Waypoint: Armstrong Redwood Grove
Previous Walk it Off entry: You will carry your own weight
If you come to the west coast, especially the central and northern portions, you will gain the great opportunity to visit trees that tower taller than city skyscrapers and are older than this country by a fair span. I don’t care where you come from, you haven’t seen trees until you’ve seen redwoods and sequoias. There is no better “leave-it-be-tree” time than going into a cathedral of old growth redwoods and letting them swallow the rest of the world away.
If you find yourself in the Central Valley like I do, the best place with the least amount of driving to visit a calm and old grove is to go out to Sonoma County about four miles north of a small town called Guerneville. There, nestled amidst the rolling coastal hills, is Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.
Set aside by a lumberman for whom the park is named (isn’t it Ironic, doncha think??), this is one of the better old growth groves south of Humboldt County because of its ease to drive to, its lack of crowds, and its fairly easy camping. It’s also got the dubious distinction of being the first place in California that I’ve gone camping, and the first place that Tenaya’s EVER been camping.
Okay, I can see a few people out there suddenly up in arms about their own particular old growth grove, but I choose Armstrong for my most common camping. It’s about the perfect car camping spot in the coastals for me. You can do a quick restock (or just plain stock if you’ve forgotten a few dozen things) in Guerneville. You have the option of car camping there or going back country in a few of the spots set aside in Austin Creek SRA just north of the park. It’s not the parking nightmare that Muir Woods is, and it’s not the six hour drive from Sac that the rest of them are. You’re not a far drive from the coast, from river rafting, from Bodega Bay in case you want a chowder bread bowl, and from Sonoma if you want good wine.
The only real downside to this park is that the campsites are a windy drive up a fire road, and it’s not really meant for two way traffic. Trucks with trailers may have an interesting time getting up there, but the family car will make it just fine. The view from the area around the camp site is this:
That’s looking west back towards the coast from the Bullfrog Pond camp sites.
The only other real downside is that, as of the last time I went, there’s no hiking medallion for this particular park. Last time Tenaya and I were there, the staff marveled at the walking sticks that we had. They agreed that they needed one, but so far haven’t gotten one.
The upside to Armstrong is that it’s on the coast with its standard “You don’t need Air Conditioning” temperatures. Indeed, the first time we went it was in June and I needed sweats. Pack for moisture as you will get dew and fog commonly, but don’t really expect the torrential downpours as you won’t really get them. Dry bags are a good idea. Expect the nights and mornings to be cool to chilly and the days to be warm and pleasant. Winter will bring storms in from the coast, so check the weather, but spring to fall is excellent camping and hiking.
Otherwise, there is an odd inversion to the weather that has generated its own rule of thumb; If it’s really hot in the central valley, the more cloudy and overcast and cooler it’ll be on the coast. The inverse is true as well. The Colder it is in the central valley, the warmer, sunnier, and nicer it is on the coast.
Bay Area: Take 101 north to the River Road exit in Santa Rosa. Travel West on River Road until you hit Guerneville. When you get to Guerneville, turn right on Armstrong Woods Road. Armstrong Woods road dead ends in the park.
Sacramento Area: Take 80 West to 37 West in Vallejo. Take 37 West to 101 North, go to Santa Rosa. Exit River Road West. Follow the directions above.
Next Walk it Off entry: Armstrong Take Two..