Once you’re in the middle of the Muir Woods National Monument, you’ll find it hard to believe that you’re still in the Bay Area. The 240 acre redwood forest is one of the few left around San Francisco. The National Park is named after John Muir, who became known by the nicknames “John of the Mountains” and “Father of the National Parks” later in his life following years of advocacy for the preservation of northern California’s wilderness. Muir Woods stands as a memorial to Muir’s cause and, to this day, it provides residents and visitors of San Francisco alike with a reprieve from the tech capital’s rapidly developing urban landscape.

Image Credit: NPS Photo

The Muir Woods Monument is fairly new in the landscape of the National Parks System. Dedicated in 2008, the park’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean creates a truly unique landscape. Since it is so close to the bay, the forest is often enveloped cascading fog from the ocean. This is a factor in the ecosystem’s ability to maintain a heavily forested area with California Redwoods found throughout it. The fog provides moisture needed to nourish the forestation in the dry summer months, as well as an iconic aesthetic that is like a scene right out of The Maltese Falcon. From that foggy ambiance to the powerful imagery of towering redwoods, this site leaves a lasting impression.

Getting There

Situated in Marin County, the closest town to Muir Woods is Mill Valley, California, located on the northwestern shores of Richardson Bay, about 14 miles north of San Francisco. That makes it easy to fly into San Francisco International Airport and drive directly to Mill Valley via a rideshare since Muir Woods National Monument lies just beyond Mill Valley’s city limits. 

Image Credit: Wikimedia/Frank Schulenburg

Mill Valley is a destination worth visiting itself as it has been an inspiration for settings in films like Basic Instinct, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and American Graffiti as well being chronicles in the Jack Kerouc classic On the Road during the Lowell, Massachusetts born writer’s journey across the country. The city would serve as a huge inspiration for The Dharma Bums, one of the books to follow On the Road. Depending on the time of the year, you may also have the chance to see attend the Dipsea Race, The Mountain Play, the Mill Valley Film Festival, or other annual events held in the city. No matter when you visit, this is a small town that offers much more than just a place to touch down on your way to Muir Woods.

Hiking

The Muir Woods trail circuit is full of options for hikers with all different levels of experience. The aforementioned Dipsea Race is held in June of each year and is the oldest trail race in America. Dating back to 1905, the race is held on the Dipsea Trail, which takes anywhere from 3.5 to 4 hours to hike the 9.7 mile course. The trail’s path takes hikers from Muir Woods to Stinson Beach through a scenic Redwood studded landscape, ascending 4,500 feet over Mount Tamalpais at its apex. The descent concludes at sea level on the shores of Stinson Beach, a serene finish line which contrasts the woodland trail with the peaceful waves of the Pacific Ocean. This difficult trail is perfect for seasoned, well-prepared hikers who want a challenge but can traverse the terrain while still being able to admire its natural beauty.

Hikers seeking a trail that is less arduous would be advised to take on the Bootjack Trail Loop. This trail loops around a creek before taking hikers on a path that completely immerses them within Muir Woods. The sprawling redwoods that mark each turn allows hikers to truly appreciate Muir Woods for everything it has to offer. After just 6.3 miles, they’ll find themselves back where they started from so they can easily carry on with their day.

The Muir Woods Trail is the easiest option for hikers who want to envelope themselves within the lush topography of the national park. At 2.2 miles with an ascension of just over 140 feet, this loop trail is a great option for hikers of all ages. Whether you’re with your family, or just beginning to hike, this trail is perfect for your skill level. Even seasoned hiker’s capable of taking on the Dipsea Trail are enamored by this trail for the quintessential views of one of northern California’s most iconic forests.

Whatever degree of difficulty you seek, Muir woods is a great destination for avid hikers and beginners alike. The tranquil scenery that these courses take you on offer the best Muir Woods has to offer.  

Swimming

Anyone who has completed the Dipsea Trail knows how well kept of a secret Stinson Beach is. Even though it’s just over half an hour from the Golden Gate Bridge, this beach has the feel of being off the beaten track. For visitors, showing up at this destination gives you some local cred and the opportunity to enjoy the Pacific coast without the crowd.

Stinson Beach is a relaxing environment considering it’s less than high profile. Despite that, the beach still offers something for everyone. It’s perfect so spend a relaxing day laying out in the sun doing low-key activities but still has plenty of excitement to offer. Visitors have the opportunity to partake in one of many cruises that will take them on a sunset tour of the Golden Gate Bridge, on a catamaran around the bay, whale watching, or even all the way out to Alcatraz. In short, Stinson Beach is the perfect launching pad to tour some of San Francisco’s best attractions without the typical crowds.

At its core, the beach is a sight to be seen in and of itself. The romantic Pacific Coast is perfect for everything from paddleboarding to jetboarding or just laying out during the day with a cold drink and grilling by a bonfire late into the night.

Camping

Though no campgrounds exist within the Muir Woods National Monument itself, the park is surrounded by different camping destinations nearby. The Presidio of San Francisco and Golden Gate National Recreation Area offer campgrounds that are perfect for visitors of Muir Woods who want to spend as much time as they can in the lush Northern California forests.

Kirby Cove Campground & Picnic Area
Credit: Jon Cosner

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area offers visitors their choice between pitching their tent at the Bicentennial, Hawk, Haypress, or Kirby Cove campgrounds. The Hawk and Haypress sites are free for visitors. The Bicentennial Campground is the most accessible in the recreation area, with a visitor’s center only a mile away for a stay that only costs $20. For $30, visitors can camp at the Kirby Cove Campground & Picnic Area, the area’s most popular destination. The wooded setting of this site is complemented by fire pits and charcoal grills provided by the park’s service. However, no access to water for bathing or drinking exists, which makes having a cooler handy essential to any stay.

From scenic trails to ocean-side sunsets, Muir Woods offers a trip to the Bay Area that’s unlike any other. This national park is a perfect reprieve for residents of San Francisco and visitors alike who want to get off the beaten path. Its campgrounds, hiking trails, and place in California’s history make this destination perfect for a day trip or a week-long camping expedition.

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