It’s always cool under the redwoods. Remember that on those days when the temperature has soared to stratospheric levels.
And a cool spot for a hike that will provide a bit of a workout and a chance to wander among the tall trees is Armstrong Woods State Reserve, located in western Sonoma County a few miles north of Guerneville near the Russian River.
The state reserve is one of the few places in the area that hasn’t been hit with temporary summer reductions in open hours so you won’t see locked gates on weekdays as you might at some other places. For a good hike, start at the visitors center at Armstrong Woods where you can pick up a map and plan the route. One path that will test your calves is the East Ridge Trail ascending up from the parking lot.
The climb, which includes some of the woodlands and hills of the adjacent Austin Creek State Recreation Area (which is on the list of parks to be closed), can either be to about 1,100 or 1,500 feet depending on your mettle. For the shorter, but still challenging, six-mile loop, go from the East Ridge to the Gilliam Creek trail and then head downward in a loop on the Pool Ridge Trail.
Want a tougher climb? Climb all the way to the Bullfrog Pond Campground before heading downward to complete a nine-mile walk. At the top, there are terrific views stretching out across the western county and the trail offers a mix of shade and sun for balance.
In either case, the real payoff for both routes comes when they spill out in the actual grove at Armstrong Woods. The grove features a visitor-friendly boardwalk in and around notable trees, including the 310-foot-tall ‘Tallest Tree’ and several other impressive sights. Go inside the trunk of one of the trees with your hiking companions and pose for pictures. There are few trees anywhere that can boast that level of width.
One favorite is the Col. Armstrong Tree, about 1,400 years ago and 300-plus feet tall. Armstrong was a Colonel for the Union Army in the Civil War and became a prominent developer and saw mill operator in Sonoma County. According to historical archives, he was also a close friend of Luther Burbank and spent much of the later years of his life working to protect this very grove of redwoods.