Spend Time in the Trees at Muir Woods National Monument

Wander along the canopy floor at one of the oldest national monuments in the United States.

Photo: Depositphotos

Nothing makes you feel smaller than standing beneath a giant coastal redwood tree. Walking beneath the canopy, amongst the ancient horsetail ferns and banana slugs at Muir Woods National Monument, gives you the opportunity to try it yourself.

Muir Woods National Monument, just north of San Francisco, California, sits in the coastal redwood latitudinal range that stretches from California to Oregon. Redwoods only grow up to 50 miles inland, thriving in the coastal climate. They can grow to be more than 300 feet tall and many live for upwards of 2,000 years, making them the tallest trees on Earth.

Muir Woods National Monument has been shielded from human development as a symbol of nature since 1908. The tiny monument, just 558-acres, is part of a larger swath of public lands known as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area which includes the Marin Headlands and Alcatraz Island. Muir Woods is a haven, completely juxtaposed to its surrounding environment. Spend time hiking the trails, gazing up at the giant trees or trying a silent contemplation at one of the designated quiet groves. The monument is in Mill Valley, under an hour from San Francisco and just 11 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge.

Northern Spotted Owl in Muir Woods
Northern Spotted Owl in Muir Woods (Photo: Getty Images)

Are Reservations Needed for Muir Woods?

There are required parking reservations for Muir Woods, which are available three months in advance at gomuirwoods.com. We recommend making your reservation as soon as possible for timing flexibility. Reservations are made in 30 minute time slots, so you will have to plan ahead and be sure to arrive within that time frame. If you arrive outside of your reserved time, parking is based on availability, but you’re not ensured a spot. Parking reservations vary, a standard size vehicle is $9 and an electric vehicle is $12, with campers and RVs costing more.

If you don’t wish to deal with parking, make an environmentally friendly choice and take a shuttle from one of the off-site locations to the park and back. Roundtrip tickets are $3.50 per adult and children under 15 ride free. There is free parking at the off-site shuttle stops, and you do not need a reservation to park in those lots. The stops include the Marin Transit Route 228, Larkspur Ferry and the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail transit. For more shuttle information visit gomuirwoods.com.

In addition to your parking reservation at Muir Woods, there is a $15 per person entrance fee to the monument. America the Beautiful and other interagency annual passes are also accepted and will allow entry of up to four people.

Things to Do in Muir Woods

Immerse yourself in the serenity of this national monument, from ancient trees standing tall, to hikes down silent paths, to finding tranquility by Redwood Creek’s gentle flow. Muir Woods offers sights, sounds and experiences for all types of visitors looking to journey into nature’s embrace.

Bridge overlooking Redwood Canyon in Muir Woods National Monument
Bridge overlooking Redwood Canyon in Muir Woods National Monument (Photo: NPS/Kirke Wrench)

Walk to a Redwood Grove

Muir Woods brings you into the presence of the redwoods via its main trail, Redwood Creek. A boardwalk with bridges that cross Redwood Creek and form a loop back to the visitor center, this is the perfect path for experiencing the mighty trees. A “choose your adventure” trail, there are many ADA options with more than enough to see along your walk. Start at the entrance to the park and stroll to the first bridge for a short half-mile loop, or to the fourth bridge for a 2-mile walk and a bit more time amongst the fascinating flora, returning via the Hillside Trail. Along the way there are three redwood groves that have been designated as spaces where the trees are a bit more magnificent than other areas.

The first is Cathedral Grove, where the oldest redwoods in Muir Woods are located. It is a silent preserve, allowing visitors peaceful reflection as they quietly observe the wonder of these trees as old as time. Be respectful of this spot’s silent status by not talking or playing loud music and walking softly. This isn’t a good spot to bring young children.

The second, Founders Grove, features some of the largest trees in Muir Woods, including the Pinchot Tree. This giant was dedicated in 1910 in honor of the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, conservationist Gifford Pinchot. He was monumental in convincing President Theodore Roosevelt to save the redwoods for posterity and to accept Muir Woods as a gift to the public from politician William Kent.

The final grove is Bohemian Grove, a place to dive into the root of what makes this redwood forest so unique. One of the must-stop spots in this area is the selfie tree, where a burn scar makes the perfect cave to take a picture in.

Bohemian Grove's Selfie Tree in Muir Woods
Bohemian Grove’s Selfie Tree in Muir Woods (Photo: Getty Images)

Hike to Stinson Beach

If you’re looking for more of a challenge there are several trails in Muir Woods that take you up along the canyon wall and into the redwood canopy, eventually leaving the monument. Canopy View, Dipsea, Camp Alice Eastwood, Fern Creek, Bootjack and Ben Johnson trails all split off from the boardwalk and take you into the surrounding Mount Tamalpais State Park.

Map of Muir Woods and Mt. Tamalpais State Park trails
Download PDF Map of Muir Woods and Mt. Tamalpais State Park (Photo: NPS)

Wishing to spend all day among the redwoods? Head all the way to the end of the boardwalk and continue up the Ben Johnson Trail. From here you can follow the Dipsea Trail to Stinson Beach and back for an 11-mile hike with a 2860-foot elevation gain.

There are no pets, horseback riding or bicycling allowed in the monument. Picnics are also prohibited, as there are no picnic tables and leaving the boardwalk can damage the trees’ shallow roots. Note that this national monument is remote compared to the surrounding city so there is no cell service in the park. Download GAIA GPS (www.gaiagps.com) and the region maps before you head out so you can orient yourself on the trails offline.

Explore Beyond the Redwoods

Muir Woods National Monument is unique, it sits as a forest oasis amongst the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area. It’s part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the United States’ largest national park site. You’ll want to add on some of these highlights inside the greater recreation area to your Muir Woods trip.

Stinson Beach

Stinson Beach is just 20 minutes down the road from Muir Woods by car, or a 5.5-mile hike (see above). With its white sand and inviting oceanfront, it’s known as one of the best swimming beaches in Northern California. The beach got its name from Nathan and Rose Stinson who began setting up tents on the sand in the 1890s, calling their new tourist attraction “Willow Camp.” It didn’t become a popular destination until the completion of the Panoramic Highway in 1928 and the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937.

The entrance gates to the parking lot open at 9 a.m. Note that the road into Stinson Beach is steep and windy, and on a hot, sunny day the parking lot will be full before noon. We recommend calling ahead for parking availability and weather updates at (415) 868-0942. There is no camping permitted and cars left in the lot after closing will be ticketed.

Stinson Beach near Muir Woods in California
Stinson Beach near Muir Woods in California (Photo: Depositphotos)

Mount Tamalpais State Park

If you’re looking to enjoy more hiking in the area, Mount Tamalpais State Park–just north of Muir Woods–has tons of trails to choose from. With more than 6,000 acres of land, some of the best hiking in the Bay Area can be found in the park. From the Mount Tamalpais upper mountains you can see the Farallon Islands 25 miles offshore, the Marin County Hills, Bay Area, Mount Diablo and, on a clear day, the snowcapped Sierra Nevada Mountain Range more than 100 miles away.

There is lots to see and do in the park, stop by the East Peak Visitor Center for information on hiking, picnicking and wildlife watching. Don’t miss the Gravity Car Barn, only open from noon to 4 p.m. on the weekends, where volunteers share stories of the old Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway. You can also catch an outdoor play or astronomy program at the Mountain Theatre.

There is first come, first served camping available in the park at the Pantoll or Bootjack campgrounds. Reservations for group camping are required via ReserveCalifornia.com for the Alice Eastwood Group Camp as well for the rustic cabins and seaside camping at the Steep Ravine Cabins and Environmental Campground.

Mount Tamalpais State Park
Mount Tamalpais State Park (Photo: Getty Images)

Take a Scenic Drive to Muir Woods Beach

The windy drive into Muir Woods is breathtaking. The Gulf of the Farallones coastline is the backdrop to sweeping views of the redwood canopy as you descend on Panoramic Highway towards Muir Woods National Monument. If you continue on Frank Valley Road past Muir Woods Visitor Center, eight minutes later you will arrive at Muir Beach.

A local favorite, this secluded cove is unique from other beaches in the area. In late August to early September, thousands of Monarch butterflies travel on their once in a lifetime migration through this park. Keep an eye out for the orange and black wings of these wintering butterflies cloaking the Monterey pines in the small Muir Beach cove. This migration is considered a “Threatened Phenomenon” by the International Union for Conservation and Natural Resources (IUCN), so please be respectful of these incredible animals. Keep your distance, use your zoom to take pictures and please do not attempt to handle or attract the butterflies so they can continue to thrive on their journey.

On the north end of the cove is the Muir Beach Overlook. With views of the Pacific coast, visitors can see for miles as they descend down the famous staircase walkway to the point. In fact, this location was a part of the San Francisco Bay coast defense system in the 1900s, where soldiers could watch for warships from telescopes to protect the bay from invasion.

Note that the northernmost end of the beach is popular with clothing-optional sunbathers. There is no lifeguard on duty at Muir Beach, so swim at your own risk.

Stairs leading down to the Muir Beach Overlook with a view of the Pacific Ocean
Stairs leading down to the Muir Beach Overlook with a view of the Pacific Ocean (Photo: Getty Images)

How long should you spend in Muir Woods?

To walk the length of the monument and back takes about an hour and a half, although there are many other hikes that can be tagged onto your walk through the park for a longer excursion. To get a full tour and really enjoy your time exploring, plan to spend between one to two hours. This will give you time to stop and take pictures, read the informational signs about the plants and animals that coexist with the redwoods, and stop in at the trading post for a snack. Be sure to allot several days if you plan to explore beyond the monument into the surrounding recreation area (see above).

What’s so special about Muir Woods?

These ancient trees that once covered the coast of Northern California now appear on the IUCN endangered species list. In the 1800s they were logged extensively to fuel the Gold Rush expansion and demand for lumber, space and other resources. Today, only 5% of the original redwood forest still remains intact in isolated pockets, with much of the coastal redwoods being young compared to the old growth trees lost. Places like Muir Woods are protected as an effort to save what is left of this impressive forest.

Muir Woods is a beautiful display of redwoods, the tallest living things on earth. These ecological masterminds are not only tall, but have incredibly small cones. Only an inch in diameter, these small vehicles are what spread the seeds that make forests like Muir Woods possible. The most exciting part is that no one knows why redwoods grow so tall. There are many theories, but the reason remains unproven.

One of the only natural threats, besides fires, to redwoods is the wind, and with heights of 300 feet and roots that only dig 10 to 13 feet into the ground, being blown over is a very real threat. Luckily, these amazing trees have a solution to their breezy predator. Redwoods have interlaced root systems with their neighbors. Their roots spread out 60 to 80 feet and connect to the roots of their other redwood friends to help support them. They aren’t strong enough to hold themselves up, so they link underground arms with others for survival.

There is so much to learn about these beautiful trees and visiting Muir Woods National Monument is a great way to get an up close and personal glimpse of what makes these towering trees so unique.

What’s the best time of year to visit Muir Woods?

Peak season to visit Muir Woods is the end of May to the beginning of September. While late fall, spring and winter are also great times to visit, the temperature in the Bay Area is a bit cooler so prepare to bundle up. Ironically, summer is the high fog season, which is exactly what makes the redwoods and the ecosystems they support thrive. The redwood needles actually catch the fog which trickles down through the canopy to replenish the creek and helps support life on all levels of these gentle giants’ ecosystems.

Seeing the forest lush and green is what makes the summer months optimal for a Muir Woods visit. There are higher crowds during the summer months, so be sure to plan accordingly, allowing more time for your visit and travel to and from the park.

The park is open during peak season from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. There are exceptions to the hours during high and low shoulder seasons at the beginning and the end of the year, check the park website for specific seasonal hours: www.nps.gov/muwo/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm#osException26628

The park is open every day of the year with exceptions for inclement weather check the park’s website www.nps.gov/muwo/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm or social media pages for updates.

Where to Eat and Sleep at Muir Woods?

Hungry? Stop in at the Muir Woods Trading Post and Cafe to grab a bite to eat and a souvenir. With food for the whole family, the cafe offers local, quality foods starting at 11 a.m. daily. Choose one of their hot or cold options, like a white bean and turkey chili cheese dog or a Petaluma chicken salad sandwich, and don’t forget to grab a peanut butter cookie for the road. There is plenty of seating for your crew in their newly remodeled, cafeteria-like cafe. The gift shop has a trinket for all travelers, from wooden carved figurines to books on the flora and fauna of the area.

There is no lodging or camping in Muir Woods, but there are tons of hotel and Airbnb options in the surrounding Mill Valley area, as well as many options in San Francisco proper that are a short drive from the park.

The Mountain Home Inn and the Mill Valley Inn are hotels both under two miles from Muir Woods. In addition to the camping inside Tamalpais State Park, Haypress Campground is just south of Muir Woods in Sausalito, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area has four campgrounds in the area that can be found at Recreation.gov.