Marin's Spectacular Muir Woods is Not Just for Tourists

May 1, 2012

Muir WoodsWhile Muir Woods National Monument is one of the San Francisco Bay Area's most visited tourist attractions, it also holds a lot of appeal for locals willing to brave the potential crowds. Popular with Marin residents and visitors alike for over 100 years, this spectacular stand of old growth coast redwoods offers some amazing views and a chance to see the wonders of nature up close. Muir Woods was declared a National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, and it's been a great spot for a fun and educational family outing ever since.

For locals, a visit here is still well worth the time, but you do have to keep in mind that it's one of the region's top tourist destinations. Parking at Muir Woods is limited, so get there as early as you can—it opens at 8 am most days so it'll be ready and waiting for you.

Also, try to go during the week if you can and avoid the weekend crowds. Needless to say, the summer months are also busier than other times of the year. While it's still an amazing place regardless of how many people are there, it's even more special when it's quiet and uncrowded. Even though the parking lot was full on our last visit, once we got into the park itself the crowds thinned out and it didn't seem nearly as busy as we had expected.

Muir Woods entranceMuir Woods

Both my husband and I grew up here, and, until recently, neither of us had visited Muir Woods for long time. But we decided that we'd pay it a visit with our children and show them an important part of the fantastic area in which we live. Muir Woods offers guided nature walks and hikes for all ages, making it an appealing place for an easy family outdoor adventure.

Muir Woods offers a wide range of different hiking and walking opportunities, depending on how far you want to go and how hard you want to work. For families, the best option is to do the loop along Muir Woods' main trail up through Cathedral Grove and back. It's easy, and the majority of the trails are in the form of either pavement or boardwalk, which is great for little ones and strollers.

Muir WoodsMuir Woods

The big attraction at Muir Woods is the big trees—coast redwoods (sequioa sempervirens). The 240 acres of old growth redwood forest at Muir Woods is a mere a fraction of what once stretched along the California coast up into Oregon. Logging in the 19th and 20th centuries saw to it that much of these primeval forests disappeared, and if not for the efforts of those like Muir Woods namesake John Muir and congressman William Kent, who donated the land to the federal government, there probably wouldn't be much left at all.

Take a leisurely walk through the monument, along burbling Redwood Creek, and take the time to listen, watch, and even smell. Little bridges cross the creek at various points, and they're a fun place to stop and relax and see what's in and around the water. In addition to trees, you'll see amazing plant life and animals (we saw chipmunks, fish, and a great blue heron while we were there). There are even trees that you can go inside, which the kids thought was amazing.

Signs outside the majestic Cathedral Grove urge you to enter quietly. It's an inspiring spot that encourages quiet contemplation and observation, and it's definitely a must-see stop on your visit.

Muir WoodsMuir Woods

If You Go

Muir Woods is located in the foothills of Mt. Tamalpais just west of Mill Valley. As I noted above, parking is extremely limited; there are two parking lots, both of which fill up fast. If you can't find a space in the lots, street parking is available along Muir Woods Road. There's a drop-off zone located near the monument entrance if you want to unload and then go find a place to park.

Muir Woods charges an entry fee of $7 per adult 16 and older; children 15 and under are admitted free. For $20 you can buy an annual pass that admits you and everyone in your car for the entire year. Entrance fees are waived several days during the year; the remaining 2012 fee-free days are June 9, September 29, and November 10–12.

There's an on-site restaurant offering coffee, pastries and cookies, sandwiches, salads, and soups, all made from seasonal, organic, and locally sourced ingredients. We had lunch there and really enjoyed the Petaluma chicken salad sandwich ($7.95), with large chunks of chicken and crisp apples, and their signature Marin Melt ($9.95), a decadent grilled cheese sandwich made with Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam and Point Reyes Farmstead Toma cheeses. The kids had better-than-average organic hot dogs ($5.95). Seating, though limited, is provided both indoors and out.

Muir Woods restaurantMarin Melt sandwich at Muir Woods

Adjacent to the restaurant is a gift shop, run by the same concessionaire, selling all sorts of T-shirts, trinkets, objets d'art, and outdoorsy souvenirs. There's the requisite smashed penny machine, and you can even buy coast redwood seedings to plant in your yard when you get home. There's another small shop at the National Park Service's visitor center at the monument entrance, which has a nice selection of more educationally-minded gifts, books, and toys.

Muir WoodsDrinking water is available from drinking fountains, and there's even a free water bottle filler in the restaurant. Clean restrooms are available both inside the monument and outside near the parking lot.

Temperatures at Muir Woods are cool year-round—usually in the 40–70ºF range, so bring clothing to layer. Most of the trails are in heavy shade, so hats and sunblock aren't a big concern.

To get to Muir Woods, take Highway 101 to the Highway 1/Stinson Beach exit. and follow Highway 1 through Tam Valley. Drive along Highway 1 until you get to Panoramic Highway, where you'll turn right (just keep looking for the signs directing you to Muir Woods). Take Panoramic Highway north and look for the turn off to Muir Woods Road, where you'll turn right. Follow Muir Woods Road down the hill to Muir Woods. Note that some parts of the are stop-sign controlled single lane sections due to construction. Keep in mind that the roads to Muir Woods are often winding and steep.

For more information on Muir Woods, visit www.nps.gov/muwo or call (415) 388-2595.