Among the many great Golden Gate National Recreation Area destinations, you will want to be sure to visit the incredible forest north of San Francisco, called Muir Woods National Monument. Muir Woods has been a National Monument since 1908 and is celebrated for its towering old-growth coast redwood trees.
Start at the Visitor Center
The Muir Woods Visitor Center is about twelve miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, near Mill Valley, California. The Visitor Center helps you get acquainted with the National Monument and obtain maps and other items that will help during your visit. Be sure to get your National Park Service passport stamped while you are there.
Muir Woods National Monument offers six miles of well-marked, boardwalk or asphalt hiking trails. You can venture into the forest and see the wonderful trees close at hand. There is a half hour loop, an hour loop, and an hour and a half loop.
The Ben Johnson and Dipsea trails climb a hillside for views of the treetops. You’ll also see the Pacific Ocean and Mount Tamalpais from nearby Mount Tamalpais State Park. The Ben Johnson Trail begins at the Muir Woods parking lot; it goes uphill to a grassy ridge, then goes down to old-growth redwoods in Redwood Canyon. The Dipsea Trail offers a more open environment for hiking.
See the Trees
Connect with the Bohemian Grove Trail on the canyon floor to see the best redwoods in the park. The Bohemian Grove Trail branches off the Redwood Creek Trail. In Bohemian Grove, you can see the tallest coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) in the monument, called “Tree 76”. It tops out at 258 feet above the forest floor and is thought to be about eight hundred years old.
The nearby trees are almost as tall. Coastal redwoods as a species tend to grow even taller than the giant sequoias. As you travel to Bohemian Grove, you will go through Cathedral Grove, possibly the most inspirational part of the hike.
Enjoy a meal at the cafe at Muir Woods, which is run by the Muir Woods Trading Company. The Café has been highlighted on the Food Network. They serve local organic food. People make the trip especially to enjoy their tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich combo.
Visitor Tips to Muir Woods
Muir Woods has always been known to visitors as difficult to park and visit. Beginning in 2018, reservations will be required to park your vehicle and shuttle to the monument. Visitors over 16 will also need to pay a park admission entrance fee. You can find out current pricing and reserve your spot by calling 1-800-410-2419 or visiting GoMuirWoods.com.
Early reservations are encouraged, as you can’t purchase entry at the park, and they are likely to sell out. A limited number of passes will be held to release 5 days in advance, but these will be very hard to get.
Also notable for your visit: there is no cell phone reception or Wi-Fi at Muir Woods. Be sure to download any directions or information you need ahead of time for offline use. Also, pets are not permitted.
If hiking is not your preference, you can enjoy dramatic views while driving in the area around Muir Woods. From the Visitors Center, take Franks Valley Road to the Shoreline Highway, California Route 1. It will take you down to the coast at Muir Beach and then along the Pacific Coastline. Take advantage of the various pull-offs to savor the views of the Ocean. Keep on going, and the road leads to the turnoff for the town of Bolinas – which is perhaps the best-kept secret community along the Pacific coast.
Drive further along to reach the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Dating back to 1870, it guides ships along the windiest portion of the Pacific Coastline. You can visit the Point Reyes National Seashore and tour the lighthouse as well as view the dramatic scenery and wildlife. A fun fact about the lighthouse: during the April 18, 1906 earthquake, the Point Reyes Peninsula and the lighthouse itself moved north 18 feet, in less than a minute. A recommendation: Do this drive during daylight hours, when the air is clear, both for the spectacular views and for driving safety.
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