Like your ancient relatives, these trees could tell a story of all that they have seen and experienced. If they could talk, wisdom would ooze from their branches as they speak. And you are left to ponder whether it is their size or their age that inspire you the most.
These trees aren’t just any trees and this park isn’t just any park.
Muir Woods National Monument pays homage to two legends of our great nation – the mighty Redwoods and the man many consider the father of our national parks, John Muir.
A travel guide to Muir Woods National Monument
Located just a few miles north of San Francisco, Muir Woods seems like a world away from Golden Gate Bridge and the city by the bay. As you head north on Highway 101, the sea and city give way to trees and forests.
Winding roads welcome you to the enchanted forest – and a date with the gentle giants.
For many people, these mighty forests of timbered towers can’t be captured with a photo. When seeing these trees with your very own eyes, the soul comprehends what the eyes cannot communicate. Only then can you understand what it means to be in their presence.
Once you arrive at Muir Woods, be prepared for a walk. Parking is limited and the parking lots fill up quickly. Many people will need to park along the side of the road and walk a considerable distance to reach the park’s entrance.
At the entrance to Muir Woods, people catch a glimpse of the trees rising to the heavens. Upon entering the park, each person 16 and over will need to pay the entrance fee of $7 (ticket price increased from $5 to $7 on January 1, 2012). For those wanting to do a little more exploring beyond the short paved loops just inside the entrance, pay $1 for a park map to get information on the hiking trails.
From there, you can explore the six miles of trails inside the 560 acre park. From novice hiker to advanced, paved and unpaved trails allow you to stretch your neck high to the sky to enjoy these redwood wonders.
If you want to explore beyond the Redwoods, Muir Woods National Park is connected to another great park – Mt Tamalpais State Park with miles of hiking trails that lead from the trees to the ocean.
Visitors to Muir Woods can enjoy the park from 8 am to sunset (always check the hours to confirm at Muir Woods National Monument). Due to the fog, the cooler weather, its location high above the ocean, and the towering trees above, temperatures range from 40 to 70 degrees year round so carry a jacket or some layers of clothing regardless of what time of year you visit.
For those interested in taking home some souvenirs, a visitors center and gift shop provide snacks and memorabilia for purchase. So before you start your walk or hike, grab a bite to eat. Or you can rest and shop once you are done.
A self-guided walking tour of Muir Woods
After paying your entrance fee, the Muir Woods National Monument sign welcomes you to the park. While looking up, make sure you look around as well for exhibits and information on your walks. Some of the scenery around you is just as beautiful as that which is above you.
Just past the Visitor’s Center the restrooms are the cafe and gift shop. So if you need to make a quick stop before checking out the trees, this is a good time to do it.
For the full loop along the paved trail, set aside 1 1/2 hours for this 2 mile walk. You can go at a slower or faster pace based on how many stops you make or photos you take. Most of this paved loop is flat but there are a few steps and slight inclines to go along with four bridges.
After leaving the Visitors Center, you see the diameter of a Redwood tree which provides information about these trees, their age, and habitat. With each ring, you see how big the tree is giving you the approximate year and some key dates in history that coincide with the tree during that period.
At this point, you can choose which direction you want to go. If you go left, you will cross the first bridge over Redwood Creek as you head over to the Bohemian Grove. Go straight and you head towards Cathedral Grove. Regardless of which path you take, you will be able to see everything on this 2 mile loop.
With the peaceful sounds of Redwood creek, Bohemian Grove provides a quiet, peaceful look at the trees and the habitat of these giant Redwoods.
Opposite of Bohemian Grove is the famous Pinchot tree named for Gifford Pinchot, who was a pioneer in the forestry industry and an advocate for conservation. This tree is a symbol for what Muir Woods is all about – preservation and conservation of these tremendous giants.
Continuing along the the left hand side of the trail beyond the Bohemian Grove, you encounter the Hillside trail with more Redwood trees in a more forested environment.
A walk along the hillside trail takes you up the hill to explore these trees among the forest and plant life. Ferns and moss are commonly seen around Redwoods in the park as the cool, damp atmosphere provides the perfect environment for trees and plants alike to grow.
One thing to note about Muir Woods. On the 2 mile loop, you will see many Redwood trees but they don’t all look the same. Some will be deeply wooded while others will grow in clusters as they seem to reach high into the open sky.
Conditions at Muir Woods will give you a different perspective of these trees throughout the day so no trip to Muir Woods is the same.
As you cross the bridge on the Hillside trail, there a number of other unpaved hiking trails for those that want to explore this area beyond the loop. The Ben Johnson Trail, Bootjack Trail, and Fern Creek Trail are at the most northern part of the trail (the Ocean Creek Trail is located near the Pinchot Tree) so this is a good jumping off point for those that want to go for a longer hike.
As you loop around and cross the third bridge over Fern Creek, you enter Cathedral Grove. This area was named in honor of John Muir (as was the park itself) who spent much of his life studying trees, plants, and nature in northern California.
For many people, Cathedral Grove is the most picturesque area of Muir Woods as the giant trees provide a number of photo opportunities with the Redwoods. So now is the time to get your picture taken in a hollowed out section of a Redwood tree to show everyone else “I was here at Muir Woods.”
The last stretch of this loop provides plenty of benches and more trees for you to view. Note that along this loop, there are a number of trail maps and exhibits that will give you more information about these trees and their habitat. So spend as much time as you want learning and gazing upon the Redwood trees.
For those that need a break, this area of the loop (between the Visitors Center and Cathedral Grove) provides a number of benches for people to sit, relax, and enjoy the views.
While walking around Muir Woods, a number of guides and rangers are available to answer questions. You can also find many of them giving guided tours of the park. Whether you choose to be part of a tour is up to you but feel free to catch up with a tour and listen to what these guides and rangers have to say. They are a walking encyclopedia of the Redwoods and Muir Woods National Park.
For those wanting to learn more about Muir Woods, the Redwoods, and life here in the park, I encourage people to purchase the Muir Woods park map and guide. Inside you will find more information about trail maps, wildlife information, and the life and habitat of these Redwood trees.
For those interested in learning about the history of the park, coastal Redwoods, their cousins the Giant Sequoias, the role of fog and fire in the development of these trees, as well as the size, height, bark, growth process, and more, the free brochure provided is a great source of information.
John Muir and Muir Woods – giants of the past and present
The coastal Redwood trees are found all along the northern coast of California. However, this area just north of San Francisco is probably the most famous area for Redwood trees in the world.
While these giants get all the attention, a huge debt of gratitude is owed to John Muir for the role he played in the creation of our national parks system and the dedication of his life to studying the natural habitats of California.
As we celebrate our national parks, John Muir, Muir Woods, and these Redwoods are dedicated to the giants of the past, the present, and future as we marvel at beauty of these trees, and the efforts put forth to preserve and protect our natural resources and wonders.
Have you been to Muir Woods? What was your favorite part of the park?