Muir Woods National Monument

and Mount Tamalpais State Park


California > San Francisco Bay Area

Bridge Two, Main Trail, Muir Woods

With a million visitors per year, Muir Woods is the world's most-visited redwood park. Since it's just a 30-minute drive from San Francisco, visitors to the city can drive here, experience a little of California's unique natural beauty, and be back in time for lunch. The park is just as much a San Francisco icon as the Golden Gate Bridge or the cable cars.

The downside of this popularity is the crowds. At its worst, with overflowing parking lots forcing a long walk to the entrance and crowds of tourists jamming the wide boardwalk, Muir Woods can feel a little like a theme park. Even the trails that climb the steep hills around the Main Trail are surprisingly busy. To avoid the worst crowds, arrive before 9 am.

As redwoods go, the trees of Muir Woods aren't all that big. The tallest trees in the park are only about 250 feet high, compared to 370 feet for the tallest redwoods in the world. The park also lacks the strikingly lush look of the best old-growth redwood groves. If you can devote a full day to the redwoods, consider visiting the more impressive Big Basin, a 2-hour, 70-mile drive south of San Francisco. Even more impressive are the redwood parks to the north.

Mt. Tamalpais State Park, which surrounds Muir Woods and borders the wealthy suburbs of Marin County, is extremely popular with locals. Several memorable Mt. Tam hikes are included in this section. The park offers superb mountain and ocean views and even has some old-growth redwoods of its own. However, while all of Muir Woods appears to be old growth, the unlogged forest ends promptly at the park boundaries, and most of lower Mt. Tam State Park is covered with very young second-growth redwoods. At higher elevations the redwoods give way to chaparral and rolling alpine meadows. In general, the further north you go within the park, the better the scenery.

Getting to Muir Woods

It's easy to find Muir Woods, since plenty of roadsigns point the way to the park. From San Francisco, drive north to the Golden Gate Bridge. After crossing the bridge, Highway 101 passes over a hill with a tunnel at the top. Just after the highway levels out at the end of the hill, take the Route 1 off-ramp to Mill Valley/Stinson Beach. Cross under the freeway. There's a traffic light just after after you cross under the freeway, then the road winds along the side of a river and enters a developed area. Turn left at the next traffic light, following the signs for Route 1 and Muir Woods.

The two-lane road climbs through a residential area. Shortly after the houses end, turn right at a well-signed intersection onto the Panoramic Highway. The road immediately makes a hairpin turn and ascends an open, chaparral-covered ridge. Turn left at the next intersection onto Muir Woods Road, which is also marked with prominent signs. The narrow and very twisty road is cut into a steep hillside with nothing to keep you from tumbling off the cliff. After a series of hairpin turns you'll reach the entrance to Muir Woods. Chances are you'll have to drive past the entrance and continue to the overflow lot.

San Francisco and Sausalito from the Verna Dunshee Trail, Mount Tamalpais State Park

Old-growth redwood hikes in Muir Woods

*** The Sun Trail (4.7 miles)
A scenic loop that climbs to a steep grassy hillside high above Muir Woods, then descends into a narrow, redwood-filled side canyon before joining the Main Trail. This is the best of the loops that climb the hills around Muir Woods.

** The Ben Johnson Trail (5.2 miles)
This loop starts with a long climb up a grass-covered ridge, then descends through old-growth redwood uplands to the Main Trail.

** The Main Trail (2 miles)
The main attraction of Muir Woods, this heavily-used trail follows a stream through a canyon lined with medium-sized redwoods.

Old-growth redwood hikes in Mount Tamalpais State Park

*** Willow Camp and Steep Ravine (8.5 miles)
This challenging hike descends scenic coastal bluffs to Stinson Beach, then returns by way of a climb through a redwood-filled canyon.

*** Dipsea and Steep Ravine (3.9 miles)
This enjoyable hike in Mount Tamalpais State Park has a little of everything — superb ocean views, lush coastal woodland, and a cool, damp canyon lined with old-growth redwoods. The redwoods are smaller and fewer in number than Muir Woods, but this loop is a lot less touristy.

Other hikes

*** Dad O'Roarke's Bench (0.6 miles)
A short stroll through alpine meadows to one of the best scenic views from anywhere on Mt. Tam.

Stinson Beach from the Matt Davis Trail, Mount Tamalpais State Park

Related websites

  • Printed maps of Muir Woods are available from Redwood Hikes Press. The printed maps are the same as the maps on this website, but without the greyed-out trails and old-growth redwood coverage. The Willow Camp Trail is not on the printed map.

 


 

© 2006 David Baselt