Long before moving to Sonoma County, I regularly visited Armstrong Woods on my annual wine-tasting trip to Northern California.
My first introduction to the coast redwood was in the 1990’s, during a visit to Muir Woods. Instantly, I became enchanted with the majesty of these giant trees and the quiet, magical forests they create. The coast redwood is the largest tree in the world in terms of mass. (Sequoias reach taller). They can grow to 350 feet tall or more. Because of the height and density of redwoods in the woods, sunlight rarely reaches the forest floor. These damp, dark forests, dappled by rays of sunlight breaking through the canopy, create a unique and almost primordial setting.
Coast redwoods have a relatively limited growing area, ranging approximately 400 miles along the coast from southern Oregon to Northern California. Most of the first growth redwoods along the Pacific Coast were harvested between 1850 and 1920 for commercial lumber. Only a few far-sighted landowners recognized their majesty and took pains to preserve redwood stands and forests for future generations.
One of those landowners, Colonel James Armstrong, arrived in California in the 1870s. He purchased over 400 acres of Redwoods north of Guerneville near the Russian River. While Colonel Armstrong cut many of the trees for his lumber mill, he also recognized the need for preservation. After replanting the forest, he set aside a portion of the land for preservation. Both he and his daughter, Elizabeth Armstrong, spent years attempting to have the land incorporated into the California State Park system. In 1930, it became a county park, and later that decade finally became part of the California park system. Subsequently, Armstrong Woods was designated as a Preserve, providing it the greatest degree of protection under state law.
Since moving here, I have learned enough about the redwoods and other plants in the preserve to become a docent. I enjoy sharing my knowledge and love of the park with the current generation of Northern California students. During these walks, many of the parent chaperones recount their own school field trips as children, reliving the magic of visiting Armstrong for the first time.
The 2020 Walbridge fire badly damaged the ridges that surround the forest floor. Only the heroic efforts by hundreds of firefighters saved the area and its redwoods from total destruction. Afterwards, the preserve was closed to the public for 18 months while damaged trees were removed, and the trails cleared for the safety of visitors.
I highly recommend a walk through the forest by visitors to Sonoma County. Featuring flat trails and a self-guided tour that takes 45-60 minutes, the preserve is located at 17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville CA 95446. Park hours begin every day at 8am and end sunset.
Learn more about Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve here.