Enchanting and marvelously primeval, Muir Woods prompts reflection not only about its majestic trees but also the broader ecosystem a redwood forest supports.
The forest of old-growth coast redwoods 10 miles northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge’s north vista point is too popular for its own good, but even on summer weekends when the hordes descend, Muir Woods lives up to the endorsement it received in 1908 from its namesake, the famed naturalist John Muir: “This is the best-tree lover’s monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world.” Enchanting and marvelously primeval, Muir Woods prompts reflection not only about its majestic trees but also the broader ecosystem a redwood forest supports. On those busy days, though, you do need to go deeper into Muir Woods to sense what its namesake meant.
Muir Woods Tips
Four strategies can enhance your appreciation of this 550-acre site:
- Come on a weekday.
- Arrive early (before 10) or late (after 3).
- Hike at least a mile or two off the valley-floor boardwalk. Trail maps are available at the entrance.
- Learn about fees and passes on the National Park Service website; a group of four adults (16 and older), for instance, will save money buying an annual Muir Woods pass instead of individual tickets.
Even if you can only arrive at midday on a busy summer Saturday, though, the stopover is worth your time.
Cell Phone Service
Forget about cell phone service or Wi-Fi at the park or on the roads approaching it. Download your parking reservation or shuttle ticket ahead of your visit.
Look Down, Too
The tendency at Muir Woods is to gaze upward, the better to absorb the trees’ grandeur, but be sure to look down, too. The forest nurtures untold ferns, flowers, and grasses, and the interplay between its dramatic and subtler elements can be captivating if you take the time to observe them. A felled tree on the Hillside Trail nourishing half a dozen sturdy tree “sprouts” is one of the more obvious examples of natural regeneration you’ll encounter here.
Venture off the Boardwalk
Most visitors stick to the valley-floor boardwalk, but venture even a mile along the Hillside or other park trails, and you’ll experience the singular quietude only the acoustics a redwood grove can render. Piercing the silence you may hear the calls of Steller’s jays, the mellifluous tones of Wilson’s warblers and other songbirds, or the rhythmic tapping of pileated woodpeckers. In late in the afternoon, a spotted owl may pass overhead or a chipmunk scurry underfoot.
Don’t Pass It Up
If a visit to Muir Woods represents your only chance to get up close and personal with California’s redwoods, don’t pass it up. The tallest redwood here, a relative youngster less than 800 years old, tops out at more than 260 feet, more than 100 feet shorter than the tallest California redwood, but a trip here will give you a feeling for what is so special about this species. You may well leave more of a tree lover than before you arrived.
To reduce car and human congestion, the National Park Service instituted a parking reservation system in 2018 – you must have a reservation. Other options for entering the Muir Woods National Park include:
- Hiking into the park on one of several trails that lead into it. A personal favorite: the Mount Tamalpais Muir Woods Loop.
- Joining a guided bus tour (many, including good ones by Dylan’s Tours and Green Hills Tours, depart from San Francisco).
- Riding the Muir Woods Shuttle, aka Marin Transit Route 66, from the Sausalito Ferry Terminal, the Marin City Hub (off U.S. 101, 4 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge), or the Pohono Street Park & Ride (100 Shoreline Hwy./Hwy. 1) in Mill Valley.
From San Francisco, taking the Golden Gate Ferry from the Ferry Building or a Blue and Gold Fleet boat from Pier 41 to Sausalito and then catching the Muir Woods Shuttle is an enjoyable way to make this trip without a car.
Great Marin County Hikes
Battery Mendell to Battery Townsley
Coastal Trail to Bass Lake and Alamere Falls
Coastal, Wolf Ridge, Miwok Trails Loop
East Peak Mount Tamalpais
Mount Tamalpais Muir Woods Loop
Olompali State Park
Rodeo Lagoon to Point Bonita Lighthouse
Rodeo Lagoon Trail Loop
Roy’s Redwoods Open Space Preserve
Steep Ravine to Matt Davis Loop
Tule Elk Preserve
Marin County History
This story first appeared online in 2017; it was fact-checked and updated in 2020.