If you have dreams of visiting a Redwood forest and walk among the world’s largest trees, naturally one thinks “I’m going to Redwood National Park”. Out comes Google Maps and the airline search only to realize the logistics of a Redwood vacation can be challenging. Thankfully, one of the hidden gems of the National Park Service offers the chance to hike among giants within an hour or so of landing at the airport.
Muir Woods National Monument is a short 45-minute drive north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge. It protects a relatively small areas, since unlike many sites in California it is measured in hundreds of acres, not thousands or millions. However, ParkChasers recommends it most for its extensive history and its scenic hikes.
Previously, the Costal Redwoods extended for hundreds of miles along the coast and covered over a million acres. However during the 19th and early 20th century many of these trees were cut for lumber. In the early 1900’s, U.S. Congressman William Kent noticed the trend and purchased the land with the intent to preserve the forest. After just a few short years a proposal to flood the land and turn the property and adjacent forest into a reservoir surfaced. Kent intended to one day donate the land to a governmental agency or university. However, with the threat of the land being turned into a reservoir via eminent domain Kent donated the land to the Forest Service and asked President Theodore Roosevelt to protect it.
We are so glad they did. The area was given the name Muir Woods in honor of John Muir who worked so hard to protect California’s giant trees. Muir loved to hike among the silence of the giant redwood forests (and so do we!). A hike around Muir woods leaves one feeling like they took a trip back in time. The old growth redwoods are truly impressive as they tower overhead especially for visitors who have not seen a redwood or sequoia before. While there’s only 6 miles of hiking within the park, many of the trails extend into nearby California state parks.
Parkchasers recommends starting early from the Visitor’s Center since parking and shuttle bus wait times can be challenging, especially on weekends. Stop in and pick up a hiking map of Mt. Tamalpais State Park. There you will find routes that leave off the end of Redwood Creek Trail that offer scenic views of the California coast and quiet hikes among the worlds tallest living things.
- Don’t forget to leave yourself extra time in Cathedral Grove. The park service protects this unique stand of redwoods along the Redwood Creek Trail as a sanctuary and asks visitors to enter, stay, and leave in silence. The site also commemorates the signing of the Charter of the United Nations, who has preserved and protected lands worldwide since the 1950’s.
- Watch out for banana slugs. These slimy yellow-green creatures inhabit the forest floors in coastal redwood stands like Muir Woods. Spotting one takes a little work, but you won’t be disappointed!
- Muir Woods has no camping or picnicking – there’s simply not enough space. There’s plenty of sites available in nearby state parks and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. While there is a crowded cafe attached to the gift shop, most visitors plan for 2-3 hours at the monument with additional time exploring Muir Beach, Bootjack, or the other protected lands in the area.
- Muir Woods is a fee area. Be prepared for $10 per adult or to use your America the Beautiful Annual pass when you visit the park.
- Passport cancellation stamp is available in the bookstore.
For More Information
If you are interested in more park history search “Historic Resource Study for Muir Woods National Monument” for a 400+ page study detailing the establishment of the monument.
Muir Woods National Monument
Mill Valley, CA 94941-2696
Visitor Information: (415) 388-2595
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