★★

The Ben Johnson Trail

Loop hike with the Dipsea Trail


Length 5.2 miles • Climbing 1100 feet
California > > Muir Woods National Monument

The Ben Johnson Trail

Starting at the Muir Woods overflow parking lot, this loop ascends unrelentingly along a grassy ridge, then descends through old-growth redwood uplands into Redwood Canyon. The route then follows the Bohemian Grove 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 Bohemian Grove loop. As a bonus, entering Muir Woods this way gets you out of paying the exhorbitant $15/person park entrance fee, but you still have to reserve a parking spot in advance and pay the parking fee.

This hike can be combined with the Dipsea and Steep Ravine hike, which has much different scenery and complements the Ben Johnson loop nicely. It’s possible to start this combined hike from the Pantoll or Bootjack parking lots, which are free and don’t require a reservation, but fill up really quickly on weekends.

Click map to show all trails and roads
Part of the Bay Area Trail Map: Mount Tamalpais (Redwood Hikes Press, 2017)

Hike description

Here’s the trailhead location in Google Maps.

A reservation, made up to 90 days in advance, is required to park at the trailhead. The reservation fee was $8.00 in January 2018 and increases by $0.50 every two years. The 232 available parking spots always sell out on weekends and summer weekdays. You have to pick a half-hour arrival time slot, and the mid-morning slots sell out first. If no reservations are available, check again exactly 5 days before your trip, when a few extra spots are released. Once you arrive, you may still have to wait for a spot to open up, but then you can park for as long as you like.

From the overflow parking lot, the Dipsea Trail descends slightly to cross Redwood Creek. In the winter the bridge across Redwood Creek may be out and the creek crossing closed to protect spawning salmon, 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 Bohemian Grove Trail, but 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 Trail isn’t especially interesting. However, the scenery improves a lot after you turn onto the Stapleveldt Trail, which descends into a redwood-filled ravine. At first the trees in the ravine are small, but as the trail descends the trees gradually get larger, and the lush, steep-sided ravine with its little creek becomes very enjoyable.

The Stapleveldt Trail

The Ben Johnson Trail descends steeply through old-growth redwood uplands. The wide, heavily-used trail is cut into a hillside, with views of redwoods below in a few spots and some clusters of good-sized redwoods along the side of the trail. There’s a spotty groundcover of ferns, which is somewhat unusual for the Bay Area. It’s one of the best woodland trails in the Muir Woods area and also a nice way to see some old-growth redwood uplands, which throughout the redwood’s range are much more common than the big-tree lowlands.

The top and bottom of the Ben Johnson Trail are quite scenic; the middle part pulls away from the lush canyon-bottom woods alongside Redwood Creek, and is little more ordinary-looking.

The middle part of the Ben Johnson Trail

Return to the parking lot on the Bohemian Grove Trail. The lush, stately canyon-bottom woods are the most scenic part of the hike, but the trail gets increasingly busy as you approach the entrance; even in winter there’s a continuous stream of people for the last quarter-mile.

The Bohemian Grove Trail

 


 

© 2006, 2012, 2016, 2021 David Baselt