The Ultimate Guide to Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
Walk among lush ferns and giant trees in the magnificence of nature at this 805-acre park that preserves some of California's natural treasures.
Beneath the soaring redwood canopy of Sonoma County's Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, you'll feel silenced by the trees' majesty and humbled by their endurance of more than a thousand years.
Whether you're coming to stretch your legs, learn about the history and geology of these splendid trees, or take a moment of mindfulness in one of Sonoma County's most peaceful places, here's your guide to exploring Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.
About the California Redwoods
California's coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are the world's tallest living things (the largest measured to date was 379.3 feet high). Not only that, but they're also among the planet's oldest living things, capable of surviving for 2,000 years or longer. (Their average life span is roughly 500–700 years.)
Before the mid-19th century, coastal California was thick with redwood trees from the Oregon border south to Big Sur country. But the discovery of gold in 1849 brought a massive influx of people into the state. Redwood trees—with their beautiful, sturdy, fire-resistant wood—quickly came under the lumberjack's ax. Eventually, more than 95 percent of the state's old-growth redwood forest disappeared.
Lucky for us, enlightened Californians began working early on to preserve the groves and forests that remained. As a result, the trees are now protected in a variety of national, state, and other parks accessible to the public.
History of Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
Located just north of the Russian River in a canyon 2 miles from Guerneville's Main Street, Armstrong Redwoods was set aside as a natural park and botanical garden in the 1870s by Colonel James Armstrong—a lumberman, ironically enough.
His daughter carried on his preservationist work after his death, and was instrumental in getting the public involved in saving what remained of the area's redwood forests. The grove was purchased by the County of Sonoma in 1917, which managed it until the State of California took it over in 1934.
At 805 acres, Armstrong isn't huge, but it's definitely awe-inspiring—and a few of its trees merit special recognition:
- The oldest tree, Colonel Armstrong, is more than 1,400 years old.
- The tallest tree, Parson Jones, extends upward more than 310 feet. (It's taller than a football field is long.)
- The most burl-heavy tree, Icicle, shows an unusually large number of the burl formations that can grow on redwood trees. (Burls look like large knots or lumps and can weigh tons.)
Things to Do at Armstrong Redwoods
Trails and Self-Guided Tours
- The self-guided Armstrong Nature Trail is the best bet for first-time visitors, since you'll learn about redwood trees via interpretive displays as you stroll along the soft forest floors.
- The Discovery Trail offers an unusual feature you'll probably want to try: a tree-hugging platform.
- Both the Discovery Trail and the Armstrong Nature Trail are wheelchair accessible (and the former has interpretive panels in Braille).
- Armstrong's trails are relatively short, but you can string them together and loop around to create a varied 5- to 6-mile hike. If you want more of a workout, take a route leading into adjacent Austin Creek State Recreation Area, which has another 20 miles of trails from which you can admire the light sifting through soaring California redwoods.
- Explore our Soulful Travel ideas for exploring Armstrong Redwoods with intention.
Check Out the Visitor Center and Nature Store
The store contains exhibits about the reserve's natural and cultural history, offers changing programs, and is staffed with knowledgeable docents who can answer your questions. Publications, clothing, and other items are for sale, and proceeds help support the park. Open 11 a.m.–3 p.m.
Bring a Picnic
Enjoy your food and the tall trees at your own pace. Picnic tables, grills, and restrooms make it easy.
Meditate (or Just Relax) in the Redwood Forest Theater
Built in the 1930s, this 1,200-seat amphitheater is occasionally utilized for concerts and plays. It's completely surrounded by soaring redwoods and has the feel of an ancient cathedral, making it perfect for meditation or forest bathing.
Go Horseback Riding
If you have your own horses, you can go horseback riding through the redwoods in the summer. The trails are typically closed to equestrian use in the winter months; it's best to call ahead to find out if the trails are open year-round.
What You Need to Know
- Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve is open daily from 8 a.m. until one hour after official sunset.
- Dogs are not allowed on the trails.
- Admission is $10 per vehicle, $9 per vehicle for seniors, and free to pedestrians and cyclists. It's possible to park outside the reserve's entrance gate and walk in without paying the vehicle entry fee. For more details, download a brochure or visit the park's website.
- Want to spend the night? There are several nearby accommodations with loads of charm, including Fern Grove Cottages and Dawn Ranch Resort in Guerneville and Highland Dell Lodge in Monte Rio, which offers great views of the Russian River and redwoods.
- View a map showing all of California's coastal redwood state parks.
Leave No Trace
Together, we can protect and preserve the beauty and natural resources of Sonoma County for generations to come. Check out our page on Sustainable Travel, and look over the Leave No Trace Seven Principles. You can also learn more about how to hike responsibly in Sonoma County. With your help, we can keep our natural spaces natural ... so they're just as lovely when you come back to enjoy them next time.
Explore more Sonoma County parks and check out additional ways to enjoy the outdoors.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez.