Muir Woods National Monument is a magical place steeped in history, full of ancient and grand Redwoods and wildlife. This federally protected land since 1908 is located just across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge north of San Francisco.
Muir Woods National Monument consists of a forest-filled hidden valley in the shadow of the prominent Mount Tamalpais to the north. To the west is the vast Pacific Ocean, the famous San Francisco Bay to the east, and the southern border is the Marin Headlands.
For many people visiting San Francisco being able to walk among the grand centuries old Redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument is an incredible dream.
When To Go To Muir Woods
Muir Woods National Monument is located pretty close to a massively crowded urban center; it can get very crowded during its peak seasons. Most visitors choose to come to the monument between the months of May and October. Summer months mean summer vacations and the best weather. During peak season try to arrive right when the park opens at 8 AM to get a head start and avoid heavier traffic. The best way to get the most space is to avoid weekends and holidays.
Fall, arguably, may be the most ideal time of year to visit Muir Woods National Monument. The climate still feels like summer with warmer temperatures hanging around. A noticeable difference however is the fog often recedes sooner in the day promising the best views. When winter comes around you will experience more mud, colder weather, and rain. However the biggest advantage is even weekends promise less crowds as you explore the Redwoods.
Hiking In Muir Woods
Hiking in Muir Woods National Monument is a peaceful, exciting experience. All of the trails begin along a boardwalk right out of some enchanted story. Here are some of my favorite treks to take in this wonderful place.
- Muir Main Trail: This trek is an easy and classic introduction to the Muir Woods National Monument. At just about two miles in length you will travel through sky high Redwoods and bubbling creek beds. This is an overall peaceful experience for all ages. The Main Trail, also called the Redwood Creek Trail, begins at the visitor center and is an easy loop with a mix of wooden boardwalk, packed soil, and paved road. You can actually vary the length of your walk on this trail from a half mile loop to a two mile loop as there are multiple turnaround points.
- Muir Woods to Mount Tamalpais: This trail is perfect for those hoping to bag the most prominent peak in the area. But be warned you will need to work for it on this difficult hike. The length is just shy of eleven miles as you climb over 2,500 feet in elevation to the top. The reward? Simply stunning views and incredible vistas.
- Fern Creek, Lost Trail and Canopy Trail Loop: Rated as a moderate hike with a length of about three miles is this breathtaking hike through the redwoods. You will easily feel lost in a fairytale as you make your way under the canopy of trees. You can start this hike from the visitor center as well, and there is a waterfall to add to this adventure.
- Dipsea Trail: Travel from the Redwoods to Stinson Beach on this historic trail that is the destination for the Double Dipsea, the world’s oldest trail running race. The trailhead can be reached from the Muir Woods overflow parking lot. This hard, out and back hike clocks in at almost 10 miles and over 2,700 feet of elevation gain, but for those looking to experience all that this area has to offer, this is a hike you’ll want to try.
Camping In Muir Woods
Sadly I have to report there is no camping allowed within the boundaries of Muir Woods National Monument. This area is strictly a ‘day use’ only wilderness area. But don’t get too upset. If you’re really itching to camp, not too far away from the Muir Woods National Monument boundaries are a few great alternatives to choose from.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Golden Gate National Recreation Area is located right next door to the monument and has four established campgrounds you can reserve a night at. The easiest campground to reach is also one of the smallest of the four campgrounds. The Bicentennial Campground comprises three sites that are directly off of Battery Wallace and are ideal for urban campers. There are no hookups or showers available but being so close to the city you do have great cell service.
A second beautiful campground here has incredible vistas of the bluff and access to the sandy beach. The Kirby Cove campground is located in the Marin Headlands area with sweeping views of the famous Golden Gate Bridge. It is one of the largest campgrounds in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area with only six sites in total! There are no amenities.
If you are looking for forest camping, the Haypress Campground may be the closest you will get. The location is nestled not technically in trees but in an area full of the coastal scrub of the Tennessee Valley. In order to reach the campground be prepared for a hike just shy of a mile from the parking area. The result of this short trek is a secluded area with a lovely beach to enjoy. There are six sites in total and like the other campgrounds, no amenities.
Lastly, is the remote Hawk Campground located in the Tennessee Valley. Depending on which parking lot you choose to park in you will need to hike between three and four miles to this quaint three site established campground. The views from your tent will be stunning ones of the Marin Head wilderness area. The best part of this campground is if you do not enjoy hiking you can opt to boat to the campground! There is a portable toilet available.
Mount Tamalpais State Park
On the other side of Muir Woods National Monument, Mount Tamalpais State Park has a number of first-come first serve and reservable camp sites. Bootjack and Pantoll Campgrounds are first come first serve with 15 sites each. There are restrooms with flush toilets, and firewood and drinking water is available.
If you’d like to reserve your spot, try Alice Eastwood Group Camp, Frank Valley Group Horse Camp, and Rocky Point/Steep Ravine Environmental Campground. Alice Eastwood has two group sites that can accommodate 25 to 50 people each. Frank Valley has corrals for up to 12 horses. Rocky Point/Steep Ravine is an oceanfront campground with nine cabins and seven primitive camp sites. Cabins are equipped with small wood stoves, sleeping platforms, an outdoor barbecue, and picnic tables. There is no running water in the cabins but restrooms and water faucets are located nearby. Each cabin and campsite are limited to a maximum of one car and five people. Pets are not allowed here.
Other Things To Do In Muir Woods
Muir Woods Visitor Center: 1 Muir Woods Road – The Visitor Center is open daily at 8:00 AM and closes 30 minutes before the rest of the park. Stop in here to learn all about the history of the park and the trees and wildlife that you’ll find while you’re out exploring.
Become A Junior Ranger: If you’re exploring with kids, stop into the visitor center to pick up a copy of the Junior Ranger Activity Book (or print a copy at home before you go). Use the handbook to explore the park and complete the activities – identifying wildlife, counting rings in fallen trees, drawing your observations, and learning about the park are just a few things you’ll find inside. Once the activities have been completed, head back to the visitor center to get a certificate and a Junior Ranger badge.
Muir Beach: Just three miles west of Muir Woods, lies Muir Woods Beach. Here you’ll find a beach and lagoon in a quiet cove surrounded by bluffs. The Big Lagoon is where Redwood Creek pools and empties into the ocean. There is a small grove of Monterey Pines hear at Muir Beach and monarch butterflies are sometimes spotted in the trees as they are wintering. There are six fire rings available on the beach from May through November, and three from December through April. And yes, dogs are allowed on the beach here, but you must keep them on-leash or very close by at all times.
Muir Beach Overlook: Take in the gorgeous views from the overlook. There are also historic base-end stations here to explore. These were observation posts that were once part of the coastal defense system and soldiers could keep an eye on the horizon for approaching ships. Keep an eye out for migrating whales while you’re taking in the views.
Stinson Beach: Don’t go to Muir Woods without stopping to visit Stinson Beach. This small coastal town has some of the cleanest beaches in the state. Not only is it popular for people, but sharks – especially Great Whites – are more common here than in other waters off the coast of California. Enjoy the sandy beaches for the day and stop at one of the local beach side cafes for a bite to eat. Fun fact: Janis Joplin’s ashes were scattered along Stinson Beach and the water here.
- Parking can be a bit of a hassle. You must make parking reservations via GoMuirWoods.com ahead of your visit. Download or print off your voucher before you arrive.
- Park hours are 8 a.m. to sunset daily.
- Sadly your furry friends are not allowed in Muir Woods. But you can take them to the nearby Coastal Trail at Muir Beach. Other options include trails in the Marin Headlands.
- Admission fees are $15.00 for adults, and children ages 15 years or younger are free. Accepted passes are the Fourth Grade Pass, Veterans and Gold Star Families Pass, and America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass.
- Make sure to bring plenty of water. Although most of Muir Woods National Monument is tree covered you can still easily get overheated in summer temperatures.
Muir Woods National Monument is a gateway to a whole wild world located right by one of the largest cities in California. Here you can get lost in the forest, capture views of the foggy coast and enjoy the cultural history of the area. Always remember to be kind and practice Leave No Trace principles. Or leave it better than you found it.
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Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would not be a forever home for all of them, they adopted their daughter buckets and are legal guardians to their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus