The Gentle Trails and Soaring Trees of Muir Woods

January 4, 2018Travel Ideas
— National Park Service

John Muir once said, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” This quote is as true today as it was in the late 19th century, when Muir spent countless days exploring the western mountains and forests he dedicated his life to preserving.

When you visit Muir Woods National Monument in California, you’ll see that it's a fitting tribute to the naturalist. Just 12 miles from San Francisco, this monument contains 558 acres of rare old-growth redwood forest. It's a place where the power of the wilderness is still keenly felt. 

Rare old-growth redwoods

The river rushes through Muir Woods

Of the estimated 2 million acres of redwood forest that once extended along the West Coast, about 97 percent has been altered or impaired, making the trees of Muir Woods increasingly rare and precious. Muir Woods preserves the only old-growth coastal redwood forest in the Bay Area, and one of only a handful that remain anywhere on Earth.

The average age of the coastal redwoods in this forest is between 600 and 800 years — which is young by redwood standards, as the trees can live up to 2,200 years. They thrive in the sheltered valley, stretching upward above the fog from the nearby Pacific coast that often blankets the park to reach the sun.

Creating a national monument

Wide trail covered in pine needles in a redwood tree grove at Muir Woods National Monument
National Park Service

Even as far back as the early 20th century, most of the redwoods in the United States had already been lost. A valley called Redwood Canyon, located just outside San Francisco, was one of the few pristine redwood forests that remained.

This forest caught the eye of William Kent, a California politician. Kent purchased a large tract, including this forested area,  and later donated it to the federal government to prevent a water company from creating a reservoir in the canyon. When President Theodore Roosevelt declared the land a national monument in 1908, it was Kent who insisted that it be named after the influential naturalist, philosopher, scientist, and author John Muir. 

Things to do

A view from the top of Fern Creek Trail at Muir Woods National Monument
National Park Service

Muir Woods National Monument offers 6 miles of hiking trails that meander through towering redwood trees, as well as a rich community of other plants. There are also longer hiking trails that link Muir Woods to neighboring Mount Tamalpais State Park, with trail options ranging from easy to strenuous.

A wide assortment of interpretive programs, ranger-led talks, and guided walks through the woods are also available; check the park's online calendar for upcoming events. Although Muir Woods National Monument is a day-use park only, overnight camping and cabins are available in Mount Tamalpais State Park, as well as at National Park Service campgrounds in the Marin Headlands (part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area). 

Planning your visit

Foggy day next to a sandy Redwood Creek bed at Muir Woods National Monument
National Park Service

Located a short drive from San Francisco and managed as part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Muir Woods National Monument has become an increasingly popular destination for city dwellers looking to escape into nature. Around 1 million people visit Muir Woods every year, about half of whom come during the busy summer months. To beat the crowds, plan your visit during spring or fall — preferably on a weekday — and be sure to read up on the new parking and shuttle reservation system

Visiting Muir Woods offers a glimpse into a world scarcely changed since humans first arrived. Shrouded in ocean mist and populated by some of the tallest, oldest trees on Earth, Muir Woods National Monument is one of the West Coast's must-visit national parks. Next time you’re in the Bay area, be sure to take the short trip to #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque at this awe-inspiring location.


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