Muir Woods National Park

Muir Woods is an ancient remnant of the redwood forests that once covered large areas of North America. 

 These amazing trees are now rare, and can now be found in only three places on earth: remote canyons in California, Oregon and China.

Everyone should experience the beauty and peace of this magical redwood grove at least once! And a gorgeous collection of these 1000 year old giants is only 12 miles north of San Francisco.

muir woods national monument sign

People come from all over the world to walk among these magnificent, ancient trees. But Muir Woods has become almost too popular, so I'm including some tips to help visitors enjoy this amazing park.


Muir Woods Tours

Visiting San Francisco and don't have car? The easiest way to see Muir Woods is to take a tour. 

The tours from San Francisco will get you to the front entrance and you'll be picked up there when it's time to return. You can experience the serenity of Muir Woods without spoiling it with traffic and parking aggravation!

All of the tours available for Muir Woods are combination tours with one or more other attractions. You can walk among these wonderful trees, and also visit the charming seaside village of Sausalito, see the wine country,  sail on the bay, or tour San Francisco itself. 

See below for other ways to get out to Muir Woods. In a nutshell, driving (parking is tough) or taking Uber or Lyft. The Muir Woods shuttle doesn't run in winter, but it's a good way to get there the rest of the year.

Some Popular Tours...

Muir Woods & Sausalito

The Hop On Hop Off Bus. Ride across the Golden Gate Bridge on a double decker bus, with a guide and narrated tour.

The bus tour stops in Sausalito first, with multiple departure times, so you have more flexibility in the amount of time to spend there. Because of the road problems from last winter's rains, they're using a smaller bus for the Muir Woods loop.

This tour lets you take your time at Muir Woods, unlike some of the other tours that have a fixed 60 or 90 minute stop. The earliest tour of the day goes to Muir Woods first.

In addition,  you have the option of taking the ferry ride back across the bay to San Francisco (highly recommended).

The Hop On Hop Off loops allow you to get off at either end of the Golden Gate Bridge, as well. Great views! 

See Muir Woods/Sausalito tour for more info and booking.


Muir Woods, Sausalito and the Wine Country

Explore Muir Woods, Sausalito and the Wine Country all in one day. You're picked up at your hotel, then it's off to explore the redwood groves of Muir Woods.

After enjoying the old forest, your guide takes you to the seaside town Sausalito where you can check out the shops and views.  Next, your guide takes you up to the lovely Sonoma Valley for wine tasting at two wineries. 9 hours.

 For more info and booking, click here.


Muir Woods, Sausalito and a Bay Cruise

Have a guide take you north to Muir Woods to experience the beauty of walking amongst the world's oldest and tallest trees. See Sausalito with its charming waterfont and shops, then spend an hour sailing on the bay, past Alcatraz and out under the Golden Gate. Great views!

Hotel pickup and entry fees included. 5 1/2 hours.

For more info and booking, click here.


The Redwood Trees

Redwood forests have been tucked into these misty canyons along the California coast for thousands of years, and some of the giant trees in Muir Woods are over 1000 years old. The coastal redwood is the world's tallest tree.

redwoods in muir woods, bohemian groveRedwoods in the Bohemian Grove

California has two varieties of redwoods: the coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and the giant sequoia (Sequoia dendron giganteum).

"Sequoia" comes from the name of Sequoyah, the Cherokee who invented an alphabet for his people's language.

Muir Woods has coastal redwoods, which are also found in a number of special spots up and down the coast. The giant sequoias are found in several parks on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains  (in Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks). 

Differences: the coastal redwoods grow to only (!) about 20 feet wide, while the giant sequoias are up to 40 feet wide. Both species can be over 300 feet tall, with the coastal redwoods reaching about 60 feet taller.

Redwoods as a species are beyond ancient; they have been on earth for 150 million years and used to live all across the Northern Hemisphere. Individual redwoods can live over 2000 years, and are amazing survivors due to some interesting characteristics of their structure.

California Redwood Oddities

Fire is good for redwoods. These trees are helped when forest fires burn out the undergrowth; seeds can reach the soil easier, and are less likely to be damaged by fungus and bacteria living in the brush.

In addition, the bark of a coastal redwood is at least 6 inches thick, and can be up to a foot deep. That, plus the high tannin content, makes the redwood quite resistant to fire.

No bugs! The tannins that resist fire damage also make the tree unappealing to insects. You will notice a minimal number of flying insects and creepy-crawlies while strolling in the grove; another happy fact about redwood forests!

Life in the fog belt. Coastal redwoods need a damp, drippy environment. As a result,  they live only within the fog-drenched strip of land that runs along the ocean from Northern California up into Oregon. They get moisture directly from fog condensing onto their leaves as well as from water that drops down to the forest floor.

These redwoods tend to be found in canyons near the ocean, where they are protected from the wind, near streams, and where shade and fog create a milieu where they can flourish.

Fairy Rings and Cathedrals. Because of the way redwoods reproduce, they sometimes create majestic circles of trees that look like they were planted. In addition to dropping seeds from their small cones, redwood trees grow lumps called burls on their roots and bases. These burls can sprout and grow into trees if the parent tree is damaged or dies. The trees remaining after the original tree has died and decomposed are often standing in circles. 

Cathedral Grove in Muir Woods is one of these impressive arrangements.

Timber! Coastal redwoods have very shallow roots for their height and weight and as a result are known for falling over. Californians living in redwood areas are aware of the hazard; it's not unusual for these trees to come down in a storm. Unfortunately, they're not as stable as many other species.

The oldest redwood in Muir Woods is over 1200 years old! Many of the trees in the grove are over 600 years old. 

muir woods trail through the redwoodsMuir Woods Trail

Wildlife

A number of animals make their homes in Muir Woods, but it is not heavily populated because a redwood forest is not the best place for them to find food. Black-tailed deer come out to feed at dusk and dawn, and chipmunks and squirrels are around most of the time. 

Muir Woods has a funny way of telling people not to feed the wildlife. 

muir woods sign warning not to feed the animals, chipmunkiosisThat's a mirror on the left.

The abundant coyotes of Marin County don't come in much and the official word is that mountain lions haven't been seen here, though they are definitely living on Mount Tam.  I'm almost certain I saw a mountain lion run across the path when I was hiking on Mount Tam years ago.

There are no poisonous critters in Muir Woods. You might see a garter snake or rubber boa, and salamanders, lizards, and banana slugs are residents as well. Banana slugs have 27,000 teeth (!) but only eat decomposing plants.   

Coho salmon (endangered) live in Redwood Creek that runs through Muir Woods. The young salmon live in the creek for a year, then migrate to the ocean for another two or three years. 

At around three to four years of age, they swim over 100 miles to get back to Muir Woods; they navigate (possibly) using the earth's magnetic field and find their home stream by smell when they get close. The adult salmon average 28 inches and return during the winter rains (November through January) to spawn and die. The eggs hatch in the spring.

Tip: the baby salmon are in the creek year round, and the best place to look for them is from the bridges. They can be anywhere from 1/2 an inch up to 8 inches, depending on time of year.

Here's an idea of what they look like at this stage:

baby atlantic salmon, old drawingBaby Salmon

Steelhead trout also call Muir Woods home.

The often-mentioned, endangered, Northern Spotted Owl lives in Muir Woods, but they sleep in their nests in the tree tops during the day, so they are rarely seen.


History of Muir Woods

Early History. The Miwok Indians who lived in this area probably never lived in the Muir Woods canyon itself, since they normally settled in areas close to their marine food supply.  The first European to own this land was William Richardson, who got a land grant from the Mexican government in 1838.

Gold! The extensive logging that followed the discovery of gold in 1949 cleared out much of Marin County's timber, including many stands of ancient redwoods (as well as eliminating the grizzly and black bears, who never returned). But the trees in Muir Woods survived because the canyon was so rugged. The mountain lions and coyotes are still around, though the lions are rarely seen in Muir Woods itself. 

Muir Woods had a close call and almost didn't make it. In 1905, the local water company tried to have the land condemned so they could dam the creek running through it, but the owner, Congressman William Kent, donated the land to the federal government. 

In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared Muir Woods a national monument, only the 7th one to be created. The park was named after John Muir, the well-known environmentalist and founder of the Sierra Club.

Exploring Muir Woods

Muir Woods is a long, narrow stretch of redwood forest that follows Redwood Creek, in one of the steep canyons on the western side of Mount Tamalpais. It's located only 12 miles north of San Francisco, about a 20 minute drive from the Golden Gate Bridge.

Muir Woods Trails

As you can see on the map below, the trail through Muir Woods goes through a series of bridges that cross Redwood Creek. The bridges make it easy to figure out how far you want to go and how much time you need.

second bridge over redwood creek, muir woodsSecond Bridge Over Redwood Creek

The trail is paved or has wooden planks all the way to Bridge 4, so it is an easy, flat stroll, and wheelchair accessible, all the way to the last bridge.

The trail passes on both sides of the creek from Bridge 2 to Bridge 4, so you can loop back on a different path.

  • Bridge 1: a short walk past the entrance gate, and right next to the cafe and gift shop.
  • Bridge 2: 1/2 hour round trip loop. Passes the Bohemian and Founders Groves.
  • Bridge 3: 1 hour loop. Just past this is the Cathedral Grove - worth seeing.
  • Bridge 4: 1 1/2 hour loop. Redwoods peter out after this.
map of muir woods trails

Highlights of Muir Woods

The first thing many people notice about Muir Woods is the silence. There is a stillness there that is remarkable, perhaps in part due to muffling aspect of the trees and steep hillsides, and the absence of wind. Even the birds seem quiet there. In winter and spring, the creek is full, and you'll hear the sound of rushing water.

The named groves are particularly impressive clusters of large redwoods.

The Bohemian Grove. This stand of redwoods is where the famous (or notorious?) Bohemian Club held a meeting there in 1892, complete with a 70 foot statue of the Buddha (long gone).

The Founders Grove. This recently-named grove is dedicated to the men who were instrumental in saving Muir Woods. The boardwalk has been expanded and the PInchot Tree is here (a big one).

The paved pathways are gradually being replaced by redwood plank footpaths.

The Cathedral Grove. This is my favorite spot. A beautiful enclosure of towering redwoods, aptly named.

It was here on May 19, 1945, that the U. N. delegates came for a ceremony to honor President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The delegates from 50 countries were in San Francisco to create the United Nations, and the president died just before the signing of the charter.  

One of the trees in this grove, an enormous 800 year old redwood, fell over in 1996, and you can see it lying against the hillside where it fell.

posing by huge redwood in bohemian grove, muir woodsHuge Redwood, Bohemian Grove

Nearby Trails

Muir Woods is part of the Mount Tam system of trails. There are over 50 miles of trails criss-crossing Mount Tam, and several leave from or pass near Muir Woods.

start of canopy view trail in muir woodsStart of Canopy View Trail Off of Muir Woods Trail

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Ideas for Hikes

Here's a good map of the Mount Tam trails, including the Muir Woods trails: see trail map.

I've listed  a couple of popular hikes below. For a great resource listing all the hikes in redwood forests throughout California, see redwoodhikes.com.

Ben Johnson/Dipsea Loop: an all-day hike, moderately strenuous. Starts at Muir Woods, just off the overflow parking lot. Then follow the Ben Johnson Trail to the TCC Trail, then the Stapleveldt Trail, joining with the Dipsea Trail, and back down into Muir Woods. See hike for map and details.

Sun Trail: another all-day, moderately strenuous hike, which takes you up on the hillside east of Muir Woods, past the cool Tourist Club chalet, then along the Redwood Trail, Lost Trail, and Fern Creek Trail before rejoining the trail in Muir Woods. Leaves from the main parking lot. See hike for map and details.


Visitor Center, Cafe & Gift Shop

carved wooden john muir statue in muir woodsJohn Muir Hanging Out at the Cafe

You'll see the Visitor Center as you approach the entrance to Muir Woods. This is the place to pick up a trail map. 

The Cafe is a cosy, rustic spot to recharge after your hike. They have a nice assortment of sandwiches and pastries, plus salads and fruit, all from local farms.

Cheddar onion scones...yum! Even peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. Plus some interesting honey sticks at the register (we tried the tasty cinnamon and blueberry ones).

The Gift Shop next door has lots of wooden items made of redwood, and some pretty turquoise jewelry. Even baby redwood trees! But where would you put one?

baby redwood trees for sale, muir woods gift shopWant Your Very Own Redwood Tree?

Visiting Muir Woods

Entrance fees: 

$10 for ages 16 and over.

Annual pass: $40 for one person plus three guests.

Free for holders of National Park Passes. See passes for how to get one.

Hours:

Muir Woods is open 365 days a year.

Open 8:00 am till sunset.

Visitor Center (trail maps) and Cafe & Gift Shop open at 9 am.

The No No's: no pets (except service animals), no picnics, no camping, no smoking

Tips for enjoying your visit...

  • Dress warmly, in layers. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, i.e. cool and shady, much cooler than the surrounding countryside.
  • There is no cell phone reception in Muir Woods. They do have a pay phone near the entrance, though.
  • Don't wait for the last shuttle; it may be full.
  • Only bathrooms are in the Visitor Center and the Cafe, near the entrance.
  • Allow at least an hour for a visit; 90 minutes is better.
  • Try and make it past the 3rd bridge to see the Cathedral Grove.
  • If you want parking, get there before 9 am in summer and weekends.

Getting to Muir Woods

Driving

It's a fairly easy drive to get to Muir Woods; it's only about 20 minutes from San Francisco (unless you hit commuter traffic during the rush hour-ugh). The real challenge is getting rid of your car once you're there!

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From SF: head north over the Golden Gate Bridge on Highway 101, and take the Mill Valley-Highway 1-Stinson Beach exit. follow the signs to Highway 1, then the signs to Muir Woods.

From the East Bay: take Highway 580 over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge (west), then go south on Highway 101. Take the Stinson Beach-Mill Valley exit, then follow the sign to Highway 1 and Muir Woods.

Note: Vehicle size limitations. Because of the heavy rains last winter, there was damage to the road leading into Muir Woods and they don't allow vehicles over 35 feet on the road. Also, there is no parking available for RV's at Muir Woods.

Parking Woes

Parking at Muir Woods is a painful subject. There are two, rather small parking lots near the entrance, and that's it! If the lots are full, which they almost always are unless you arrive before 9 am, you can park along the narrow road past the parking lots.

The road parking starts about a five minute walk past the overflow lot. On busy weekends in summer, people may end up walking a couple of miles to get to the entrance.

muir woods road parkingWhere Most People Park at Muir Woods

Disabled parking. There is a lot for holders of disabled parking permits next to the Visitors Center, and visitors can also be dropped off in front of the entrance. 

Tour bus parking. There is also an area where the tour and school buses park, close to the entrance.

Muir Woods Shuttle

If you're driving in, and you didn't get a super early start, you should seriously consider using the Muir Woods shuttle, Bus Route 66/66F.

 It's $5 roundtrip for travelers 16 and older, free for kids. 

You don't pay until you get to Muir Woods. Pay for your round trip shuttle ticket when you pay for your entrance ticket; you'll need the ticket to board the shuttle going home.

Unfortunately, it only runs during the high season. This year, the shuttle started running on weekends May 13 and runs through October 29, 2017.

The shuttle runs daily June 19 through August 11, 2017.

 Here's the shuttle schedule.

There are three shuttle pickup points in Marin County: 

  • Pohono Street , off HWY 101 past Sausalito (weekends only). 
  • Marin City Bus Hub (Donahue & Terners Sts.) daily.
  • Sausalito Ferry area (Bridgeway & Bay Sts.) daily.
map of muir woods shuttle route

Which shuttle stop is best?

I recommend the Pohono Street stop on weekends and the Sausalito Ferry stop on weekdays.

Note: the Pohono Street Park & Ride stop has a free parking lot, but the shuttle only stops here on weekends. There is also another parking lot nearby you can use to catch the shuttle on weekends, Manzanita Park and Ride, just on the other side of the Highway 101 (use the underpass to walk under the freeway to the Pohono Street stop).

The bus stop for the Muir Woods shuttle is well-marked with a sign.

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Weekdays, the only Muir Woods shuttle stops are the Sausalito Ferry stop and the Marin City Bus Hub. 

The shuttle stop for the Sausalito Ferry is at the intersection of Bridgeway (the main street going through Sausalito) and Bay Street, near the ferry terminal in Sausalito. Parking isn't free but there are parking lots available (see Sausalito parking).

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The Marin City shuttle stop is at the major transit hub located at Donahue and Terners Streets. Unfortunately, this is not the safest area; there have been problems with robberies at this bus terminal off and on over the years. I would suggest catching the shuttle in Sausalito.

Insider tip: don't plan on taking the last shuttle out of Muir Woods; it may be full, and you won't get on. Then it's calling Uber or a taxi from the pay phone!


Without a Car

Hop On Hop Off Bus

One of the easiest ways to get to Muir Woods without a car is to take the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour from San Francisco.

The bus tour leaves from the SF view point at the Golden Gate Bridge, and includes a tour to Sausalito.

You can get off in Sausalito and Muir Woods, and there are several departure times at both locations, so you can take your time exploring both places.

You have the option of taking the ferry from Sausalito back to SF: very pretty trip!

See Muir Woods Bus Tour for more info and booking.


Can you take public transportation from San Francisco to Muir Woods? 

Yes, you can do it! It's a two-part process:

  1. The bus to Marin County, or ferry to Sausalito
  2. The Muir Woods Shuttle

But note: the Muir Woods shuttle doesn't run in winter.

Step 1: The Sausalito Ferry

There are two ferry lines that run to Sausalito from SF. You can take a Sausalito ferry from the Ferry Building (Golden Gate Ferry) or from Pier 41 at Fisherman's Wharf (Blue and Gold Ferry); they both use the same ferry terminal in Sausalito and you can catch the Muir Woods shuttle  at Bridgeway and Bay Streets nearby.

Both ferry rides take about 30 minutes, and cost a little less than $12 one way. These ferries don't fill up so there's no need to make reservations or buy tickets ahead of time.


Alternate Step 1: The Bus From Downtown SF

Golden Gate Transit has three bus lines that have stops in downtown SF and will take you to the Marin City Hub (30, 70 & 92).

One of lines, Route 30, also stops near the Sausalito Ferry terminal at Bridgeway & Bay where the Muir Woods shuttle picks up. This bus runs hourly, 7 days a week, from 7th And Market, as well as other SF stops (1st & Mission, McAllister & Polk, Golden Gate Bridge Toll Plaza). See Bus 30 Schedule.

Tip: I recommend taking the Route 30 bus and getting off in Sausalito. Two reasons: you'll be picked up before the Marin City stop ( good if the shuttles are filling up) and Sausalito is a safer place to wait for a bus.

Step 2: The Muir Woods Shuttle

Hop up to the shuttle section for all the details on taking the shuttle.

But...the shuttle normally doesn't run from November through March, except for about 10 days over the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years holidays.

So it's Uber or Lyft or a taxi in the winter months.


Uber and Lyft...

Uber and Lyft are both available in the Bay Area. A trip to Muir Woods from San Francisco, for example,  would run about $22. 

Nice, because you get dropped off at the front door and don't have to stress over parking!

How it works. For those not familiar with these services, these companies hire regular folks with cars (and no criminal or bad driving history!) to  drive people here and there.

They have apps you can download and when you put in a request online, any driver in the area can agree to accept the trip. You are told who your driver is and can see where they are on the map via GPS. You pay online so no money changes hands during the trip.

Warning! There is no cellular reception in Muir Woods, so you can't use your cell phone to get a return ride! They even post warning signs on the inside of the bathroom stalls because it's been such a problem. The solution is to use the pay phone (remember those?) at the entrance  to call for your return ride, or make arrangements in advance.

2017 Changes: reservations!

Plans are in place now to set up a reservation system for visiting Muir Woods, scheduled to go into effect in the fall of 2017.

The plan is to require reservations in advance for entering the park, as well as for reserving a parking space at Muir Woods or to get tickets for the shuttle.  Over the next few years, they plan to eliminate road parking entirely.

But people being dropped off, by Uber or Lyft for example, won't have to get park entrance reservations in advance.

 Over a million people visit Muir Woods every year and it has gotten so popular, it's become a threat to the natural environment. 

The narrow mountain roads and limited parking just weren't made for the numbers that want to see the park, so this plan is designed to take some of the load off.


More Redwoods?
Yes, in San Francisco and beyond!

In San Francisco. There are actually redwood groves in the city of San Francisco itself.  Not as impressive or ancient, mere infants compared to the Muir Woods trees, but pleasant and serene.

There is a pretty, 100-year-old grove in the San Francisco Botanical Garden, and another grove of 60 tall trees at the foot of the Transamerica Pyramid. Hard to think of a more unlikely location! Most people, including locals, don't know it's there.

The Transamerica grove was planted on the former location of a famous Bohemian establishment;  Mark Twain, Bret Harte,  and many other famous writers used to hang out there. You can also see the jumping frog fountain built in Twain's honor.

Golden Gate Park also has several redwood groves tucked here and there. For more on the groves, plus an overview of the many gardens in the park, see Gardens in Golden Gate Park.

Big Basin Redwoods, Santa Cruz. If you have a car, there is a gorgeous, large, old-growth redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains, about an hour and 20 minute drive from San Francisco. 

There are 80 miles of hiking trails in Big Basin Park, and lots of campsites among the redwoods. We went camping there when my son was little and it was lovely, in spite of some very bold raccoons that joined us for dinner!

Fun Tip: there is a cool excursion from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk up to the redwood forest on an old steam train. It used to be used for logging, but now visitors can ride this historic train up into the mountains, through the tall trees, and across the river gorge on a trestle bridge.

The train leaves from in front of the boardwalk in Santa Cruz and goes up to Roaring Camp in the mountains. Takes 3 hours roundtrip, and costs $31. See Roaring Camp Railroad for more details.

For a shorter trip, one hour round trip, Roaring Camp Railroad has another steam train ride through the redwoods that goes higher up into the mountains, also crosses a gorge and runs on a narrow gauge track.

This trip leaves from Roaring Camp in Felton, just outside of Santa Cruz. Costs $29, but appears to be available for $27 to book it through Viator: see Roaring Camp Train Ride for more info and booking.  



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