When planning a visit to San Francisco, most do not even consider incorporating the natural wonders of Muir Woods National Monument into their plans. While it is easy to fill up a week visiting popular attractions such as Alcatraz Island, Ghirardelli Square, Chinatown and Fisherman’s Wharf, you are missing out if you don’t head across the Golden Gate Bridge and spend a half-day amidst this beautiful grove of old-growth redwoods.
Muir Woods National Monument is an easy 30-40 minute drive (see map from San Francisco). Make sure you pull off after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge for a classic shot!
The route quickly takes you into the hills. After leaving highways 101 and 1, a narrow, winding road with steep drop-offs awaits. While a joy to drive in a small car, Muir Woods Road is tight for larger vehicles and anything over 35 feet long is prohibited. There are no RV parking facilities at Muir Woods.
Although the Monument is easily accessible from San Francisco, parking can pose a significant challenge during the summer and on holidays throughout the year. Nearly one million visitors come to Muir Woods annually, with most of them arriving in the summer months. Our best advice is to arrive early in the morning. Since we had flown from New Hampshire to San Francisco the previous day, our body clocks were still on eastern time; and we had no trouble waking up early! We arrived at 8 AM and parked in the last spot in the lot closest to the entrance. Another smaller parking lot (Muir Woods Lower Annex Parking) is a short walk away, but that lot fills up quickly as well.
An alternate means of travel is via the Muir Woods Shuttle, which travels to and from a variety of nearby locations on weekends and holidays as well as weekdays in the summer months. Check out the schedule online.
HIKING AND EXPLORING
It is a good idea to bring a trail map since there are many options for hiking. Once inside the Monument, the main trail is the Redwood Creek Trail. This popular, shaded trail follows the winding Redwood Creek. Starting as a boardwalk, the first half-mile is wheelchair accessible and perfect for kids.
You don’t have to walk far on this boardwalk to be amazed by the beauty of the forest and towering trees.
Most of the trees are over 300 years old, with some older than 1000 years. Light peers through the redwoods and acts like a moving spotlight on undergrowth as the sun’s position changes throughout the day. This is especially noticeable during the morning and evening hours, when photographers are lining up to get their much-anticipated shots. It’s not unusual to see a dozen or more tripods set up in a single location.
Beyond the 3rd bridge, the trail turns into a well-traveled dirt path. Many visitors turn back at this point, but it is worth the effort to keep walking and get away from the crowds. There are essentially two paths that can be taken from this trail. To the right (north), the Fern Creek Trail begins. This trail has a moderate elevation gain and travels through Douglas fir before meeting up with the Lost Trail and Canopy View Trail and returning to the visitor center. We chose to take the Hillside Trail (to the left), since we were traveling with kids and had a long day ahead of us. Consult the Muir Woods hiking guide for other trail options and further information. If you choose to explore beyond the boardwalk, hiking shoes or sneakers are recommended. After crossing the Redwood Creek at the 4th bridge, the Hillside Trail climbs about 90 feet. This trail provides a different perspective of the forest, even though the boardwalk is in sight for most of trip back.
Our kids enjoyed spotting a few interesting creatures during our walk through the woods. First, we saw a Black-tailed deer grazing just off the boardwalk which was unfazed by the passersby. Once on the dirt portion of the trail, we spotted several large millipedes and Redwood snails.
However, the most exciting sightings on the Hillside Trail were a few Banana slugs. Did you know these critters can grow up to 10 inches long?!
The Hillside Trail eventually meets back up with the Redwood Creek Trail at the 2nd bridge. From here, it is possible to retrace your steps on the Redwood Creek Trail or take the Bohemian Grove Trail, which also heads back to the visitor center, just on the south side of the creek.
Other than planning your transportation to and from the Monument and bringing a light jacket, there isn’t much you need to do to get ready for your day at the park. If you are curious about nature and wildlife, we recommend this field guide to California which includes flora and fauna that you might see in Muir Woods. We are always happy when we remember to bring our guide book to help us identify interesting and unusual animals and plants in the parks!
Be aware that there is no cell service at Muir Woods and pets are not permitted.
- Our trip itinerary for Muir Woods National Monument and the Marin Headlands is available for download for just $2. The itinerary includes maps, pre-trip tasks, special packing items, details on Muir Woods National Monument and the Marin Headlands, as well as other places we recommend you visit while in the area.
OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION
- Chelsea from Sun Kissed Hiker provides some great information about the history of Muir Woods and highlights a few of the other trails at the Monument not covered in our travels.
- The Routes and Trips Travel blog covers Muir Woods as well as the trip from San Francisco. Sausalito (a great town for lunch or dinner after your visit to Muir Woods) is also covered in some detail.
- Marti from Down The Wrabbit Hole does a nice job of highlighting some interesting facts about the plants found in Muir Woods.
Muir Woods National Monument should not be missed. It’s easy to see why so many people make it a point to head out and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the woods outside of the bustling city. If you are in the San Francisco area, take a half-day and explore this wonderful place!