No matter how many times I visit, I am astounded by the unfathomable immensity of Armstrong Woods’ towering coast redwoods. Words used to describe their grandeur are regularly superlative (gigantic, gargantuan, gorgeous) and infused with otherworldly enchantment (mysterious, mythical, magical). No matter their spiritual leanings, most who enter the sacred realm of these awe-inspiring, ancient beings liken it to a cathedral, where they encounter peace and profundity tantamount to a religious experience.
Located in Guerneville, which once earned the moniker “Stumptown” due to the expedient and thorough logging that began there in the 1860s, Armstrong Woods is not only the most accessible grove of old-growth redwood trees in Sonoma County but one of the few still in existence. Within a few short decades of logging, a mere scintilla of the trees’ vast lifespan, only five percent of the former two million acres of primeval temperate redwood forest was left standing.
Armstrong Woods’ 805 acres offers 9.2 miles of hiking trails, but the most salient features—like Parson Jones, the park’s tallest tree at 310 feet; and its eldest, the 1400-year-old Colonel Armstrong Tree—are located along the mostly flat and ADA-accessible Pioneer Nature Trail. Meandering through dense carpets of ferns and redwood sorrel covering the forest floor, this trail can be easily traversed round-trip in under a mile, or extended by detouring along the Discovery Trail to visit the tree-hugging platform or taking a snack break at the park’s expansive picnic area.
Considering that many of the resident trees were already several hundred years old when Shakespeare began penning Romeo and Juliet, here the perception of human time is turned on its head. Even an hour basking in reverent wonder of the forest’s majesty can feel simultaneously like a blink of an eye and an eternity.
17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville
Day use fees are $10.00 per vehicle or $9.00 per vehicle for seniors, and the park can be accessed for free by parking in the lot outside the main entrance and walking or biking in.