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.
Dirt trails and fire roads and some short segments on pavement.
1 1/2 hours
Nice all year.
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:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
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.
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.
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:
Armstrong Redwoods page
Armstron Redwoods entrance kiosk 707-869-2015
Use AAA's Mendocino and Sonoma Coast Region map to get to
Hikes has a great map and descriptions of this reserve, with gorgeous
Download the park
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of an Armstrong
David Weintraub's North Bay Trails has a useful map, and trail
this book from Amazon.com).
View 41 photos from the
bay area hikers host tourists in the summer,
and they beg to see "the" redwoods, most 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
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. 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.
The 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,
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.
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 trial 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. Follow
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
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