Sonoma County is indisputably an area of scenic beauty and wondrous natural resources. One of the many places that justify this viewpoint is the pristine redwood grove at Armstrong Woods in Guerneville. The history of Armstrong Woods is an example of how forward-thinking individuals were champions for the environment long before most people realized the importance of preserving our natural landscapes for future generations.
Colonel James B. Armstrong was a civil war officer from Ohio who came out west in 1874 to invest in timberland during the Guerneville lumber boom. As a businessman who recognized the potential for profit in lumber. Armstrong operated a saw mill a few miles outside of Guerneville. Even though he was running a lumber company and profiting from logging, Armstrong clearly recognized the beauty and the sacred nature of the redwood grove in Guerneville that is now named for him.
In 1878, Colonel Armstrong deeded several hundred acres in what is now known as Armstrong Woods to his younger daughter, Kate, with the intention of protecting it as a nature preserve and botanical garden. Unfortunately, Kate died in 1898 and Colonel Armstrong two years later in 1900, but his passion for preserving the redwood grove lived on in Armstrong’s surviving daughter, Lizzie Armstrong Jones and family friend Harrison LeBaron. Armstrong Jones and LeBaron were successful in convincing Sonoma County to purchase the land in 1917 and the county managed it until the state took over ownership in 1934.
Colonel Armstrong’s dream was realized when Armstrong Woods State Park opened to the public in 1936.
People have been visiting the park for over a century and marveling at the Colonel Armstrong tree which is the oldest in the grove at over 1400 years. The Parson Jones Tree is the tallest at 310 feet – and was named by Lizzie Armstrong Jones in honor of her husband. Both trees are a short, easy walk from the park entrance – the Parson Jones tree at .10 miles from the park entrance and the Colonel Armstrong tree can be found a half mile from the entrance.
The park has many areas for hiking including the wheelchair accessible Pioneer Nature Trail, picnic grounds, horseback riding and the opportunity to camp at Bullfrog Pond. Any visit to Sonoma County and especially to the Russian River area should include time allotted for a stop at Armstrong Woods.
California Department of Parks and Recreation, History of Armstrong Woods SNR, accessed 6/25/17
LeBaron, Gaye “Closing Armstrong Grove Would Crush Family Dream.” Press Democrat, Jan 20, 2008