Muir Woods National Monument is located just a few miles north of San Francisco in Marin County, and is a prime peaceful destination for reflection within nature but close to this bustling metropolis. It’s a spot that’s popular for locals and visitors alike to frequent and has short, non-strenuous hiking trails.
This land is officially managed by the National Park Service, as a specific area within the larger (enormous, actually) Golden Gate National Recreation Area and was the first forest of its kind to be in proximity to such a major city.
History of Muir Woods
Officially clocking in at 558-acres, respecting this protected national monument area is extremely important because this space preserves one of the Bay Area's last remaining ancient redwood forests.
The name “Muir” Woods derives from conservationist John Muir, who designated the site as a national monument in the early 1900s. But the forest’s rich history dates back long before Muir’s expiration -- all the way back to the native Coast Miwok people. Today, Muir Woods National Monument still hosts a variety of 380-plus plant and animal species, making a trip to these woods a fantastic opportunity for wildlife watching and fresh air.
It’s actually on the ‘young’ side as far as redwood forests go -- some of the rarer, hearty old growth redwood forests have trees that can date 2000 years in age but the average age of these coastal redwoods is between 600 and 800 years old.
Exploring the forest
These towering trees are naturally sheltered from the sun, drinking in the marine layer fog for which San Francisco is recognized. The entirety of the Bay Area’s Pacific Coast is also known for its pleasant weather, with Muir Woods hosting temperatures ranging from 40-70 degrees year-round, making it a perfect setting for outdoor adventures in any season.
Hiking trails at Muir Woods
The woods are a nice place for a quiet, scenic hike -- with six miles of designated hiking trails to stroll strewn throughout pathways winding between the tall redwood trees and amongst the local plant life. But be forewarned there’s no cell service at the National Monument (instead, it’s an ideal opportunity to truly disconnect!) so make sure to download any necessary maps or trail information before arrival.
There are a few standout hikes to explore while in the park. The first is a half hour loop hike beginning at the National Parks Visitor center and following Redwood Creek on both sides of the stream out to where “bridge 2” begins. This path is set along a smooth boardwalk. Alternatively, try the one hour loop which begins from the same place, and hikes a bit further out to “bridge 3.” There are also longer hikes on trails that extend into surrounding Mount Tamalpais State Park and it’s a kid-friendly outdoor destination.
Many of the pathways within Muir Woods are accessible for wheelchairs as they’re either asphalted or boardwalk -- but the trails on the canyon walls are dirt, narrow, steep, and rutted with tree roots -- so stroller and wheelchairs are not advised on most of the more challenging upper trail routes.
Planning for the trip: best times to visit and how to reserve
Out of the 1 million people who visit Muir Woods every year, half make the trip during the busier summer months. Visitors who want to get the park all to themselves should plan a visit on a less crowded date during spring or fall. There’s also usually more opportunity to plan a leisurely paced trip on a weekday when the park is less busy.
The park is open every single day of the year including holidays -- with an entrance fee. Adults 16 and older must pay $15.00, while children 15 and under are free. At the moment, reservations are required for all vehicles and shuttle riders planning a visit to Muir Woods, and can be reserved on the gomuirwoods.com website.
Visitors can check out a generous assortment of interpretive programs, ranger-led talks, and guided walks through the woods too, on the park's online calendar -- which details upcoming events and the status of the park’s visitation guidelines and current COVID-19 restrictions.
Accommodation near Muir Woods
Although overnight camping is not permitted within the park itself, there are cabins nearby at Mount Tamalpais State Park, as well as at National Park Service campgrounds in the Marin Headlands (which is also part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area).
Those who want to spend the night indoors can find several hotels in neighboring cities outside the forest, as well as in the adjacent city of San Francisco. Even closer by, Marin County’s artsy seaside village of Sausalito hosts a selection of quaint, boutique style hotels with views of the San Francisco Bay and the city itself.
Cavallo Point, the Lodge at the Golden Gate, is a standout choice for spending the night in Sausalito -- it’s located within the 75,000+ acres of national parkland comprising the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and just a short and scenic 20 minute drive from Muir Woods.
Across the Golden Gate Bridge in the Presidio neighborhood of San Francisco which overlooks the water and the bridge itself are sister properties Inn at the Presidio and Lodge at the Presidio. Lodge of the Presidio is the closest property to Golden Gate Bridge -- offering stunning views from many of the rooms and the outdoor fire pits.
Inn at the Presidio is a smaller, quainter all-suites style property housed in the Presidio’s former Bachelor Officers’ Quarters. It’s a fantastic choice for a romantic escape and outdoor exploration. From this inn, there’s a direct trail that leads to a beautiful vista point overlooking San Francisco Bay.