The Bay Area is one of my favorite places on earth. Not just because I lived there for almost a decade, but because no matter where you turn you are surrounded by so much beauty. The abundance of beautiful scenery, picturesque streets and my favorite, the fog rolling in each day can’t be beat.
There is so much to do in San Francisco itself, that many visitors find it difficult to even leave the city. However, there are some great day trips that are worth taking time to explore. One of our favorites is spending the day across the Golden Gate Bridge, checking out the view points and exploring the wilderness in the Golden Gate Recreation Area as well as Muir Woods in Mill Valley.
Muir Woods is one of the few places on earth where you can see centuries old redwoods. Many of the redwoods here are between 600 – 800 years old, the oldest being 1200 years old. If you haven’t been to Sequoia or Redwoods national parks, this is your opportunity to get lost among the big trees.
Muir Woods is super kid friendly with concrete for almost all of the main trails making it accessible to kids of all ages.
Start your explorations of Muir Woods at the Visitor Center, taking time to check out the model of the Muir Woods valley and the small diorama of the redwoods. Don’t forget to pick up your Junior Ranger booklet. If you aren’t usually into the park ranger badges, this is one place you should take an interest. Each badge is handmade out of fallen redwood trees. They are super cool and worth the effort to earn!
Muir Woods is one of the smallest and most accessible national parks/monuments we have been to with only 6 miles of trails inside the monument area. Many of the trails are concrete or boardwalk paths, making Muir Woods a fantastic option for families with kids of all ages.
If you are working to complete the Junior Ranger Booklet, follow the main trail along Redwood Creek. As you walk along the sparkling clear stream, look out for coho salmon and steelhead trout that call this area home. Along with the towering redwoods looming above you, look down as well for sword ferns, lady ferns, and moss on the forest floor. Our favorite discovery were the redwood sorrel plants that close like umbrellas when they get too much sun. How cool is that?
If you aren’t doing the Junior Ranger booklet, the main trail will guide you through a self guided tour taking in the Pinchot Tree and 10 other stops where you can learn about the redwoods, the stream, fish and more. Following the main trail is easy with strollers as it’s a wide boardwalk, with no stairs.
For a quick and easy one hour loop walk along the creek, continue up the main trail (blue highlighted trail on map above) to Cathedral Grove, returning to the visitors area via Bridge 3. At Bridge 3, you will cross over the creek and walk back on the other side via the Bohemian Grove. This is an easy walk that even little kids will enjoy.
For a little longer walk, approximately a 1 ½ mile loop, continue on the main trail up to Bridge 4, returning via the Hillside Trail back to the visitor center.
For a little more adventure, check out the Fern Creek Trail. From the main trail (before Bridge 4), take the Fern Creek Trail which meanders back and forth across the creek. Kids will love the bridge built out of a huge downed redwood tree. Continue on to the Lost Trail, then to the Canopy View Trail along the west side of the valley and back down the main trail. If you are visiting during summer or a crowded weekend day, these trails are great as there are much fewer people than on those mentioned above. This longer trail is not stroller accessible as you will descend down stairs.
What to Know
If you do not arrive right at opening, you will surely be subjected to the one excruciating aspect of visiting Muir Woods – parking! Parking is a nightmare. The main lot right in front of the gate is very small, accommodating no more than 20 vehicles. This fills up very quickly. However, there is an additional lot down the street, but it also fills up quickly. My recommendation is to either go super early to ensure parking or arrive around lunchtime when some visitors will be leaving. Tour buses from the city tend to arrive early, so even when you go early you will not be guaranteed to have the park to yourself – especially during the summer, holidays or weekends.
Is it worth the headache you ask? Yes! If you haven’t been to the Redwoods up north or Sequoia down south, Muir Woods is definitely worth the effort.
There is one cafe behind the visitor center. It is over priced as you might expect, but provides decent quality sandwiches, soup and grilled cheese. There is limited seating inside, so grab a spot if you find one.
You can also bring your own food and drinks if you plan to be here for a while. There are no designated picnic areas, but there are benches along the trail. Make sure to carry out all that you bring in. And watch out for the chipmunks who will be hovering underfoot looking for your droppings.
Most of the trails are shady, which means even on a warm day, it can be quite chilly. Bring layers.
The redwoods are breathtakingly beautiful and it’s so very peaceful here. There are enough trails here that you can easily walk and hike around all day. Despite the headache of parking, a visit to Muir Woods will leave you feeling rejuvenated and full of love for John Muir and all that he has done to help preserve lands like this for generations to come.
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