There is nothing quite like a grove of redwoods to make you feel your place in the world. These towering giants have been witnesses to the world for centuries; their immense height and longevity make a person feel diminutive by comparison. Redwoods are tucked in all around us in the North Bay, impressive even in their relative isolation, but in the Armstrong Redwood State Natural Reserve you can appreciate their ancient beauty and serenity en masse.
Armstrong Redwood State Natural Reserve is Sonoma County’s last major population of redwood trees with 805 acres of old growth trees, some as old as 1400 years. The park sits along the Russian River Valley, just north of Guerneville. Turning off of Highway 116 onto Armstrong Woods Road you pass through a residential area until the road abruptly ends at the entrance to the reserve; a dense façade of imposing forest. The park quickly engulfs you as the narrow road winds carefully through the majestic trees. Nearby civilization is quickly forgotten.
My first visit to the Armstrong Redwoods SNR was with a car full of family, four adults and four kids. Walking Armstrong proved to be the perfect antidote to the restlessness brought on by a morning of sightseeing in the car. We had been driving up the cool foggy coast but the inland weather was warm and sunny; bright rays of light filtered down through the canopy of trees.
We started our walk from the far end of the Pioneer Trail, a nice groomed pathway, neatly defined by a low fence. It connects to the Icicle Tree Trail and Discovery Trail to make a loop just over a mile and a half long with many points of interest along the way. This a great route for almost anybody. Flat and wide, it is easy to navigate; the low fence keeps kids contained and away from poison oak; there are wheelchair accessible areas; and, the Discovery Trail has Braille descriptions for the visually impaired.
With the hum of enthusiastic children buzzing around us we leisurely strolled along the trail. The canopy of these enormous trees creates a protective atmosphere while their immense height allows for so much space below. Sounds travel far but softly. Other trees can’t compete with the redwood but the floor of the park is full of shade happy plants; tufts of ferns and carpeted swathes of redwood sorrel. As we completed our loop and headed back up the Pioneer Trail we passed through the mysterious Burbank Circle, a great circle of trees that seems to have been created by some higher order; it inspires silence. By the time we reached the car our formerly restless brood was in a much calmer state; revitalized by the peaceful energy of the redwood forest.
Armstrong Redwood SNR is a great destination for families. It is easily accessible and has plenty of picnic tables. It also provides a quick getaway for solitary souls seeking a bit of quiet meditation. And, for those wanting more rigorous exercise, there are longer more demanding trails that extend from the park into the nearby Austin Creek Recreation Area.
Additional Resource: “Hiking and Adventure Guide to the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley”, Stephen W. Hinch, 2009