Welcome back to National Parks and other public lands with T!
Muir Woods National Monument protects an old-growth coastal redwood forest and is part of California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It lies 12 miles north of San Francisco. Being the most accessible redwood grove to tourists visiting San Francisco, it is insanely popular.
Because the traffic up the narrow, winding mountain roads were becoming unmanageable, the NPS has implemented a reservation policy. All visitors must either reserve a paid parking space in advance or buy a ticket for a shuttle bus.
The last time we visited Muir Woods was 2012. It was definitely busier than it had been on any of my previous visits. We parked on the road quite far from the visitor center. We hiked 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. We strolled along 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 scavenger hunt to figure out a code. The code unlocked the junior ranger box full of stickers back at the visitor center. 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.
Fog shrouded the woods 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. He purchased the land in order to save the last Redwood Groves in the area from being cut down. A water company took him to court because they wanted to build a dam on Redwood Creek. So 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.
Fun fact: the remade Planet of the Apes movies take place 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 really shot in British Columbia. The monument does make a cameo or two, though.
We have seen groves in Redwoods National Park in northern California 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 1980s. 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
Designation: National Monument
Date designated/established: January 9, 1908
Date of my visit: August 11, 2012