Muir Woods National Monument is one of the most iconic attractions in the San Francisco Bay Area. Its old-growth redwoods make for a magnificent sight, and the forest is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Muir Woods is the most visited redwood park in California. While definitely worthy of a top spot on your California itinerary, the popularity of Muir Woods National Monument means that research and careful planning are required for an enjoyable visit.
Nature lovers, wildlife watchers, photographers, and hikers will all appreciate the beauty of Muir Woods. The shaded trails, along with the lush green of the trees and the undergrowth, and fingers of mist swirling about (most days!) all make for pure magic.
In this article, you will discover the best things to do at Muir Woods National Monument, plus what you should know before you go.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Overview of Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods Hikes: Best Muir Woods Trails
Other Things to Do at Muir Woods National Monument
How to Get to Muir Woods National Monument in Mill Valley, California
Essential Information for Your Visit to Muir Woods
How Much Time Should You Allow for Your Muir Woods Visit?
Tips for Visiting Muir Woods National Monument, CA
Overview of Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods National Monument was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, to protect a forest of the Sequoia sempervirens. Coastal redwoods reportedly grew all over the US in the distant past, but were eventually confined to a narrow strip of coast from Monterey in California to Oregon.
Even in this restricted area, these giants were not left undisturbed. Extensive logging operations resulted in many of the remaining coastal redwood forests being cut down, threatening their continued existence as a species, until various parks were established to protect them.
The land that became Muir Woods was once called Redwood Canyon. It was purchased by William Kent, a California politician, who wanted to preserve the forest. When a water company in the area wanted to flood the valley, Kent donated the land to the Federal government, and Muir Woods National Monument was born.
Named for the famous naturalist John Muir, the monument is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Golden State, drawing close to a million visitors each year. Its proximity to San Francisco makes it one of the most convenient places for visitors to tick off a California bucket list item: walking among the redwoods.
Muir Woods is surrounded by one of the most spectacular state parks near San Francisco you can visit: Mount Tamalpais State Park. The monument is managed by the National Parks Service, as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
“This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world.” — John Muir
Muir Woods Redwoods
The redwood trees in Muir Woods National Monument are old-growth coastal redwoods. You will also find some Douglas firs in the monument. The redwoods in Muir Woods are not the tallest redwoods you can find on the Northern California Coast, but they are still plenty tall! To find the tallest trees, visit Redwood National and State Parks.
The tallest redwood in Muir Woods is around 258 feet tall. Most of the redwoods here are between 600 and 800 years old, with the oldest around 1,200 years old.
Muir Woods Hikes
Hiking is the main thing to do in Muir Woods. The monument isn’t large and contains just six miles of trails. Some longer trails continue beyond the monument into Mount Tamalpais State Park for hikers wanting to cover more ground and take in some of the beautiful views from the surrounding hillsides.
Good to know: Pick up trail maps at the Visitor Center, or download detailed trail maps for the routes you plan to hike before your trip.
Main Trail Muir Woods
The Main Trail through Muir Woods National Monument features old-growth redwoods, and is the trail most visitors to the monument walk. It starts at the Visitor Center and is laid out along both sides of Redwood Creek, with bridges to cross over from one side to the other.
If you arrive early in the day and plan to spend several hours in Muir Woods, we suggest first walking the Muir Woods Main Trail loop in its entirety, to soak in the beauty of the monument while it is relatively uncrowded. Then do one or more of the trails that go up the canyon.
Muir Woods Main Trail Loop to Bridge 2 or 3
If you only want to do a short walk through the redwoods, you can walk the 0.5-mile loop up to Bridge 2, or the one-mile loop up to Bridge 3, where you will find Bohemian Grove. These loops are pavement or boardwalk and appropriate for wheelchairs and strollers.
Muir Woods Main Trail Loop to Bridge 4
The longest loop on the Muir Woods Main Trail goes past Cathedral Grove, up to Bridge 4, where you can cross over and proceed uphill to the Hillside Trail, which brings you back a different route to Bridge 2. This loop is about 2 miles long, with a minor elevation gain of about 90 feet, but does have some dirt portions.
Good to know: The Muir Woods Main Trail may be marked as Redwood Creek Trail or Bohemian Grove Trail on maps.
Dipsea Trail to Sun Trail to Redwood Trail to Lost Trail to Fern Creek Loop
Route Length: 4.7 miles, Elevation Gain: 930 feet
This long loop is, in our opinion, the best trail that winds through the hills surrounding the monument. You start by climbing up a hill east of Muir Woods, with beautiful views of the monument and Mount Tamalpais, before coming back down a canyon that features more redwoods to join the Muir Woods Main Trail.
The Dipsea Trail starts near the overflow parking center and heads up the hill to the Sun Trail, a narrow path that traverses the hills high above Muir Woods, with the best views on the hike. You will pass by the members-only Tourist Club and continue to climb until you hit the Lost Trail and Fern Creek, which descend into the canyon and feature a lovely redwood grove by a creek.
Canopy View Trail to Lost Trail to Fern Creek Trail Loop
Route Length: 3 miles, Elevation Gain: 530 feet
You can also do a shorter variation of the scenic loop described above, by heading into the monument and up Canopy View Trail, just past the Founder’s Grove on the Main Trail. Then take Lost Trail and Fern Creek to return to the Main Trail.
This shorter variation features beautiful views of redwoods, Douglas fir, and tanoaks, but you will miss out on the views from the Sun Trail. On the flip side, the climb isn’t as steep!
Canopy View Trail to Redwood Trail to Sun Creek Trail to Dipsea Trail Loop
Route Length: 5 miles, Elevation Gain: 780 feet
This is another variation of the scenic loop of the hills surrounding the monument, and features the excellent views from the Sun Trail. Walk the Main Trail into Muir Woods, and head up Canopy View Trail just past the Founder’s Grove.
Take Panoramic View Trail at the top for a short distance, to get onto Redwood Trail, which leads to the scenic Sun Trail. Enjoy the beautiful views into the monument and over to Mount Tamalpais before descending via the Dipsea Trail.
This trail would be our second option for a longer hike that traverses the hills around the monument.
Ben Johnson Trail To DipSea Trail Loop
Route Length: 4 miles, Elevation Gain: 925 feet
The Ben Johnson Trail-Dipsea Trail Loop features stunning views of Mount Tamalpais, San Francisco, and the Pacific Ocean. Start by walking the Muir Woods Main Trail through the monument, before picking up the Ben Johnson Trail after crossing Bridge 4.
You will climb steeply up the canyon, enjoying more redwoods, before meeting up with the Dipsea Trail. As an optional addition, you can do the short Stapelveldt to the TCC Trail, which brings you to the junction with the Dipsea Trail. These sections offer more old-growth redwoods and a panorama point: not a must-do, but if you have the time, why not?
The Dipsea Trail traverses grasslands and offers scenic viewpoints over the ocean and Mount Tamalpais. It criss-crosses Deer Park Fire Road several times before descending through woods and crossing Redwood Creek, depositing you back at the start.
Trails to Muir Beach and Stinson Beach
If you have more time and wish to explore more of the area, longer trails lead to Muir Beach (6 miles round trip) and Stinson Beach (10 miles round trip). While both beaches are gorgeous, and definitely worth visiting, the Muir Woods trails we have described above are the best options to see old-growth redwoods and explore the forests in the area.
Other Things to Do in Muir Woods National Monument
Step into the Muir Woods Visitor Center
Located at the entrance to the park, the Muir Woods Visitor Center is a great place to learn more about this magnificent monument. There are dioramas and seasonal exhibits to browse, and you will find lots of brochures, maps, and informational material. Weather and trail conditions will also be posted.
Rangers are usually available to answer questions and offer suggestions for hiking and other activities.
Attend a Tree Talk or Join a Guided Tour
Check the program board at the park when you arrive, to see if any events are scheduled for the day of your visit. Park rangers give 15-minute presentations called “Tree Talks” through the day, and these talks are a quick way to get informed about the park.
You can also join one-hour guided tours of the park, led by a ranger or volunteer. A guided tour will greatly enhance your visit to the park, because you will learn a great deal about the flora and fauna. You can wander around on your own in addition.
If you don’t want to join a guided tour, pick up a self-guided tour pamphlet at the Visitor Center (it costs a small amount), to read as you explore independently.
See the Salmon in Redwood Creek (in Season)
Redwood Creek, in Muir Woods National Monument, is home to two species of salmon: Coho and Steelhead. The Coho salmon is endangered and the Steelhead salmon is threatened. Adults return to Redwood Creek in the winter to spawn and produce the next generation of their species.
To see the Coho salmon in Redwood Creek, visit in December or January. Adult male and female Coho salmon both die after spawning. Once the eggs are hatched in the spring, the young salmon head out into the ocean.
Steelhead salmon (also called Steelhead trout), can be seen in Redwood Creek in January and February, and maybe even into early March. Steelhead salmon try to make their way back to the ocean after they spawn, leaving the eggs to hatch in due course.
Look for Wildlife and Birds
Muir Woods is home to a number of mammals, although you will likely only spot deer and smaller creatures during the day. Many species of bats live in the cavities in the trees. Black-tailed deer are common from spring through fall, and you may even see fawns between April and August! Rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks are other creatures you may see as you walk.
Redwood forests are known for the paucity of bird populations, mainly because of lack of food. The deep shade means that few flowers and fruits grow here. Plus, the tannin in the trees wards off insects.
Still, several dozen species of birds have been spotted in the forest, particularly on spring mornings. So if you enjoy birdwatching, bring your binoculars and look for woodpeckers, ravens, Steller’s jays, towhees, and sparrows. Early in the day, or late, you may see owls.
Look for the banana slug: it can get about 11 inches long, and is a bright yellow that’s easy to spot. Banana slugs love a moist clime, so you’re more likely to see them by trails during wet spells. And if you visit in November, keep an eye out for ladybugs clustering by the thousands on horsetail ferns.
Discover Wildflowers in Season
The dense shade in the redwood forest limits the flowers that can grow here, but still, you will find some beautiful plants and flowers in season. The Pacific rhododendron, with its big leaves and pink flowers, contrasts nicely with the redwoods. It blooms in the spring.
Redwood sorrel has heart-shaped leaflets and purple, pink, or white flowers, and spreads well on the redwood forest floor. It blooms from early spring through early fall.
Fairybells, forget-me-nots, wild azaleas, and anemones are other flowers you may see in Muir Woods National Monument. Look for the beautiful Pacific trillium, with its three petals, usually white, sometimes tinged with pink or burgundy. It blooms in early spring.
Enjoy Photography in the Park
Photographing California’s redwoods is on the wish list for many photographers. The dim light, with mist swirling about the trees, or the sun’s rays filtering into the depths of the forest, make for magical scenes you will want to capture.
You can bring your tripod into Muir Woods National Monument, and the loop trail is wide, but you may still want to arrive early or late to have room to set up in various spots as you explore. Be courteous to other visitors, and always stay on designated trails.
Remember to look up so you can get some shots of the beautiful canopy. Cathedral Grove has some nice spots for canopy shots while staying on the trail. Bring a macro lens and shoot some of the beautiful textures and small detail. And don’t forget the beautiful understory, and seasonal wildflowers!
Savor the Silence in Cathedral Grove
Cathedral Grove in Muir Woods National Monument is designated a quiet zone. Take the opportunity to commune silently with the forest without distractions.
Walking among the redwoods is truly a moving experience. Recognizing the moment and taking the time to savor the silence in beautiful Cathedral Grove is a memory you will cherish forever.
Eat at the Famous Muir Woods Cafe
The grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup combination at the Muir Woods Cafe is famous. The Marin Melt is made with local bread from the Rustic Bakery, and cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery and Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. It was even featured in the Hidden Treasures episode of Food Network’s Best Thing I Ever Ate!
The cafe offers a variety of hot and sold sandwiches and soup, salad, and sweet treats. Ingredients are high quality, seasonal, and locally sourced. Beverages and kids’ meals are available as well.
There is some seating, but expect the cafe to be crowded at lunch time, and plan to eat late or queue up at open.
Shop for Souvenirs
The Muir Woods Trading Company, where the cafe is located, also has a gift shop with a variety of Muir Woods souvenirs and gifts. You will find many items made from redwood, plus the usual items such as mugs and tees.
The park book store, located in the Visitor Center and operated by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, offers a variety of books, posters, educational games, and other gift and home decor items.
How to Get to Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods National Monument is located on Mount Tamalpais, in southwestern Marin County, about 12 miles north of San Francisco. The official address is 1 Muir Woods Rd, Mill Valley, CA 94941. There are a number of ways to arrive at the monument.
Driving to Muir Woods
Most visitors that want to visit independently drive to Muir Woods. From San Francisco, take US 101 N to California Highway 1 (Mill Valley exit) and follow signs for the monument. Download directions before your trip; you will lose cell service as you approach the park.
From points north, take US 101 S to California Highway 1 and follow signs for Muir Woods. From points east, take US 580 E to US 101 S to California Highway 1, and follow signs for Muir Woods. (map)
Good to know: Muir Woods Road, the final stretch of road into the monument, is narrow and winding, and ascends the hill via a series of hairpin bends. Drive slow!
Vehicles that are over 35 feet long are prohibited, and there are no RV parking facilities. Note that parking at Muir Woods requires advance reservations, you can’t just arrive at Muir Woods spontaneously and expect to find parking close to the monument.
Make your parking reservations online here, in advance of your visit. Parking lots are walking distance to the monument, and you do not need a shuttle reservation if you reserve a parking spot.
Looking for a car rental for your Muir Woods getaway? Check out Discover Cars! They scour multiple providers to get the best price for you.
Taking the Muir Woods Shuttle
The Muir Woods Shuttle allows you to arrive at one of three pick-up locations and be transported to and from the park, for a fee.
The Muir Woods Shuttle runs seasonally, from Sausalito, Marin City, and the Pohono Park and Ride lot. Pohono Park and Ride is located just off the Highway 1 exit from US 101 N. Generally, the shuttle runs on all weekends and holidays, plus on weekdays during the peak summer season.
Make shuttle reservations online at the Go Muir Woods website, where you will also find the shuttle schedule and parking information if you plan to drive to the pick-up location. You can also take public transport to the shuttle locations: bus or ferry, or arrive by cab or Uber/Lyft.
Shuttle reservations are location-specific, and the tickets are round-trip. There is generally a run on the last shuttles that depart from the park, so plan accordingly.
Doing a Muir Woods Tour
There are several options for tours to Muir Woods. Some of them combine Muir Woods with other area attractions, such as Alcatraz, wine country, or Sausalito. A tour is a good option if you do not want to drive in and around San Francisco.
This well-reviewed half-day tour departs from San Francisco and combines Muir Woods with Sausalito. It allows you more time at the monument than most other tours. You can pick from a morning or afternoon departure from SF.
This highly-rated tour is just to Muir Woods National Monument. It departs from San Francisco in the morning and the total tour time is 3.5 hours. This tour is a good option if your time in SF is limited.
Other popular options include this full-day tour, which combines Muir Woods with wine country and a gourmet lunch, or this full-day tour, which combines a visit to Muir Woods National Monument with a tour of Alcatraz Island and a visit to Sausalito.
Taking a cab or Lyft/Uber to Muir Woods
You can arrive at Muir Woods by Lyft or Uber, but since there is no reliable cell service in and around Muir Woods, you cannot use your ridesharing app for your return trip. You can use the Muir Woods pay phone to call for a taxi or request a park ranger to call a taxi for you, but the ride will be expensive.
You can also take a taxi to and from the monument, and arrange for the taxi driver to pick you up at a specified time for your return trip.
This is our least-preferred option, and we suggest using one of the other ways we’ve described here to visit Muir Woods.
Essential Information for Your Visit to Muir Woods National Monument
Muir Woods National Monument is open every day, including all holidays. The park is open 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (or sunset), with the Visitor Center closing about 30 minutes before the park. Check the park website for current hours of operation and information on special closures before you go.
Park Entrance Fee
There is an admission fee to visit Muir Woods National Monument. At the time of writing, the entrance fee for Muir Woods is $15.00 for individuals 16 and up. Admission is free for individuals under 16 years of age.
The America the Beautiful National Parks Pass is accepted at Muir Woods National Monument, so if you already have a pass, don’t forget to bring it with you!
Purchasing a National Parks Pass will save you money if you plan to visit a few national parks (or other national recreation sites) during the course of the year. Valid for one full year from the month of purchase, the National Parks Pass costs $80.00 and offers admission (one vehicle or 4 persons) to over 2,000 Federal recreation sites, including national parks, national forests, and more. Get yours online at REI now!
Muir Woods Parking
Advance reservations are required to park at Muir Woods National Monument, including for ADA spaces. Reserve online, or call 1-800-410-2419, to make your parking (or shuttle) reservations. Slots are opened up for 90 days at a time, on a rolling basis.
Pets are not allowed inside Muir Woods National Monument or in the Muir Woods shuttles. Only service dogs are permitted.
There are restrooms at the parking area, and by the cafe and gift shop.
The main trail through Muir Woods National Monument is paved or boardwalk, and is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers.
Food and Drink
Picnicking is not permitted within Muir Woods National Monument. Muir Woods Trading Company (Muir Woods Cafe) serves meals and snacks through the day.
There is no cell reception in Muir Woods National Monument. Download maps and other informational material prior to your visit and print hard copies as back-up. Also download or print your parking reservation documents or your shuttle reservation documents prior to your visit.
Muir Woods operates on the Zero Waste and Leave No Trace principles. There are no trash containers along the trails in Muir Woods. Pack it in, pack it out.
Muir Woods National Monument is a day-use area and there are no camping facilities inside the monument. But you will find plenty of camping and lodging nearby.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, of which Muir Woods is a part, has four tent-only campgrounds in the Marin Headlands. All of them offer advance reservations. The Presidio of San Francisco has one group campground, which also offers advance reservations.
How Much Time Should You Allow for Muir Woods?
Muir Woods National Monument isn’t large, and half a day should be plenty for most visitors to explore the monument at leisure, take photos, and even enjoy a meal at the cafe.
More time will allow you to experience outlying trails leading up the canyon into the surrounding hillsides to enjoy parts of Mount Tamalpais State Park as well. If you enjoy hiking and the outdoors, Mount Tamalpais is beautiful and offers a wealth of recreational opportunities.
Of course, if you are time-constrained and just want to be able to experience a walk through the redwoods, you can spend just an hour or two on the shorter loops in the park.
Tips for Visiting Muir Woods National Monument
Best Time to Visit Muir Woods National Monument
Late spring and summer (May through September) tend to be high season for Muir Woods National Monument, but you can visit year round, since temperatures tend to be moderate throughout the year.
Rainy season is winter to early spring, but it rarely rains for days on end, so if you visit during this time, watch the weather forecast and pick a dry spell. Winter is the time to see salmon in Redwood Creek!
Spring brings wildflowers and birds, and summer and fall tend to be dry and pleasant, with the warmest temperatures generally occurring during the “Indian summer” in the fall.
The reservation system is designed to prevent the park from getting overcrowded. Choose a weekday over a weekend for a quieter experience, and, within the day, arrive early in the day or late in the day for the lowest crowds.
Find out and follow safety guidelines and rules
The Muir Woods website has a page on safety. Familiarize yourself with park safety regulations and guidelines and follow them for a safe and enjoyable visit to the monument.
What to Wear
Dress appropriately for the weather. We always bring light but warm waterproof jackets with hoods on all outdoor adventures. Layers are never a bad idea on the California coast.
Wear sturdy, closed-toed footwear. Sneakers or walking shoes with good grip are fine for the nature trails within the monument. Lightweight hiking shoes or boots are best for trails that go up the canyon or into Mount Tamalpais State Park. We wear the La Sportiva brand cuffed hiking boots for rougher trails: they are comfortable, waterproof, and not heavy. Check women’s here and men’s here.
Although Muir Woods may be shaded, the trails that lead up the surrounding hillsides are exposed. Wear a wide-brimmed hat with SPF protection, sunglasses, sunscreen (we love this sunscreen), and lip balm with SPF (love this 3-pack!).
Carry Water (and Snacks!) on Hikes
If you plan to do one or more of the longer hikes, carry adequate drinking water and snacks. We bring protein bars, nuts, and fruit. If you bring a refillable water bottle, you can fill it at the Visitor Center.
Bring binoculars and your camera
If you enjoy birding or wildlife viewing, you should bring your binoculars. Our favorite binoculars are the Celestron Trailseeker compact model: they are light and work well early and late in the day, and in places with low light, like Muir Woods.
If you plan to visit to photograph the redwoods, you will want to bring your photography gear, including your tripod. We don’t usually carry our large camera and lenses on hikes, but we did bring them to Muir Woods!
Bring Essential Supplies
We always bring these essentials on all outdoor adventures: a first-aid kit, disinfecting wipes or hand sanitizer, headlamp or flashlight, and a pocket knife. Also carry, and use, bug spray as needed, although you won’t find too many bugs in Muir Woods. Invest in a light and easy-to-carry daypack to stow your supplies.
Planning to explore more of California? Check out some of our other articles!
- Visiting Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego
- Carrizo Plain National Monument: The Complete Guide
- Inside the 9 Incredible National Parks in California
- How to Visit Devils Postpile National Monument in Mammoth Lakes
- How (+ Where) to See the Mono Lake Tufas
- The Ultimate Guide to the Alabama Hills
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