Off the Beaten Path at Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument is twelve miles north of San Francisco, and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is one of the few old growth coastal redwood forests still remaining in the area, thanks to the conservation efforts of Congressman William Kent and President Teddy Roosevelt declaring it a national monument in 1908. It is often cloaked in a dense fog due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, which is imperative for its survival and contributes to its density.

The coastal redwoods in this forest average 500-800 years old and the tallest tree stands at 258 feet, though redwoods can grow significantly taller. It is also home to several other species of tree unique to this type of environment as well as a number of wildlife, which we unfortunately did not see any of. We did carry bear spray with us as well due to some warning signs, though bears have not been known to frequent the area too much in recent years.

As the Muir Woods is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Bay Area, it tends to get VERY crowded. We went on a weekday during the school year and it was still packed like sardines in the area near the visitor’s center and on the immediate, paved trails. So we were eager to get off onto the much less traveled trails.

We bought a trail map for three dollars and some change because we have found that trail maps are ALWAYS worth the money. We left the visitor’s center and turned at Bridge 2, taking the Hillside Trail to the Ben Johnson Trail through much quieter and serene parts of the forest. There was some elevation gain on this part of the trail, but it was certainly not terribly strenuous.

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That’s some serious burl!!

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At the next intersection, we turned left to follow some switchbacks to the Dipsea Trail. This trail veered away from the redwoods and was much less shaded as we even got some views of the ocean! We were a little thrown off by the fact that a fire road ran parallel to the trail at some points and the trail signs were not 100% clear on which was which, but we were able to stay relatively on track regardless.

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The sun exposure makes it difficult to discern, but the Pacific Ocean can be spotted in the dip in the center of the photo.

We then descended a good amount as we completed the loop and neared the visitor’s center, and hence, the throngs of people again. We were able to get off the trail right at the overflow parking lot we had parked in. The whole loop took us a few hours and was a refreshing walk through some beautiful forests. To be honest, the Muir Woods didn’t completely and totally blow us away, but maybe we were just a bit spoiled from seeing so many beautiful forests on our trip thus far. Regardless, we are sure glad that they are preserved and if we were fortunate enough to live in the Bay Area, would probably retreat here often, plus it was an excuse to drive across the beautiful Golden Gate! Though the initial crowds can be irritating, the Muir Woods are certainly worth a day visit if you are willing to get out there on some trails.

RV’ing note: There are no camping facilities right at the Muir Woods, but various opportunities exist along the Point Reyes National Seashore, or you could make the 1.5-2 hour drive with traffic from Anthony Chabot Family Campground in Castro Valley.

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