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Bay Area Parks Worth a Winter Visit

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, Photos by Dana Rebmann

Exploring the seemingly endless number of great parks in the Bay Area may seem like a summertime thing, but if you stop and think about it, it makes perfect sense. This is the time of year when we could all benefit from the peace and quiet most parks have to offer. A long hike isn’t a bad way to burn off all those Christmas cookies either. Here are some suggestions of parks worth exploring to help get you out the door.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

It doesn’t matter what you read or how many pictures you look at before you go – nothing will prepare you for the size of these giant trees. Calaveras Big Trees State Park is located three miles north of Arnold off Highway 4. Make a point to stop at the Visitor Center  and buy a copy of the guide to the North Grove Trail before you start walking. At 50 cents it’s an absolute bargain, loaded with information about 1.7 mile loop. The North Grove Trail is home to about 100 Giant Sequoias, some believed to be 2-thousand years old. The classic photo-op is walking through the Pioneer Cabin Tree. This time of year, the possibility of snow could mean you have the big trees all to yourself at times. Take gloves and enjoy.

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

If you’re looking for big trees a little closer to home, head north on 101 to Guerneville to explore Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. The park is 805 acres and there are a number of walks/ hikes ranging from an easy 1 mile jaunt to a strenuous 9 mile trip. Check out the map of Armstrong Grove. The Colonel Armstrong Tree is the oldest in the grove, estimated to be over 1,400 years old. Named after the lumberman who fought to preserve the grove, it’s just a half-mile walk from the entrance to the park.

Wolf House Ruins

Wolf House

Jack London State Historic Park

It will take more than one trip to enjoy everything Jack London State Historic Park has to offer. You can tour London’s restored Cottage, visit the House of Happy Walls Museum or hike to the stunning ruins of the Wolf House. Rain or shine, free  hikes leave every Sunday morning at 10am from the upper parking lot. The park map will help you get your bearings. Dogs are welcome on leash on the 1.2 mile Wolf House trail and on a one mile circuit within Beauty Ranch. The park is in Glen Ellen, between Sonoma and Santa Rosa.

Bale Grist Mill

Bale Grist Mill Waterwheel

Bale Grist Mill Historic State Park

Did you know the tallest waterwheel west of the Mississippi can be found in Napa County? The Bale Grist Mill Historic State Park is off of Highway 29 between Calistoga and St. Helena. The park is closed during the week, but milling demonstrations and historic tours are offered on weekends. Everything in the mill, except the light bulbs, is powered by the 36-foot waterwheel. You can watch and learn as corn and wheat is milled into things like cornmeal, pastry flour, rye, spelt, and polenta.

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

After you visit to the mill you can hike to Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. Round trip the hike is about two miles. Both parks are operated by the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District.

Dana can be found on twitter @drebmann