Sunday Hikes: Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

Armstrong Redwoods is a great option near San Francisco to go see Redwoods without the crowds and appointment necessary at beautiful Muir Woods. Located in Sonoma County northwest of the wineries in the valley, this park is still convenient but is away from the tourists.

Conveniently located at the Visitor Center parking lot, is a series of shorter trails that connect and go by several large Redwoods. If you do the Pioneer Nature Trail plus the spur Discovery and Armstrong Nature trails you can see the named features and hike 1.5 miles total.

Visitor Center area trail map

The trails are wide and well maintained. The Colonel Armstrong Tree and Parson Jones trees are very large for this part of California.

Beginning of the Pioneer Nature Trail

Parson Jones Tree

Colonel Armstrong Tree

I did learn from talking to the volunteers working the trail about the difference between diameter and circumference. Depending on the tree and where you are in California, some trees are marked by diameter and some by circumference. Diameter is the distance thru the tree traveling directly thru the center. Circumference is the distance around the outside circle of the tree. I should’ve paid attention in high school geometry.

More Redwoods

In any case, this is a relaxing and easy hike and I recommend it especially if you are looking to see some Redwoods within an easy drive of San Francisco without all the crowds. Thanks for reading! rk

Sunday Hikes: Cedars of Lebanon State Park

Not every hike has perfect cloudless blue skies and that warm, but not too warm, temperature. But every hike is a good hike. I’ve wanted to check out the Cedars of Lebanon State Park for awhile now because of the cool name.

Located about 30 miles east of Nashville TN, this is one of what seems like dozens of gorgeous state parks located off of I-40 between Nashville and Knoxville. The park is named after the Eastern Red Cedars that thrived in this area. Early American settlers to this area thought the trees reminded them of cedar forests across the Mount Lebanon area of Biblical fame.

The hiking conditions were typical of hiking in the southeastern US in winter. Overcast, damp and a chilly 38*F. It was late afternoon so I decided to hike the namesake Cedar Forest Trail which is a 2 mile loop.

This hike is what I call a lollipop trail, this one with a short stick and a big loop. The trail started off right off the main road through the forest. After taking the right fork of the loop we started to get some rocks but the only cedars I saw were quite small. I managed to slip on one rock and bust my shin.

The back half of the loop was surrounded by sinkholes with one having what appeared to be a small cave opening. There were also many more of the cedars but none seemed anywhere near full grown.

This area isn’t really that far from Mammoth Cave National Park, so I wondered if there was a similar cave system underneath this park. Maybe it’s even connected?!

I finally saw a few larger cedars along with more sinkholes. Turns out this area was almost completely logged before it became a state park so all the older cedars were long gone. I crossed through a large rock field and then completed the loop and then back down the “stick” to the parking area.

I really enjoyed the hike, with the exception of bloodying my shin. I recommend this state park if you are in the area and want to get in a quick hike. As always, thanks for reading. rk

Picture of the Day: Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park is located about 5 miles from Sedona AZ. There are 5 miles of interconnected trails throughout the park. Josh and I did several of the loops including the Javalina Trail and Yavapai Ridge. We were hoping to spot some Javalinas but they were hiding from us. rk

Sunday Hikes: Prentice Cooper State Forest

The Prentice Cooper State Forest is 25,000 acres of land around the Tennessee River gorge about 10 miles west of Chattanooga, Tennessee. It has 35 miles of hiking trails and free camping.

Josh and I wanted to get in a solid hike in the area and chose to take the dirt road to the Snoopers Rock trailhead. From there we could check out “Snoopers Rock” and hike to Natural Bridge and back. This would be a 6 mile round trip distance.

We parked at the trailhead and followed a spur road for a 1/4 mile and discovered that we could have driven down and parked right there at Snoopers Rock. Snoopers Rock is a rock overhang with gorgeous views of the Tennessee River gorge.

There were quite a few folks at Snoopers Rock since it was so easily accessible. After soaking in the unearned view for a moment. We then followed the signs towards Natural Bridge.

This route was much less traveled. The trail followed the river from on high. There were many trees down across the trail which made it more fun rather than difficult. After a mile or so we reached somewhat of a hiking crossroads in the forest.

We followed the path to Natural Bridge of course, while making a mental note to come back and check out these other trails. The hiking thru this area felt like we were hundreds of miles from civilization as it was quiet and secluded. We passed several rickety wooden bridges and soon we arrived at Natural Bridge.

We hiked over the rock bridge and down under it and then back up the top. It was impressive and a lot of fun pretending to rock climb.

After playing around a bit we hurried back and made much better time on the return trip. This was a great hike and a lot of fun. I highly recommend the Prentice Cooper State Forest if you are visiting Chattanooga and want to get in some nature too. rk

Sunday Hikes: The Stout Grove Trail & River Trail

The last hike that Josh and I did in the Redwood forests of Northern California may have been the best hike in this area. The Stout Grove Trail and River Trail are located down a six mile dirt road in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. It had some good mud puddles so half the fun was driving there.

The Stout Grove Trail is a loop trail through a magnificent grove of Redwoods. The River Trail is a spur that follows the Smith River to another trailhead. To complete both is 1.5 miles of fun.

The Stout Grove loop itself is similar to many in the area except these Redwoods were some of the biggest we had seen. One monster we we estimated at almost 52 feet in circumference. Their were some hollowed out ones you could fit an entire family within as well.

The River Trail isn’t as wide and flat and was cool as it was different than most hikes in the area. The water was a pretty blue. I took a few pictures of this trail as well.

This is such a gorgeous area that I can’t recommend enough to visit. If you would to learn more about the hikes in this area then please search “Redwoods” on the blog search page. You’ll see there are quite a few we hiked in the area.

Thanks for reading. rk

Chattahoochee Bend State Park

The nearly constant spring rain let up enough this Monday for us to make a trip over to Chattahoochee Bend State Park. Chattahoochee Bend, Georgia’s 5th largest State Park, is a kayakers haven, along with having hiking trails and plenty of camping. The park winds along the Chattahoochee river and is home to diverse wildlife and lush green forest.

When we arrived at the park, I was so surprised by how nice it was. Chattahoochee Bend had by far the cleanest, nicest facilities of any park we have visited. The visitors center had rocking chairs on a wrapping front porch, very friendly employees, and kayak rentals available. We stopped in to grab a map, and decided to drive down to the Riverside trail. It was marked as “easy”, and follows the path of the Chattahoochee River.

We started along the trail, and I was so surprised by how different it felt than other GA trails. Low hanging vines, bright green leaves, and scattered creeks surrounded us. When our son wasn’t singing “we’re going on a bear hunt”, the only sounds were chirping birds and gurgling streams. It felt very secluded and really “out in nature”, even though we only hiked a few miles. We stopped to observe the beaver pond, but sadly didn’t spot any beavers. About a mile into the trail, we came to the observation tower, which was a wooden tower about two stories up. We climbed up and enjoyed the view of the muddy river. The trail itself went several more miles than we hiked, but the weather was very dismal that day, and no one likes getting caught in a downpour several miles into a trail!

We finished off our quick visit by visiting the playground, which seemed very new, much like all the bathrooms and facilities. Rain started to come down shortly after that, so we decided to head on home. Although our visit was cut short, this is a park I would love to visit again, and even take the kayaks out. The camping areas also seemed very nice…perhaps we’ll have to make a little trip out of it next time!

Until next time, and happy hiking 🙂

Rebekah

Red Top Mountain State Park

It’s Thursday, so I am back to report on this week’s continuation of our State Park mission (to visit every State Park in Georgia.) Before I share about this week’s park, Red Top Mountain, I would like to add that I changed up our challenge a little bit. I had originally included State Historic Sites on our list of parks, but decide to remove them after realizing that they aren’t included in your State Park pass and would cost us $15 per site. Sorry Historic Sites. So that leaves us at 8 parks done, 38 to go!

Red Top Mountain is the State Park that is the most accessible to us. I had been there many times for hiking, boating, and other events prior to beginning this blog series. My overview of this park is really a compilation of many trips. The park itself, named for the hard Georgia red soil that covers it, is primarily a boating spot. It sits adjacent to the 12,000 acre man-made Lake Allatoona, and Red Top encourages enjoyment of the lake with a sandy swimming beach, marina, 2 boat ramps and docks. As a teenager, I spent many hours “tubing” on the back of friends’ boats in the lake. More recently, we have had fun paddling kayaks around the still parts of the lake, and exploring mini-islands that litter it. As long as you have life jackets, it is doable to kayak with a young child in between your legs in a sit-in kayak- as long as they are old enough to be mostly still and follow directions. Our 3 year really enjoyed doing so.

Red Top Mountain is not necessarily a place to go for challenging hikes or backcountry activities. Their 15 miles of trails are not strenuous, but a good place for running or getting outside for a long walk. Red Top does, though, do a real service to the area that it is located. Sitting right above true suburbia, it is wonderful that the community has an accessible place to enjoy the outdoors. You can participate in camping, swimming, tennis, boating, picnicking, and our favorite, outdoor putt putt. They have a really fun putt putt green in a wooden area near the swimming beach. We bring our own putter and balls, and have a good old fashioned game while our son enjoys climbing, running, and jumping all around the course like it’s his own personal obstacle course.

Overall, it is a great resource for people looking to enjoy the outdoors with plenty activities to choose from. I’m not sure which State Park we will head to this week, but I look forward to sharing about it!

All the best,

Rebekah

Fort Mountain State Park: Family Hiking

Welcome back readers – we are going strong on our mission to visit all the beautiful Georgia State Parks. The days are getting long and hot here in Georgia, so today we headed out bright and early for Fort Mountain, a State Park about 2 hours north of Atlanta. The park gets it’s name for the nearly 900 foot long “fort” rock wall located atop the mountain. The history behind the namesake fort is a bit muddy, as there is no definitive explanation for who built the wall (or why.)

After some exceptionally curvy mountain driving (not my favorite activity), we arrived at the entrance of Fort Mountain State Park. This park is primarily used by tent, RV, and cottage campers, so they had a well-stocked Trading Post that we stopped in at. In the building was a massive taxidermy black bear who had previously called the park home. According to a sign, he was illegally killed by a hunter, but the body was retrieved to be displayed in the park. Our 3 year old was terrified of the bear- Hopefully that means he will listen when we talk about bear safety!

The park is fairly large, so we drove over to the beginning of the most popular trail. It is was a 1.5 mile hike that summits to the park’s fire tower, which visitors are permitted to climb (with a ranger present) for a spectacular view. We then looped down to the fort which the park was named for. The “fort” is more of a long pile of rocks than anything. We hiked around it for a bit and spotted some millipedes, but not much else in the wildlife department. The loop trail hike itself was fairly easy and mostly shady.  We ended our trip with a packed lunch by the park’s lake, which features a small swimming beach and different types of boat rentals.

On our way home, we were able to drive by two Historic Sites, the Chief Vann House and New Echota. Both of these are located on the Trail of Tears and feature Native American History. We didn’t get out and explore because we had a sleeping kid in the back, and both required guided tours with admission, no free exploration of the grounds, which we weren’t really up for waiting around for. I did snap some pictures out of the window though!  Overall, it was a really nice day exploring North Georgia’s bright green spring wildlife and getting a small taste of history.

Until next week- Rebekah

Picture of the Day: Natural Bridges State Beach

Just north of Santa Cruz, CA is Natural Bridges State Beach which features this beautiful arch. This was one of three arches that were here, but erosion and storms have caused two to already collapse. rk

Sweetwater Creek State Park – Sweetwater Creek Hike

Editors note: this is week 4 of our recurring feature from a young family point of view as they visit all of Georgia’s state parks. I’ll include links to the previous weeks action at the end.

Welcome back to our little state park adventure! It’s a rainy April here in Georgia, nearly every day this week was pouring- so today I am going to throwback to one of the first State Parks we went to as a family: Sweetwater Creek State Park. This park has become a popular spot because the ruins of an old textile mill featured on the red hiking trail was also a film location for the Hunger Games. The park itself runs along the large and flowing Sweetwater Creek for which the park is named. The park boasts history, beautiful hiking trails, amenities, and even a spot for weddings!

Upon arriving at the park, we were very surprised at the sheer amount of people there. It was challenging to even find a place to park our car in the large dirt lots. After locating a parking spot, we headed to the most popular trail, the red trail, to check out the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, a textile mill that was burned during the Civil War. Upon beginning the trail, I started to wonder if we should have chosen a different one. It was quite literally just a flat dirt path for the first bit, people with flip-flops and strollers were heading down alongside us- not a great sign when you are looking for a fun hike. The trail remained just as easy but got a little more exciting when we were able to walk right alongside the creek. Our son enjoyed watching the flowing stream and looking for creatures along the edge. We quickly arrived at the old ruins, which were nice, but you are unable to get very close due to preservation.

Just as I was thinking that the park was a crowded bust, we saw a sign that was our saving grace. Just past the mill, it reads “the red trail now becomes moderately difficult.” Apparently that scared all the flip-floppers away because 95% of the crowd did not continue on the trail past that. In my opinion, “moderately difficult” trails can actually be more fun with kids than easy ones, because the child stays interested with the challenge of climbing. That was definitely true in this case. The trail got really fun after the ruins. It became very rocky, and had some wooden stairs at the steepest parts. We hiked for about a mile along the rocky trail, holding on to the chains they had inserted into the rocks for balance. We ended up turning around after we became soaked in mud (I would recommend going on a dry day), but the rest of the trail looked equally fun and exciting.

What started out as a slight disappointment due to crowds ended up being a really enjoyable hike that I would love to do again. If I could give some recommendations for Sweetwater Creek, they would be to: go on a weekday to try to beat the crowds, go when it’s dry outside because the creek side trail does get pretty muddy, and to keep going past the old ruins to see what the red trail really has to offer! Thanks for reading and let’s hope all these April showers bring some May flowers (and hikes).

– Rebekah

Week 1: Panola Mountain SP

Week 2: Fort Yargo SP

Week 3: James H Floyd SP