen leaves looking for insects. At 1.2 miles (as promised), you reach the signed junction with a trail that descends to the canyon floor. (If you want to extend this hike, continue straight on East Ridge, then take Pool Ridge back to the Discovery Trail. This option has a lot more climbing.) Turn left (toward the ranger station) and begin a descent.Photo of trail through California bays
     Switchbacks keep the drop through California bay and redwood manageable. You may hear (or see) water rushing downhill, on the way to meet Fife Creek in the canyon. The path has been rerouted for habitat restoration, so be sure to stay on the trail. At 1.6 miles, the trail crosses a bridge and ends at a parking lot. Walk south (to the left) on the road, pass some picnic areas and the road leading to Austin Creek, and just before the road crosses the creek, look for the signed start of the Pioneer Trail on the right side of the road.
     This hiking-only trail definitely brings to mind Muir Woods, with a flat path through tall redwoods, and a hushed, almost reverent atmosphere.When I hiked here in July, the trail surface seemed to have been supplemented with a thick layer of redwood duff, making it by a long shot the softest path I have ever trod. At 2 miles, Pioneer continues straight while Discovery Trail begins to the right at a signed junction. Turn right onto Discovery Trail, which has interpretive stations dispersed among the redwoods. You first encounter "the icicle tree," a redwood somewhat deformed by unusual burls. Continue past a huge fallen redwood, then cross through a deeply shaded area and climb a few stairs. The path levels out again, and reaches a signed junction at 2.3 miles, under the Armstrong tree. The redwood, estimated to be more than 1,400 years old, is an awesome sight to visitors unfamiliar with Sequoia sempervirens. Redwood forestFollow the signs back to the ranger station (if you've walked to the far side of the Armstrong tree, retrace your steps a few feet to the junction), passing through a bounty of hazelnut shrubs. The trail crosses a paved road, and feeds back into the Pioneer Trail, which passes through another lovely redwood grove, and then crosses another paved road. Just before the Pioneer Trail ends near the entrance kiosk, be sure to check out a sliced cross section of redwood, with important dates in history marked among its rings. Reminds me of a scene from the movie Vertigo, when Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart examine a similar tree. Our lives really do account for a just few inches of growth to these amazing redwoods. At the end of the Pioneer Trail, walk past the kiosk and return to the parking lot.

Total distance: 3 miles
Last hiked: Friday, July 7, 2000