Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve

Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve

By: Kimberly Kaido-Alvarez

Jan. 12, 2011

There are places in nature that can make a human feel incredibly small, in fact puny, but in a good way. The wide open sea, the Grand Canyon, and meadows of wildflowers in Yosemite can all have this impact and are famous for it.

Grandiose destinations with breathtaking beauty have an inspiring way of speaking directly to the soul, confirming our connection to Earth and reminding us that there is indeed something much larger than ourselves and our problems at work in the world.

“When it’s quiet and not a plane or a voice is heard, it can feel like you’re standing at the center of creation,” said State Park Environmental Scientist, Brendan O’neil of the 805-acre Armstrong Woods State National Reserve in Guerneville. But he’s not the first one to feel this way about the old growth redwood forest. Long before the Europeans settled the area, the giant trees, which can grow to a height of over 350 feet and expand to a diameter of 16 feet, were worshipped by the native people who believed the trees held magic powers.

Perhaps a little pixie dust is in the genetic makeup of the giants redwoods because scientific research has proven that they possess unique qualities and characteristics that other trees don’t. Surreal size and a capacity for longevity makes them magnificent, but the ancient redwoods also do humans a big favor by gobbling up huge amounts of carbon and transforming it into man’s best friend—breathable oxygen.  Old growth redwood forests store more carbon per acre than other forests in the world, said O’neil.

These are only some of the reasons why people from all walks of life and throughout time, who’ve gotten to know the redwoods, end up enamored and intrigued, often paying tribute to the trees in their own way: through silent prayers, volunteerism, or making monetary donations to preservation efforts.

Armstrong Woods is named after Colonel James Armstrong, a lumber man who set aside the land as a natural park and botanical garden in the 1870s, but it was his daughter, Lizzie Armstrong Jones, who really spearheaded the conservation effort. Rallies and public meetings by Armstrong’s daughter and the Le Baron family encouraged the County of Sonoma to pass an initiative to purchase the property in 1917.

In 1934, the state took over and opened the grove as Armstrong Redwoods State Park to the public in 1936. The grove's status was changed to a reserve in 1964 when a greater understanding of its ecological significance prompted a more protective management of the resources.

“Most people really appreciate the peaceful meditative quality of this park, that has a beautiful creek running through it,” said Michele Luna, Executive Director of Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, a nonprofit organization that runs the park. The redwood ecosystem is fragile and every effort is being made to preserve and protect the grove which is home to a number of wild creatures including, deer, frogs, turkeys, owls, bobcats, coyotes, cougars and more. “We want to restore it even more to its natural condition,” said Luna.

Coast redwoods are classified as temperate rain forests and they need wet and mild climates to survive. The rainfall in Armstrong Redwoods averages 55 inches per year. A multitude of trees in the forest creates a high level of humidity and often a mystic fog assists in maintaining the moist conditions that the redwoods require. “Armstrong Woods is like a bank account; we’re saving things that we don’t even know how important they will be in the future,” said O’neil.

Today countless school groups visit Armstrong Redwoods, which provides an outdoor classroom for about 5,000 students annually. “About half of those students receive docent-led tours by Stewards-trained docents who share their love of nature and information about redwood ecology,” said Luna. The Stewards also organize a number of adult and family oriented public events throughout the year.

The reserve includes a visitor center, a variety of picnic areas, an outdoor amphitheater, and many hiking trails. It’s also possible to drive or walk through the park to get a quick, close look at the towering redwoods. The Pioneer Nature Trail is a mile and a half long, round trip, and highlights many spectacles while providing an introduction to the park with informational plaques along the way.

Spending the day hiking throughout the park’s various elevations reveals different climates and ecosystems and it’s a good idea to wear a few layers of clothing for this reason. Austin Creek State Recreation Area is adjacent to Armstrong Redwoods and features approximately 8,680 acres of rolling hills, open grasslands, conifers and oaks, creating a beautiful and dramatic contrast to the dense canopy of the redwood grove. Austin Creek State Recreation Area provides both day use and camping, and can be accessed through the Armstrong Woods entrance.

Although Armstrong Woods may not be the biggest redwood forest in Northern California, it is definitely a sight to see. Those traveling to the area for wine tasting or other events usually hear about the park from locals who consider it a requisite stop on any visitor’s itinerary.

On Horseback

Another way to enjoy the Armstrong Woods State Natural Reserve and Austin Creek Recreation Area is on horseback. “Some people have never been on a horse and it can be somewhat like an added adventure,” said Jonathan Ayers of the Armstrong Woods Pack Station.

Ayers and his wife, Laura have been working in the Woods since 1983 and have a wealth of information about the park, but they recognize that people come to the woods for different reasons and it’s not always a tour that is desired. “Sometimes people are here for solitude and they are not interested in talking, so we often wait until an interest is expressed,” said Ayers.

Laura Ayers is a naturalist and native to the mountains of Armstrong Woods and Austin Creek. During an all-day ride, it’s possible to pass through six biotic communities and Ayers is well versed in discussing the diverse flora, fauna, local and natural history of the area.
Short rides or longer day rides for the experienced rider are both available by reservation. “Some people plan and save for a long period of time and do a horseback ride with the whole family. It’s the highlight of their summer,” said Ayers.



Annual Gourmet Hike & Art in the Park Exhibition
July 17, 2010, 1 to 4:30 p.m.
A hike through Armstrong Redwoods with stops along the way where participants will be treated to delectable gourmet food and wine tasting. New this year will be an art exhibition with exquisite pieces displayed in nature. Watch for ticket information at

Old Grove Festival
September 24 & 25, 2010
At the Old Grove Festival this year, it’s Aloha in the Redwoods with Ledward Kaapana on Friday evening at 5:00. Saturday becomes a Hoe-Down in the Redwoods with bluegrass music all day long and then Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum as the evening headliner at 5:00. For ticket information visit:

All funds raised through these events help provide education and stewardship volunteer programs and resource management projects in the park.

There are also roving naturalists in the park on the weekends all summer to educate visitors about the natural and cultural history.

Armstrong Woods SNR
17000 Armstrong Woods Rd.
707-869-2015, fax 707-869-5629

Armstrong Woods Pack Station
Jonathan & Laura Ayers,
Box 287, Guerneville, CA 95446 

Post A Comment
Captcha image

Copyright Sonoma Discoveries 2018. All Rights Reserved.