Standing tall in Muir Woods National Monument
Add a natural element to your San Francisco vacation by visiting California's historic redwoods.
As part of a trip to California’s San Francisco, don’t miss the chance to experience Muir Woods National Monument, only 12 miles outside of the city. In stark contrast to the cement and glass-clad monoliths downtown, these natural skyscrapers, with canopies that gently touch the heavens, soar to heights of 270 feet and have deep roots in history, typically ranging in age from 600-800 years old. One giant native to Muir Woods recently celebrated its 1200th birthday!
These signature evergreens are an important part of the world’s most incredible natural wonders and are among the oldest trees on Earth. National Geographic describes Muir Woods National Monument as “one of the best urban escapes anywhere.” Thanks in part to influences by famed naturalist John Muir, the forest was officially dubbed Muir Woods National Monument by the Federal government in 1908 and has been protected and preserved ever since. This region is ripe for the redwoods’ survival because of unique topographical characteristics such as the rolling fog, which offers an ample water supply for them to thrive. In fact, the Northern California/Southern Oregon coastline is the only place on the planet where you’ll find these gorgeous green giants.
Follow the Golden Gate Bridge
Getting over to Muir Woods is pretty easy. After crossing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, you take a short drive into Marin County, and, after a few miles of winding along a twisty road, you’ll arrive at the Visitors’ Center, stocked with maps and trail information to enhance your exploration of this natural city. In all, there are about six miles of relatively easy to moderate walks/hikes to enjoy.
Trails For All Types
The Main Trail Loop, which starts at the Visitors’ Center, is the simplest trek. It is part boardwalk and part paved and is fit for all. It hugs the aptly named Redwood Creek, with banks of green groundcover including various species of fern. The creek itself is abundant with fish including native steelhead salmon (particularly in the winter months). This leisurely walk includes various educational stops with fun facts and figures about the animal and plant species that live harmoniously with the redwoods. The kids will love encountering banana slugs, which are prevalent.
For the more adventurous trekker, there are several opportunities that branch off of the Main Trail, taking you on slightly more challenging hikes. These trails range from two to six miles and, depending on which one you choose, can require a full morning or afternoon to complete. My personal favorite, the Ocean View Trail, includes sweeping vistas of the Pacific Coast that take your breath away.
“Too Cool For School”
A really cool thing about learning in Muir Woods’ “outdoor classroom” is that kids can become Junior Rangers. The Visitors’ Center offers a free activity book to complete while exploring. At the end of the journey, each child is awarded with his or her own wooden badge, and is “officially” sworn in. I love this program because it encourages our children to have fun while learning. It is also teaches the importance of protecting nature and hopefully incentivizes them to want to protect and preserve our parks.
Easy and Enjoyable Access
To maximize the quality of your time at Muir Woods, be aware of the parking situation. Lots fill up quickly. If you drive your own car, head up early in the morning (between 8 and 9 a.m.) or pay a late afternoon/early evening visit (after 4 p.m.). Some suggest parking at Pohono St. Park and Ride to catch a shuttle. As an alternative, there are operated tours leaving San Francisco each day, some combining visits to Alcatraz or Napa Valley.
Another option is The Route 66 Muir Woods Shuttle, which departs from Sausalito, across the bay from San Francisco. Kids will love taking a ferryboat from Fisherman’s Wharf or the Ferry Building. Sausalito is a picturesque waterside village with darling shops and restaurants that is sure to delight.
Regardless of how you get there or when you go, you’ll discover what John Muir meant when he called Muir Woods “…the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world.” It’s genuinely a spiritual sanctuary where these amazing trees humble and connect us with a power greater than ourselves.
Park Entrance Fee/Hours
Muir Woods is open 365 days per year from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The entrance fee for adults is $10 while kids 15 and younger are free. For more details, see www.nps.gov/muwo. Also, read more about tours at www.viator.com/tours/sanfrancisco.