Just 12 miles north of San Francisco and across the Golden Gate Bridge are ancient redwoods that tower to over 200 feet tall, and the opportunity to stand in the presence of trees that are centuries old. Muir Woods contains six miles of trails, and after entering the forest, sounds are confined to the creek, birds chirping, and your footsteps moving across the forest floor. Bring a water bottle and wear comfortable shoes for a day exploring the last remaining stand of ancient redwoods in the San Francisco bay area.
Muir Woods is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and was declared a national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919) in 1908. The land was donated to the federal government by U.S. congressman William Kent (1864 – 1928) and his wife Elizabeth Thacher Kent (1868-1952). The monument was originally going to be called Kent Monument, but he wanted it be named after the naturalist John Muir. On January 12, 2008, Muir Woods celebrated its 100th anniversary.
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For those seeking a challenge begin your hike on Ocean View trail and connect to Lost Trail, then Fern Creek trail. This hike will take about 3 hours. It is steep and challenging in parts, but definitely worth it. You won’t find an ocean view, as the trail was named after a fire that cleared the trees and allowed for an ocean view for a short time.
If you only have an hour, or would like an easier walk, take the main loop from the Visitor Center entrance to Cathedral Grove. This gentle walk is flat, paved, and fine for strollers or wheelchairs. The trail follows Redwood Creek and loops back around the other side of the stream. To make the walk even shorter, simply cross the second or third bridge and turn back around.
The tranquil Redwood creek flows through Muir Woods and drains into the Pacific Ocean at Muir Beach. In the winter, you may see silver salmon or Steelhead trout in Redwood creek. At other times of the year, you may see chipmunks, Steller’s jays, or even a blacktail deer. Although Muir Woods is a relatively small monument, the diversity of the plants keep a wide variety of wildlife, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and mammals.
If you love hiking, you can opt to venture further through the connecting trails into Mt. Tamalpais State Park. If you want a half-day hike, take the Ocean View Trail to the Redwood Trail to the Sun Trail. This round-trip hike covers 5.2 miles. Make sure you bring a map with you.
After a morning or afternoon at Muir Woods National Forest, you surely will have worked up an appetite. Wind down your perfect day at the nearby Mountain Home Inn in Mill Valley. Enjoy the Asian pear salad or one of their other delicious menu items, and if it is not too chilly out, sit outside and take in breathtaking views of the valley.
What & Where:
Muir Woods National Forest (is reached by U.S. 101 and California Hwy 1; for more information check out their website http://www.visitmuirwoods.com; or call 415-388-7059)
Mountain Home Inn (810 Panoramic Highway Mill Valley; 415-381-9000)
When visiting Muir Woods don’t forget your camera and be prepared for cool temperatures. The coastal fog combined with all the shade from the tree canopy makes for a cool environment.
The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset, including holidays. Camping is not allowed within the national monument. However, you can camp at Mt. Tamalpais State Park, the 6,300 acre state park which surrounds the monument. It will cost everyone in your group a $5 entry fee each to get into Muir Woods National Forest, but it’s worth it! When you pay your admission fee, you will have an option to buy a park map for $1. The map provides a lot of park information and is helpful if you plan on doing any hiking. Check the entrance for guided tour times. If you have time, take a guided tour.
The paved trails throughout the park allow easy access for strollers or wheelchairs. Take the opportunity to explore, but leave the monument just as nice as it was when you came. Many animals call the Muir Woods monument home, and something like a gum wrapper could present a choking hazard.