In small pockets in northern California are the coastal redwoods. In this unique ecosystem, you can walk among giants. Literally, as the redwoods are the tallest trees in the world. One of the easiest places to take in the wonder of the tall forest canopy is Muir Woods National Monument. An easy day out from San Francisco here’s all you need to know to make the most of your day visit to the woods.
About Muir Woods National Monument
The reason to go to Muir Woods National Monument is to stand under the canopy of the marvelous redwood trees. These coastal redwoods are found in a small section of northern California and southern Oregon. Related to the giant sequoias found in Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevadas of California, the redwoods are taller but not as voluminous. The tallest tree in Muir Woods reaches 285 feet. These amazing trees with their signature red bark can live more than 2,000 years. It helps that their thick bark not only protects the trees from fires, but it produces mass amounts of tannis that helps keeps damage by insects at a minimum. To thrive, the trees rely on large amounts of moisture found in the region. Not only can they pull what they need from rain, but also from the heavy fog that blankets the area for much of the year. Sadly, only 5% of the original coastal redwoods remain.
The creation of Muir Woods National Monument can be credited to William Kent. Though a politician, he treasured the redwoods. And he didn’t support the mass deforestation that was occurring due to logging. Large patches of coastal redwoods were being chopped down in alarming numbers. It’s staggering to think that these magnificent trees once covered over 2 million acres. To preserve the beauty of the redwoods, William Kent purchased acres of land. In the end, he donated 295 acres to the US government. Soon after, President Theodore Roosevelt decreed the area a national monument. At Kent’s urging, the national monument was named after famed environmentalist John Muir.
Getting to Muir Woods
The closest major cities to Muir Woods are San Francisco and Oakland in the Bay Area of California. From San Francisco, the national monument is 16 miles and 31 miles from Oakland to the north.
Driving your own vehicle to Muir Woods provides the quickest way to get there. However, parking is a nightmare if you’re not there when the park opens. Because of the mass congestion at the park, especially on weekends and holidays, Muir Woods has instituted a new program. If driving your car, you must reserve your parking spot in advance. The cost is $8 per vehicle (in addition to the $15 entrance fee). The road into Muir Woods is narrow with lots of bends. If you think you’ll be uncomfortable driving such a road, there are other ways to get to the park.
If you want to be more environmentally conscious, mass transit is available to Muir Woods. There’s a dedicated shuttle to the park. The shuttle has three pick-up locations north of San Francisco. You can either park and ride or take Marin transport from San Francisco to one of these locations. All shuttle rides require a reservation. You can find more information at GoMuirWoods.com.
Best Muir Woods Day Tours
If you want to make your trip to Muir Woods National Monument as easy and simple as possible, check out these amazing Muir Woods Day Trips:
- Muir Woods Tour of California Coastal Redwoods
- San Francisco Super Saver: City Tour plus Muir Woods and Sausalito Day Trip
- Muir Woods and Sausalito Tour plus Bay Cruise
Where to Stay Near Muir Woods
You won’t find lodging nor camping within Muir Woods National Monument. For hotels, if you’re looking for a unique place to stay with lots of character and old-world charm, there’s the Pelican Inn off Highway 1 minutes away from Muir Woods. But, it’s not cheap. As Muir Woods is a fantastic day trip from either San Francisco or Oakland, both cities have plentiful options for lodging. If you prefer something closer, there’s a Holiday Inn Express in Mill Valley, California, which is less than 6 miles to Muir Woods and less than half a mile to one of the shuttle stops.
If you prefer to go camping, the closest sites are at the Golden Gate National Recreational Area on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Muir Woods Day Trip
You can visit Muir Woods National Monument all year long. The park opens at 8 a.m. daily and has varied closing times depending on the season. With no cell service in the park, this means you can fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the coastal redwoods. If you want to make a full day out of San Francisco, after visiting Muir Woods in the morning, an option is to spend the afternoon exploring the Point Reyes National Park (about 50 miles north of Muir Woods). Of course, if you’re adventurous, you can spend all day hiking in Muir Woods.
- Take a Hike
- Wildlife Viewing
- Ranger Talks
- Relax with Refreshment
- Hit the Beach
Take a Hike
The only way to see Muir Woods National Monument is to hit the trails. There are 6 miles of trails within Muir Woods itself with additional trails that veer into Mount Tamalpais State Park. So, it’s up to you just how much you want to do.
The most popular trail is the Main Trail which runs the length of the park. It’s also the easiest trail to do as it’s mostly flat. And, it’s fully accessible as it’s part boardwalk and asphalt. Along the way, there are plaques full of information about coastal redwoods. There are three bridges along this trail from which you can cross and head back to the entrance depending on how much walking you want to do. Whatever you do, make sure you follow the trail to the Cathedral Grove. Here you find large groupings of redwoods forming a natural nave. Signs at the entrance ask for quiet. And, you feel like you should be quiet in this temple to nature. It’s remarkable.
Going to the end of the main trail, it’s best to return to the entrance via the Hillside Trail. Climbing up the hill, the trail becomes dirt. Rising above the Main Trail, you’re treated to a bird’s eye view of the trail below. People look like miniature versions of themselves walking among the tall giants. And, walking on the Hillside Trail, you’re still not at tree top level! If you want to appreciate how tall the redwoods are, you can’t miss this trail.
As the Main Trail is the easiest, it also gets crowded very early. If you want to enjoy the beauty of the redwoods in a more tranquil setting, veer off the Main Trail. If you don’t want to hike too far, a delightful side trail is the Fern Creek Trail (trailhead is located just past Cathedral Grove). This proper trail takes you through the coastal rainforest following a small creek. The trail has several large switchbacks so you are above the forest floor. But again, not quite at treetop level. You then meet up with the Main Trail via the Plevin Cut Trail, which was a former rail line.
Despite the rich vegetation, the area doesn’t see a lot of wildlife. Because the redwoods repeal insects, this creates a lack of food source for birds. And with the thick canopy of the trees, not many flowers grow. Again, denying animals of another key food source. So, even bird sightings can be rare.
If you’re lucky, you may see a black-tailed deer foraging. Most likely you’ll see chipmunks and squirrels scamper along paths and fallen trees. If you do see wildlife, please remember to keep your distance. And never ever feed them.
Park Rangers have an abundance of knowledge about Muir Woods. And they are always happy to inform visitors about the park, wildlife, and vegetation. On most days you can participate in either a Ranger Talk or an hour guided tour. Times and programs available vary on the day. So, be sure to check the board at the entrance for what’s available that day.
If you’re unable to make one of the talks, there is a ranger station right by the entrance where you can have questions answered.
Relax with Refreshment
Take a break from walking at the Muir Woods Trading Company and enjoy one of their freshly made sandwiches or baked goods. There’s also a large gift shop well worth a browse. Restrooms are also located here. You’ll find the Trading Company near the entrance of Muir Woods so its best to visit at the end of the visit.
Hit the Beach
Yes, you read right. And, no. There’s not a beach in Muir Woods. But, located only three miles from Muir Woods is Muir Beach. Located off historic Route 1, you can either soak in the rays on the beach and play in the waves or you can take in amazing views of the dramatic cliffs from the Muir Beach Overlook. Restrooms and picnic tables are available at both locations. If you decide to go into the water, just note that there are no lifeguards.
It’s a short drive to the beach from Muir Woods. Or, you can hike to the beach. From the Muir Woods parking lot, there’s a 6-mile trail that leads to the beach.
How do you plan on spending your one day in Muir Woods National Monument?
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An adventurer and nature enthusiast, April is happiest when exploring new places and trails. So far, she’s been to 21 US national parks and has plans to visit 8 more this year. Traveling solo, she’s been to 6 continents with only Antarctica eluding her. Follow April’s adventures at The Unending Journey