Kids always whine about hiking but in the end have a really good time once they get their minds on something fun. When I was a kid, my parents would overcome the resistance by coaxing me from berry bush to berry bush down the trail. By the time I finally got full of berries we had usually managed to get in a full hike. Redwood forests don’t have a lot of berries so we use magic fairy wands to coax our littles down the trail. What is a fairy wand you ask? It is an on-the-go craft project sure to get the kids moving down the trail. Before you leave, stick a roll of tape in your backpack. Start hiking and when the complaints start to come out ask the kids to find the perfect stick to make a fairy wand. After some searching down the trail, apply the tape to the wand with the sticky side out. Now the goal is to find interesting flowers, leaves, feathers, and other natural items to stick to the tape thus making the beautiful fairy wand. The real magic is that by the time the fairy wand is complete you will have coaxed your kids all the way down the trail and they completely forgot that they were hiking! Try this out on a few of our favorite easy hikes in Sonoma County.
In this series we are highlighting our top 3 easy, moderate, and strenuous hikes in West Sonoma County.
This is part 1 of our 3 part “Best Hikes” series.
- Part 1: 4 Best Easy Family Hikes, good for all ages
- Part 2: 3 Best Moderate Family Hikes, good for ages 6 and up
- Part 3: 3 Best Challenging Family Hikes, good for teens and up
These easy north bay area hikes are stroller friendly, and great for taking small children along. On one of them you could also scooter or bicycle and do some wine tasting!
Treasure Hunt at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
Description: 2.3 mile loop, stroller friendly, dogs not allowed, parking fee
Amenities: visitor center, restrooms and drinking water
The Japanese have named the practice of taking a restful visit to a forest to soak in the experience, shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. Its no wonder, the majestic trees at Armstrong Redwoods State Preserve create a serene place to wander with your family. Our favorite adventure is an easy stroller friendly flat walk through the main grove of trees in the park.
It’s easy to get to Armstrong Redwoods since it is just 10 minutes drive from downtown Guerneville. At the one stoplight in town you will turn north onto Armstrong Woods Road until you arrive at the parking lot and visitors center. Stop at the visitor’s center to check out the displays and specimens. The docents are also really helpful if you have any questions.
Before heading out on your hike you can download our Free PDF Guide to the Top 3 Family Adventures along the Russian River. The 3 adventures are about a Treasure Hunt Hike at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, tubing on the Russian River, and Biking & Wine Tasting on the West County Trail.
Riverfront Regional Park
Description: 2 mile lollipop, jogging stroller friendly, dogs allowed in leash, parking fee
Amenities: restrooms and drinking water
Just this last weekend we went for a walk at this park to collect photos for this post and on the way way back we spotted a bald eagle perched on the top of a redwood tree! We know there is a mating pair near the mouth of the Russian River so we are guessing this one might be a relative.
The hike here starts in the grove of beautiful Redwood trees with picnic tables and follows a 2 mile stroll on the Lake View trail that circles around one of the little lakes. The path is essentially flat and compatible with a jogging stroller or bikes. While swimming is not allowed in the lakes, you can use them for boating, SUPing, or fishing. If a dip in the water is what your little ones crave, the Russian River can be accessed by a little spur trail on the northwest side of the loop, marked by a small sign. There is a small gravel beach that can be fun for the kids to splash around. Segments of the trails can be seasonally flooded and inaccessible in winter during high flow events on the Russian River.
West County Trail
Description: 1.5 to 6.4 mile out and back, stroller, bike, & scooter friendly, dog friendly,
Amenities: free parking on Pajaro lane in Forestville, restrooms & water available at wineries
The West County Regional Trail (WCR Trail) is a mostly paved multi-use trail which connects Forestville, Graton, and Sebastopol all the way to Santa Rosa via the Joe Rodota Trail. This trail is very unique because you can go wine tasting along the way. Unfortunately due to Sonoma County COVID-19 regulations you can’t be spontaneous when deciding on which wineries to visit, as all wineries require a reservation at the time of the publication of this post. So be sure to do a little research ahead of time and make a reservation online or by calling ahead. We have biked this path many times, and have seen others on the trail walking their dogs, and pushing strollers. This nearly flat trail sneaks behind the wine country scenes through farmland and vineyards and is shaded by mature trees for much of the distance. It is a perfect trail for the old berry bush to berry bush trick!
Start your walk at the end of Pajaro Lane in Forestville. At around the 3/4 mile mark, the first winery you come to will be the venerable Russian River Vineyards (5700 CA-116, Forestville). The access trail is next to a memorial bench where you will see a gate to the vineyard beyond. When you call ahead to make the appointment for tasting, let them know you will be arriving via the West County Trail and they will provide instructions on how to get to the tasting room. Kids are welcome at the outdoor tasting area.
The next winery at around the 1.5 mile mark is Ektimo Vineyards (4950 Ross Rd, Sebastopol). There is a bicycle rack and picnic tables at the tasting room. This is our pick for best family friendly winery along the path. The last time we were there the tasting room manager came out to help our kids call the goats over to feed them fresh green weeds while we relaxed at the picnic tables with a cool bottle of their 2014 Chardonnay.
The trail has a couple of small on-road sections as the pathway alignment changes, but the directions are very well signed, local traffic is slow, and drivers are well aware of pedestrians at these spots. The first significant wiggle is at Green Valley Road when the trail shifts over a block. This would be a good spot to head back for walkers. For families on bikes, check out our longer version of this trail.
This easy hike can also be done as an easy bike ride, and is featured on our free Guide to the Top 3 Family Adventures along the Russian River. It includes bonus advice with a detailed map, recommendations for places to eat, and where to rent bicycles. To get your free download, click here.
Grove of Old Trees
Description: 1 mile loop, jogging stroller friendly, dog friendly
Amenities: free parking, no restrooms or water
Address: 17599 Fitzpatrick Ln, Occidental, CA 95465
(Effective Friday, September 10, 2021 the Grove of Old Trees parking area is closed to the public. There is no vehicle access to the Grove of Old Trees, including street parking. This temporary closure to vehicle access is due to increased fire danger and will last until the end of fire season in Sonoma County.) For more information go to their website.
This small redwood sanctuary is a hidden gem in the hills west of Occidental. A small network of trails extends through and around the grove. There are no signs but the trails are easy to follow. There’s a picnic table at the west end of the grove, but no other facilities. When driving to the grove, look for a small turnout to your right with a wooden archway leading into the grove. This walk is mostly flat and about a mile long. It’s a perfect place for a quiet picnic and fairy wands.
When starting out from the parking lot, hop onto the trail and and head up the trail to the left. This trail leads through the center of the grove and the grove’s best scenery. At the next fork (marked “Anne’s Circle” ), stay to the left to reach the picnic table. Just past the picnic table, the woods end at a fence with a vineyard on the other side. Turn right and follow the trail as it encircles the grove. Ignore an unofficial path to your left and turn left at the next clearly-visible intersection. The trail appears to follow the path of an old dirt road as it descends gently toward Fitzpatrick Lane where you parked.
This local insight brought to you by your hosts at Lucky Bend Lookout; a modern yet family-friendly Russian River vacation home. Check our availability and book online or call/text Sarah at 415-516-6961 to reserve.