Russian River and Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

Celebrating milestone birthdays gives us an excuse to do something a bit out of the norm, to go ahead and splurge a little because it’s always good to celebrate life. My mother-in-law celebrated her (mumble, mumble)th birthday by renting a house in Healdsburg right on the Russian River and kindly invited all of us family members to join her. Healdsburg is about an hour and a half north of San Francisco, right off Hwy 101 in wine country. We spent Saturday at the house taking in the river views and participating in birthday festivities, and Sunday we ventured out to explore the area. Recent rains made the fast flowing river dangerous to enter, so we gave up on kayaking and floating on the river, and explored the riverbank instead.

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The view of the Russian River from the “birthday” house
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Walking along the Russian River involved treading carefully on loose gravel

We came across Del Rio Woods park, a small local park with a self-pay parking lot and more importantly a great place to put your water equipment into the river (when the river calmed down). We pretty much had the place to ourselves with plenty of river bank to wander around in.2017-04-09 09.43.05

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We came across a sand bar which looked like a great place to venture into the river, but there was a steep drop off about half a foot past where my daughter is standing (fast flowing rivers – use caution)

After a morning of exploring the Russian River, we decided to visit the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve just north of Guerneville. The half hour drive from Healdsburg to Armstrong Redwoods SNR taking the back roads was beautiful with vineyards, Russian River parks and various wineries. It seems to be a popular cycling area as well with very little car traffic.

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Riverfront Regional park behind the vineyard

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve is one of the few groves of coast redwoods still standing that have never been logged. These majestic redwoods remind us of the existance of redwood forests before logging began. A docent let us know that the coast redwoods near the Bay Area where we live have all been logged and are considered second growth redwoods. Although still magnificent they are smaller in size compared to the redwoods in the park. I am so grateful that this grove was protected and treasured for people like us to be inspired and amazed by them.

We had planned on parking in the lot just outside the park and catching the Armstrong Pioneer Nature Trail at the entrance, but the parking lot was completely full. We weren’t too surprised since we visited on a Sunday afternoon during the second weekend of April on one of the first sunny days in a long while. Everyone looked so happy to be outside enjoying the great weather. We maneuvered our way through the narrow road to the parking area (at the picnic area) near the other end of the trail where there was plenty of parking (you do have to pay the $8 entrance fee or have a CA state parks pass). The Pioneer Nature Trail winds through their prized, old-growth redwood grove and highlights three of their most famous redwood trees. There is a certain feel when you enter into such an established redwood grove. First, you feel the temperature shift, it gets a little cooler and even a little damp, the sunlight has a harder time time finding its way through the trees. Noise seems to get absorbed into the trees and it’s very serene, only the trickle of water from the creek and the chirping of birds creates some background ambiance. It just feels special, and you can’t help but feel honored to be in the presence of greatness…

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Start of our nature hike, we couldn’t get over the vibrant green colors surrounding us
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Plenty of interesting signs on the self-guided nature walk
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A fire reached the heartwood, or core, of this tree, but the tree adapted and strengthened its base (as we learned from the sign next to the tree)

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The Icicle Tree, according to the sign, had many more “icicles” hanging on it, but were stolen by poachers

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Nice wide paths dappled in sunlight with the sound of the creek trickling by
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Nature carved root art
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The Colonel Armstrong tree is the oldest tree in the grove, approximately 1400 years old
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The park was named after the Armstrongs who protected the grove and whose efforts eventually helped make this park part of the California State Park system in 1934 – thank you so much!
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A few of these mushrooms displayed on the sign were growing in the grove, it was like having our own personal guide on our walk with all the great information
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Recent rains left the trails a bit muddy, but passable (it was hard to watch where you were walking when so much beauty was up above)
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The Parson Jones Tree is the tallest tree in the grove, measuring over 310 feet
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It’s all relative…
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Tree root art again
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The sign describes how sorrel is covering the ground (no flowers yet), also see the burl growth on one of the trees in the middle
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Fife Creek keeping us company

We took our time wandering around the Pioneer Nature Trail loop reading all of the signs and taking in all that the grove had to offer. We noticed on the map that there was a waterfall near where we parked (on East Ridge Trail), and wanted to see what it looked like with the recent rains, so we took a quick detour to find Fife Creek Waterfall.

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Taking the East Ridge Trail in search of the Fife Creek Waterfall
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Just a little way up the East Ridge Trail, a sign pointed us downwards to Fife Creek Waterfall
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Apparently we were lucky to see the waterfall since it’s typically “below the surface”
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I loved this sign on the bench, don’t worry I didn’t let my daughter sit down 😉
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Fife Creek Waterfall was small, but beautiful and worth walking the short distance (especially after the rains)
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We had the place to ourselves and it took great resolve to finally leave

Healdsburg Plaza

We left Armstrong SNR and headed back to Healdsburg to meet up with grandma and grandpa in time to explore Healdsburg Plaza. The plaza had a park in the middle of the square with many restaurants and shops surrounding it. I’m not much of a shopper (I think I got scarred after moving last summer and getting rid of so much “stuff”), so I just followed grandma and my daughter as they enjoyed perusing all the little stores.

But first we had to have a little snack to power us up. We stopped at Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar, which was right on the Healdsburg Plaza and sampled the apple blackberry pie, key lime pie, espresso mud pie, strawberry lemon sorbet, and grandpa got adventurous with vanilla ice cream. I really enjoyed the apple blackberry pie, the key lime pie was very rich (we managed to finish it so apparently it wasn’t too rich), and the espresso mud pie had some super kicked up coffee flavor (it was fun to try, but we couldn’t finish it).

We picked up some local cheeses and nibbles (in case we weren’t full from all that pie – my goodness!) from a wonderful local market in Healdsburg, Big John’s Market, and ended the day out on the deck of the rental house, watching the Russian River flow by and admiring the trees on the other side light up by the setting sun. A wonderful way to end a day of exploring the Russian River, Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve and Healdsburg Plaza. This area is known for its many famous wineries which we didn’t have time for this trip, but it goes to show you that the Healdsburg area will keep you very busy with many activites and places to visit.

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14 thoughts on “Russian River and Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

  1. Happy birthday to your MIL–what a wonderful weekend getaway! Your photos are beautiful and really capture the serenity and majesty of the redwoods. You’re so right–there really is a special feeling that overcomes you in a redwood forest. So sad about the poachers, though. I hope they catch them, but if not, I’m sure karma will! Fire ecology is amazing; I’ve read about fire in other trees but had no idea about the redwoods. Thank you for sharing–very cool! Also, I’m glad that you didn’t let your daughter sit on the bench–important to set a good example about following rules. 😀 That deck overlooking the river looks like heaven…we’ve been talking with my parents about doing a joint Tahoe or WA trip, and something like this would fit the bill perfectly–thank you for the great idea! So glad you had such a lovely weekend with the family–pie and cheese sound like the perfect (and tastiest) way to end any trip!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is so awesome that she rented the “birthday house”. What a time of fellowship in such a wonderful location. You brought some great photos and narrative back with you from the outing. Thank you and thank you to your mother in law.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a wonderful birthday celebration! Happy birthday to your MIL! Now that is my way of celebrating and being with family. Those pictures are beautiful (as always). I will have to put Redwoods and Healdsburg on my list of places to go. 🙂 Looks like you guys had a wonderful and relaxing time!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, the view of the river from your deck looks amazing! What a nice place for a getaway birthday celebration. And it’s neat to see your tree pictures because we just visited Sequoia National Park yesterday and that was the first time we ever saw trees like that. We plan to see Redwoods later this year too. They are magnificent! Beautiful waterfall pictures too!

    Liked by 1 person

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