The morning started out waking early and driving through the fog along the Russian River to the giant redwoods…through the misty redwood forest climbing up a windy 1 lane road…you are now above the fog and tree tops with some sunshine. This is any typical morning going to Armstrong Woods but this time we were venturing beyond the comfortable Armstrong Woods into the Austin Creek State Recreation Area.
On our first visit to Armstrong Woods 3 years ago a nice lady told us about Austin Creek and how she loved it. Ever since I have been wanting to find the right time to see it. I had read here that there are 12 creek crossings and in spring we might get to see some newts and wildflowers. Perfect! Or so we thought. The creeks were flowing good and apparently newts enjoy making more newts…like a lot!
The hubs and I found the parking spot just before Bullfrog Pond campground and headed down the East Austin Creek fire road into the fog and mist excited about the trail adventures ahead. Then SQUEAL! The stick on the ground started moving. Oh wait! That’s not a stick, it’s a newt! Holy newts there are 5 of them camouflaged on the trail! Take many pictures, then watch where you step and keep going down the never ending hill. All along the way the fallen leaves were dark and the red bellied newts blended in and moved sluggishly to get out of our way. This was only the beginning of all the newts on the trail.
Once we reached Gilliam Creek (the first time of many) we enjoyed finding newts in the pools of water along the flowing streams. Cross the bridge and enjoy the flatness of the fire road. Stop as many times as you can to check the creek for mating newts. There was some serious mating going on in spring when we went. Nature is so amazing how the creatures adapt to their surroundings. I did feel a bit bad for the female newts…the male newts didn’t really woo them with dates and flowers, just “hugged” them for a long time.
Enough of the newts yet? Keep going along the fire road past the campsites and enjoy the views while away from the creek for a bit. Living here for a while now I am still in awe of how much open space will be forever preserved for generations to enjoy. As far as the eye could see, we were in the wilderness and no signs of civilization except a few other hikers we passed. Just before Mannings Flat the hubs and I hunted down a way to cross the wide creek. A large fallen tree was really our only way. I am getting really good at this whole balancing act thing while crossing rushing creeks below! I am sure the hubs takes a deep breath whenever we do this and wonders how he will save me if I fall in 🙂
We found the Fox Mountain trail and followed it up and around to more amazing views of the valleys we were going up and down and through. Enjoy your feet being dry!
The tricky part was crossing East Austin Creek to hop on the Gilliam Creek trail. We walked up and down the creek both ways trying to find the best spot to cross, then just jumped in feet first and went for it. We were careful not to disturb any newts making babies and trudged across the creek in calf deep flowing water. Cold!!!
From here the signage is much better on Gilliam Creek trail but I truly think whoever created this trail just wanted to mess with the future hikers. We crossed the creek 12 times. Back and forth we went. Some parts we were able to hop across on rocks, some parts we had to just get our feet wet. Thankful for my Chacos on this hike! If you don’t want to get your feet wet, this would be an amazing hike to do during the summer when it’s hot out. You are in the shade for about half of it. As you follow Gilliam Creek you are in a heavily forested area that reminded me more of a jungle and I began to wonder when we would see the sun again.
Ask and you shall receive. The trail left the creek and started the climb back up. It was pretty brutal. We started seeing others going the opposite direction and we gave them fair warning about all the creek crossings. There was a small group that was just doing the shorter out and back on Gilliam Creek and were struggling going back up the hill…not sure I have ever heard so much heavy sighing and complaining in such a beautiful place than from this group. It helped us to push ourselves so we could get away from the noises 😉 Enjoy the views as you climb! The valley below that you walked through looks gorgeous from up above! Take your time and enjoy the newt free part of the hike. At the top, hang a left and follow the 1 lane road back to your car.
This is truly a wonderful hike, strenuous 9.5 miles with 1,700 ft elevation gain, half shade, lots of crazy horny newts in the spring and a lot of water in the creeks, pit toilet at the top and a lovely experience driving back down into the mighty redwoods of Armstrong Woods. Just another day in beautiful Sonoma County.