The Ben Johnson Trail
Loop hike with the Dipsea Trail
Length 5.2 miles Climbing 1100 feet
Starting at the Muir Woods overflow parking lot, this loop ascends unrelentingly along a grassy ridge and then descends through old-growth redwood uplands to the bottom of Redwood Canyon. To top off the hike, the route follows the Main Trail along the canyon floor past the park's best redwoods. This is a nice alternate way to see Muir Woods, with more variety than the usual Main Trail loop. As a bonus, entering Muir Woods by this route gets you out of paying the park entrance fee.
For a great all-day hike, combine this hike with the Dipsea and Steep Ravine hike. The Dipsea and Steep Ravine loop has much different scenery so it complements the Ben Johnson loop nicely. In addition, it's possible to start the hike from the Pantoll ranger station to avoid the parking headaches at the Muir Woods entrance.
Click here to see the trailhead location in Google Maps.
From the overflow parking lot, the Dipsea Trail descends slightly to cross Redwood Creek. After heavy winter rains and during salmon spawning season the bridge across Redwood Creek may be out, but it's possible to detour around it on Deer Park Fire Road. The trail then begins a steep climb up a wooded hillside with a series of steps. It soon emerges into grasslands with views of Mount Tamalpais and, occasionally, the ocean. The scenery on this stretch of trail doesn't compare to what you get further up the mountain or even on the Sun Trail, but the sunny fire road does make a nice contrast with the redwoods.
The trail parallels Deer Park Fire Road and crosses it several times. For the most part, the road and the trail offer the same scenery, but just inside the Muir Woods boundary, the fire road passes through a nice old-growth upland redwood grove that the trail misses. The trees aren't as large as the ones on the Main Trail, but I think the grove is just as scenic.
After 1.7 miles of climbing the trail reaches to an intersection with the Ben Johnson Trail. Most hikers take this shortcut, which switchbacks steeply down a hillside through a nice redwood grove. Hikers who want to see a great scenic view and a few additional redwoods can continue up the Dipsea Trail as shown on the map. This longer route climbs an additional 0.3 miles before arriving at the TCC Trail. From this point it's worthwhile to climb just a few hundred yards more on the Dipsea Trail to arrive at an excellent viewpoint that overlooks the ocean, then retrace your steps back to the TCC Trail.
The TCC and Stapleveldt trails are included here because there's a stretch of old-growth redwoods on the Stapleveldt Trail. The TCC Trail is not particularly scenic, while the Stapleveldt Trail descends into a more interesting redwood-filled ravine. Initially the trees in the ravine are small and the woods are somewhat dismal-looking, but there's a big improvement when the trail crosses into Muir Woods.
The Ben Johnson trail descends steeply through old-growth redwood uplands. The trail is heavily used and looks well-worn. It's cut into a hillside, with views of redwoods below in a few spots and some nice redwoods along the side of the trail. There's a spotty groundcover of ferns. Perhaps due to the lower soil moisture here, the hillside has smaller redwoods and is generally less scenic than the valley floor, although the redwoods get larger as the trail descends. Despite the fact that it's not as impressive as the Main Trail, this is still one of the best woodland trails in the Muir Woods area. It's the only trail in or near Muir Woods where you can see old-growth redwood uplands, which throughout the redwood's range is much more common than the big-tree lowlands.
Return to the parking lot on the Main Trail.
© 2006, 2012 David Baselt