The Austin Creek State Recreation Area
With nearly 6,000 acres - featuring 20 miles of trails that run through meadows and woodlands and across rolling hills - Austin Creek State Recreation Area is a recreational dream.
It's a beautiful place, too, with streams running throughout the year, oak trees crowning hilltops, and dazzling views that cause you to stop in your tracks. In spring the intense green meadows are thick with violet, yellow, and red wildflowers, while summer's grasses shine with gold and tease with spots of purple lupine. In autumn, when the land turns pale, leaves blaze with vibrant color.
And winter brings magical colors of its own: gray-white fogs, raindrops glittering like yellow diamonds in the sun, the flash of a red-tailed hawk against the clear blue sky.
The park's wildflowers include Douglas iris, Indian paintbrush, buttercups, lupine, brodiaes, California poppies, and shooting stars. Streams and creeks provide shelter to trout and salmon as well as newts and salamanders, while Bullfrog Pond contains sunfish, black bass, and, yes, bullfrogs. Streams are closed to fishing to provide spawning habitat, but you may fish Bullfrog Pond with a license.
Austin Creek has plenty to make birdwatchers happy, too, with generous sightings of wild turkeys, wood ducks, the rare spotted owl, great blue herons, California quail, black-shouldered kites, woodpeckers, a variety of hawks, and a lot more. As for animals, they include coyotes, skunks, bobcats, foxes, mountain lions, deer, squirrels, and even an occasional black bear.
But despite all this beauty, Austin Creek doesn't slack on challenging outdoor activity. With elevations that range from 150 to 1500 feet, you'll get a great trail workout here. One caution: summer can be very hot, so you may wish to make your trek in spring, fall or winter.
The four main trails are:
Austin Creek Trail (strenuous)
In reality an unpaved service road, the Austin Creek Trail snakes downhill through a canyon filled with meadows and forest, dropping in elevation from 1200' to 300'. Just before the 5-mile mark, the trail meets up with the Gilliam Creek Trail (below), which will return you to your starting point. A spectacular hike. Total milage: nine miles.
Gilliam Creek Trail (moderate)
A narrow and steep trail, it runs alongside Gilliam Creek while winding through shaded oak woodlands. After close to four miles it meets the Austin Creek Trail at the confluence of East Austin and Gilliam Creeks. During winter rains this trail may be impassable at lower elevations due to the creek's high water levels.
Pool Ridge Trail (moderate)
A dramatic trail displaying redwood trees below and forested hills above. The 4.2-mile one-way trail drops only 500' in elevation, but portions are steep. You can continue on along the East Ridge Trail to provide a longer hike.
East Ridge Trail (moderately-strenuous)
Offering varied terrain with great views, this four-mile trail curves through the diverse and varied forests of Armstrong Redwoods and Austin Creek. It spans the four miles and 1,500 feet of elevation gain between the park entrance in Armstrong Redwoods and Bullfrog Pond Campground in Austin Creek. It can be used as part of a loop by hiking one way on this trail and returning via the Pool Ridge Trail.
We should add that Austin Creek shares its park entrance with Armstrong Redwoods State National Reserve. This extremely popular park contains a redwood grove and offers short, gentle hiking trails. To arrive at Austin Creek you'll continue driving past Armstrong on a steep uphill road.
What you need to know:
Location/Contact Info: Austin Creek SRA, 17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville 95446, 707-869-2015, Park website.
- Fees: Day Use $10/vehicle ($9/Senior). Camping: $35/night.
- Camping: Drive-in and hike-in (3-5 miles) campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, visit this page.
Explore more! View a map showing all of California's coastal redwood state parks. To learn about Public Education Programs, visit Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods. You can also check our Guide to the Russian River Resort Area, with helpful tips in trip ideas and where to stay.
Insider Safety Tip: See Sonoma County's safety tips for water activities here.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.