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Muir Woods National Monument is an old-growth coastal redwood forest and is part of California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, 12 miles north of San Francisco. Being the most accessible redwood grove to tourists visiting San Francisco, it is insanely popular.
Because the crowding and traffic up the narrow, winding mountain roads were becoming unmanageable, the NPS has recently implemented a policy that requires all visitors to either reserve a paid parking space in advance or buy a ticket on a shuttle bus (also reserved in advance.)
The last time we visited Muir Woods was 2012 and it was definitely busier than it had been on any of my previous visits. We had to park on the road quite far from the visitor center and hike in, hoping no one would hit our car while we were gone. (Did I mention the roads are narrow? And winding?)
But once we got past the throngs at the entrance, we enjoyed a peaceful walk on the loop trail, past Redwood Creek and through the awesome Cathedral Grove. The loop trail is level, easy and a great way to experience these magnificent giants.
We’d picked up a junior ranger booklet and helped my daughter fill it out as we followed the trail. It was a sort of scavenger hunt to figure out a code to unlock the junior ranger box back at the visitor center and get the ‘badge’…really just a lame sticker, no ‘swearing-in’ ceremony with a ranger like at other parks. There are just too many visitors here for that, but I thought the scavenger hunt was a unique alternative.
The woods were shrouded in fog as we began, typical due to the proximity of Muir Woods to the ocean. It lifted at some point on our hike back.
Muir Woods was saved from destruction by William Kent, a US Congressmen in the early 1900s. In order to save the last Redwood Groves in the area from being cut down by the logging industry, he purchased the land. When a water company took him to court because they wanted to build a dam on Redwood Creek, he donated the land to the federal government on the condition that they protect it and name the new monument after John Muir, the naturalist.
Interesting fact: the remade Planet of the Apes movies were partially set in Muir Woods (that’s where the evolved apes make their new home at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes) but those scenes were mostly shot in British Columbia. The monument does make a cameo or two, though.
So, bottom line…If you are planning on exploring the Marin County side of the bay, do incorporate Muir Woods into your plans. But advance planning is required because of the new reservation policy and this park should not be your ultimate destination for visisting a redwood grove in California.
We have seen groves in Redwoods National Park in the far north of the state and in State Parks south of the Bay Area….all of them were far more peaceful and immersive experiences than getting to and walking through Muir Woods.
That said, Muir Woods was where I saw my first AMAZING giant redwood back in the 80s, and for some it might be their only chance to see one…if that is the case, you can’t miss a visit to Muir Woods.
Location: 1 Muir Woods Rd, Mill Valley, CA 94941
Designation: National Monument
Date designation declared: January 9, 1908
Date of my visit: 8/11/2012