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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.