Drive through the dense redwood forest of Armstrong Woods and up a narrow winding one-lane road and you will reach the rocky mountaintops and oak capped knolls of Austin Creek State Recreation Area. Sitting a thousand feet above the redwood forest, the views of the canyons below and fog in the distance are magnificent from Austin Creek SRA! Any time of year is beautiful here! During winter and spring the creeks are flowing and you might even catch some newts making more newts! Creek crossing is also more difficult…not because of the newts but because the trails crisscross the creeks about 11 times and you will get wet toes! Summer can be hot even in the shady canyon below but you get the golden hills and full oak trees. We went in fall this year and enjoyed fall foliage on our short hike down Austin Creek trail and back up Gilliam Creek trail.
Austin Creek State Recreation Area
Armstrong Woods was the first hike the hubs and the bosslady did when moving to Sonoma County in 2013. In sandals and shorts and getting lost among the giants we met a local that had told us about this amazing hiking area beyond Armstrong Woods, Austin Creek State Recreation Area. From then on we kept that on our bucket list until we could work up to being able to hike it. Our first time was in 2016 and we did 9.5 miles and got to see the newts making lots of newts! Check out the post on our sister site ‘Holy Newts!’ then come on back and finish reading this post! While we LOVE Armstrong Woods for the gorgeous redwood giants we truly enjoy the amazing views from the top of Austin Creek SRA!
We entered Armstrong Woods and followed the signs on the narrow roads toward Bullfrog Pond. The road that leads up to the back country is a one lane road that winds around the mountain. Views of the tree tops come into view and you begin to see the fog laying low over the trees. It’s an amazing sight to take in even if you aren’t going for a hike! We parked at the parking lot near Bullfrog Campground and walked back down the road to East Austin Creek trail. Next time, we will park in the Schoolhouse parking lot and walk up to the trail head so we have less climbing to do at the end of our hike!
Austin Creek Trail
The views of the canyon below and the mountaintops in the distance are incredible! We took so long at the beginning of the hike, ok we took forever all along this hike but the top had the best views! Clouds were hanging in the air threatening rain. The hills were covered with trees and dotted with golden grasses. A breeze was blowing by and a hawk was having a blast floating around above us. How can you power hike through something like this? Take in the views!
The trail is a nice wide fire road that gradually descends into oak and bay woodlands. No newts at this time of year on the trail! Maples popped with golden yellows and bright oranges and their leaves floated down from above. The creeks and streams had a little water flowing through them and were covered with orange leaves. We paused every chance we got to enjoy the greens of the bays and oaks and the oranges and yellows from the maples.
At the bottom of Austin Creek trail where it meets Gilliam Creek trail, the leaves were dancing around in the air before they landed on the ground. A breeze kicked up and it was so magical standing on the bridge with fall happening all around you! This is only part of why it took us forever to complete this hike.
Gilliam Creek Trail
Gilliam Creek trail starts off level in a forest of mostly bays and oaks with a few pops of color from the maples. We had the trail all to ourselves the entire time! So crazy no one else was there to enjoy it while it was perfect hiking weather! We did see a mama deer and her two babies but they live there so they don’t count as hikers. 😉
This was the perfect hike to unplug. We had no service and no one was around. It was like we were on an adventure all our own! Crossing the creek several times, and thankful there wasn’t any water this time, we kept plugging along. And then the trail started heading uphill. We remembered this part. It is relentless! Gilliam Creek trail teases you a bit as you climb up the switchbacks still under the forest canopy and views of the creek…then the forest canopy disappears and Manzanitas and brush take its place.
Gilliam Creek trail becomes more rocky and narrow the higher you climb out of the canyon below. Carefully turn around and enjoy the views that are starting to appear! I say carefully because you might slip if you don’t pay attention. Not that we would know anything about slipping on a trail. 😉 When we reached our favorite oak tree we figured it was a perfect time to take a break and enjoy the views below. This oak is so beautiful!
Thinking we were almost to the top since we could see the parking lot we got a little excited and picked up the pace. This is when the bosslady tripped over a rock. In her defense it was covered by leaves but she almost went head first on the narrow trail! Careful of those hidden rocks! They’re sneaky! Thankfully everyone was OK, the hubs might have gotten another gray hair from this but all was good. We kept gently climbing up the switchbacks…then the trail started heading downhill. The bosslady checked the Alltrails app to make sure we didn’t miss a turn, we didn’t.
After the downhill and then the back uphill, we were rewarded with a small grove of redwoods. It’s like they went rogue and escaped Armstrong Woods and found a spot just for them to start a new community. Just after this beautiful sight we popped out onto the road we drove up on. Whew! Now we knew we were really close to the car! A cute hippie couple passed us in a van, oh how we would have loved to jump in and listen to their stories of traveling. They didn’t stop (and we didn’t ask them to) so we kept going on the road. We could see the distant fog coming in thick over the Russian River and covering up some of the treetops. The air was humid and felt thick. We were tired and sweaty. Then the bosslady reminded the hubs she wanted to get ice cream in Guerneville and suddenly the pace picked up back to the car! 🙂
The views along the road were just as gorgeous as they were when we drove up the hill. So amazing we didn’t see many people! Plopping back in the car we opted to drive back with the top down to air ourselves out and dry some of the sweat (see YouTube video below of us driving through the forest). Driving through a redwood forest with the top down so you can look up at the giants is truly wonderful! Highly recommend it! Then go get some ice cream and treat yourself! 😀
$8 parking, no dogs on trails, toilets at the visitor center and in Armstrong Woods, 4.9 miles, 1,115 ft elevation change, moderate hike only due to the elevation change, 75% shade, best times are fall, winter and spring. Nearest food is in Guerneville. They have some amazing little places to check out downtown! We used the trail description from Bay Area Hiker. Enjoy a nice glass of Russian River Pinot Noir after…I mean you are in the Russian River valley might as well stop and pick up a bottle at one of the many wineries!
Things We Love:
Sometimes the bosslady shares too much information. But more is better than less right? Ok, so she sweats a lot and hates wearing shoes let alone shoes AND socks. She does however lover her padded Thorlo socks (see below). They have extra padding in the heel, ball of the foot and toes. All the places you need the extra padding when hiking, or running but she only runs from crazy people. The rest of the sock is thin and lets her feet breathe. This is super important in order for her to be a happy hiker! 😉 Check them out at Amazon in the link below and pick out your favorite color! Then let us know how you like them!
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Don’t forget to check out the video of the hike on our Hike Then Wine YouTube channel!
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