| Published on: January 25th, 2024
TLDR: Muir Woods is worth the short trip from San Francisco. Hike through stunning, old-growth redwoods in a beautiful, lush park. Here are my top tips:
- Stick to the Muir Main Trail and see the best redwood groves on an easy two-mile path.
- Or, hike further if you want to make a full-day trip.
“The trees are talking to each other,”Muir Woods Park Ranger
There’s an eerie sense of liveliness and stillness when you enter a redwood forest, especially one as old as Muir Woods.
The giant, old-growth redwoods tower over you and their vibrant orange-brown bark clashes beautifully with the green treetops.
Below your feet, the ground is soft and damp from the enormous amount of water that redwoods steal out of the foggy air. And the redwoods huddle together in circles as if they’re families among many in the forest.
Yet despite this clear display of life, the hardness and nature of redwood trees prevent plants, bugs, and animals from establishing a presence–resulting in a quiet, serene, space that feels surprising.
When Mimi and I visited Muir Woods in January of 2024, we explored all we could of this magical forest that contains rare, old-growth redwoods. And we learned a lot from the park rangers–including how redwoods talk with each other.
To find out how redwoods communicate and other details, such as how to get there, which trails to prioritize, and things to know before you go, read on below!
Why it’s worth visiting
Majestic old-growth redwoods, only 30 minutes from San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge, easy and accessible trails, and nearby towns and beaches to add onto your day trip for the sunset and dinner afterward.
1 Muir Woods Rd, Mill Valley, CA 94941
8 AM – 8 PM
$15 per person (free for kids 15 and younger); $9.50/vehicle
See current trail closures here
Muir Woods Tickets
Muir Woods is $15/person (free for kids 15 years old and younger). You can purchase passes at the park, but we recommend getting a Muir Woods reservation online in advance.
Alternatively, you can hike in from Mt. Tamalpais State Park anytime for free (more on that in the parking section below). You also don’t need Muir Woods tickets on certain holidays, though be warned that it’ll be more crowded on those days.
Fee Free Days:
January 15, 2024 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
April 20, 2024 – Start of National Park Week
June 19, 2024 – Juneteenth
August 04, 2024 – Great American Outdoors Day
September 28, 2024 – National Public Lands Day
November 11, 2024 – Veterans Day
Muir Woods Parking Reservations
Muir Woods Parking With a Reservation
Muir Woods parking is different from most national parks because a reservation is required to park at one of their lots. You can reserve a parking spot for $9.50 per vehicle at the same website you get tickets.
Local Tip #1: Take a screenshot of your parking reservation. There’s no reception in the Muir Woods area, so you won’t be able to open your email when you’re there. (Also, download the Google Maps for the area while you’re at it so you don’t get lost while offline.)
When we were parking, the car in front of us didn’t have a reservation and was turned away even though empty spots were available. So be sure to make a reservation in advance!
Local Tip #2: Our parking reservation was 8:00-8:30 AM. We arrived at 10:00 AM, and they still let us in since spots were available.
They might not be as lenient if places aren’t available (and we went on a Monday, so it was less crowded).
Muir Woods Parking Without a Reservation
If you can’t get a reservation, you can consider parking at the Bootjack or Pan Toll Ranger parking lots, though they can fill up early as well (especially during weekends and summer months).
Those lots will each require hiking several miles to get into the park, so it’s better to get a parking reservation or take the shuttle. But if you’re planning to camp or to hike the Bootjack or Ben Johnson trails anyway, then parking at those lots is just as convenient.
Local Tip #3: Parking at the Bootjack or Pan Toll Ranger lots lets you hike into Muir Woods for free and save on the entry fee. You’ll still need to pay for the parking, though.
How to Get to Muir Woods from San Francisco Without a Car
Muir Woods Shuttle
The Muir Woods Shuttle is available (by reservation) from Larkspur or Marin, which means that if you’re coming from San Francisco you’ll have to get across the Golden Gate Bridge yourself. If you don’t have a car, we’d recommend renting bikes or using a ride-shar app to get to the shuttle pick-up spots.
Muir Woods Tours
There are tons of tour options to take you to Muir Woods. If you prefer to leave from San Francisco so that you don’t need to get over to Larkspur or Marin for the shuttle, then a tour is a great option.
You can find options for tours on Viator or select one of the many local companies offering tours as well.
Why You Shouldn’t Use a Ride-Share App
The Muir Woods area has abysmal cell reception. My phone struggled with the lack of reception and data, and, for some reason, it even reset the date and time.
So don’t rely on Uber or Lyft to get there. Because of the poor cell service, you likely won’t be able to call them afterward for a ride back home and you’ll be stuck living in the woods forever.
If you don’t want to visit via shuttle or tour group, then renting a car is your best option. Muir Woods isn’t far and if you have a car, then you can explore other areas like Sausalito, Tamales Bay, or Napa as well.
Muir Woods Trails
Below are quick descriptions of our favorite hiking trails at Muir Woods, but read our full article on the Best Hikes in Muir Woods for all the information!
Muir Woods Main Trail to Hillside Trail Loop
The Main Trail to Hillside Trail Loop is my favorite Muir Woods trail. It’s just under two miles long and has the largest, oldest redwoods in Muir Woods. They’re so high up you’ll have to crane your neck and arch back to see the tops of them!
This route includes the best of the Main Trail, where you’ll find views of the most majestic groves. (For reference on the map above, the main trail is the “Hard surface” portion and goes from the entrance at the Visitor Centner all the way to Bridge 4.)
Fun Fact: Redwoods often grow in “fairy circles” due to new trees sprouting from a parent tree’s roots rather than from seeds. Recent research by Suzanne Simard has shed light on this process, plus how redwoods use fungi to communicate and even share resources with one another! The circular formation helps the parent and children trees share resources and shield each other during storms. You’ll see this formation a lot along the Main Trail.
Fern Creek, Lost, and Canopy Trail Loop
The Fern Creek, Lost, and Canopy trail loop is three miles long and takes about an hour and a half. We liked the gradual elevation on this trail and all the roots on the path growing like a web across the forest floor.
Fun Fact: While giant redwoods might reach nearly 400 feet, they only have roots that are 6-12 feet deep. To maintain stability with such a shallow foundation, their roots extend up to 100 feet away and intertwine with other trees’ roots for additional support.
Bootjack to Ben Johnson Loop
The Bootjack Trail is 6.3 miles long, starts at the end of the Main Trail, and initially goes along Redwood Creek before taking you out of Muir Woods National Monument and into the adjacent Mt. Tamalpais State Park.
Considering that you’ll want to spend an hour or two on the Main Trail, we’d recommend this loop only if you’re planning a full day in the Muir Woods area and okay with a moderate to strenuous hike.
Fun Fact: Redwoods drink up to 160 gallons of water a day, almost half of it through absorbing the fog in the air. No wonder they like Northern California so much!
Camping at Muir Woods
Camping is not available at Muir Woods, but there are several options in the adjacent Mt. Tamalpais State Park that are so close to Muir Woods that you won’t even know the difference.
The closest campground is at the Alice Eastwood Group Camp, which can be reserved through Reserve California. It’s just a half mile from Bridge 4 of the Main Trail, so it’s practically like you’re camping in Muir Woods itself!
The other closest campgrounds are Bootjack (1.8 miles from Bridge 4) and Pantoll (2 miles away). They’re first-come, first-serve, especially during summer and warm weekends when you often need to arrive on Thursdays to secure a spot!
Where to Eat at Muir Woods
Muir Woods has a cafe located onsite. The Muir Woods Cafe has sandwiches, soup, and a few baked goods, as well as coffee and tea.
It’s convenient if you want to skip preparations and just grab a bite to eat while there. It’s located near the entry, though, so unless you’re going back and forth repeatedly you’ll only be able to eat there at the beginning or end of your day.
Best Time to Visit Muir Woods
Muir Woods is best on spring and fall weekdays to catch warm weather without the crowds.
Although Muir Woods stays nice and cool and is great to visit during the summer, the large crowds (Muir Woods is the most popular redwood park in California) can detract from the experience a little bit. That’s why I’d recommend going on spring and fall weekdays, but I’ve visited the park in the summer and winter and weekends and it’s a great experience regardless.
And even though it can be chilly during the winter, it’s easy enough to bundle up and enjoy the crisp air as you walk through the forest.
Whenever you do go, try to get there when the park opens at 8 am or a little later, around 3 pm, once crowds have gone down to have the best trip.
Because the main trail is paved, it’s even possible to go right after (or during) a rainy day, so you don’t need to worry about muddy trails if you plan on sticking to the main route.
Muir Woods National Monument History
Muir Woods became a national monument out of necessity in 1908. Had President Theodore Roosevelt not signed it into law, the area would have been flooded.
What we now know as Muir Woods would have joined the 96% (1,900,000 acres) of original, old-growth coastal redwood trees that have been destroyed.
Although named after naturalist John Muir, the park was owned and donated to the government by one of his friends, William Kent.
Since then, Muir Woods has been protected and a popular destination for tourists and locals.
Its famed groves along the main trail have been in the news as well. They were visited by the signing members of the UN during their commemoration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt after his passing in 1945.
And today, Muir Woods is often mistakenly attributed as the setting for Endor (where the Ewoks lived in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi).
Historical Note: William Kent was a conservationist but also served in Congress and tried to exclude Asian immigrants from the US. His wife, Elizabeth Kent, was known for fighting for women’s suffrage.
Things To Do Near Muir Woods
Muir Woods is just 40 minutes outside of San Francisco and close in proximity to plenty of things to do in the scenic and serene North Bay.
We’d recommend visiting nearby beaches such as Stinson Beach or Muir Beach (or Muir Beach Overlook) or towns like Mill Valley, Marin, and Sausalito.
We visited Muir Beach Overlook for sunset after our day in Muir Woods and recommend that beautiful, iconic coastal viewpoint to everyone. Afterwards, our favorite restaurant to eat at is the Pelican Inn.
FAQs about Muir Woods
What is so special about Muir Woods? Why is Muir Woods so popular?
Muir Woods is one of the few places left with old-growth redwoods. Its proximity to San Francisco (40 minutes away), ease and accessibility to redwood groves along its Main Trail, and connection to adjacent scenic areas and towns make it a perfect day trip.
How much time should I spend at Muir Woods?
We recommend at least two hours so that you can chat with a park ranger or listen to a ranger talk and still have time for either the Main Trail or the Main Trail to Hillside Trail Loop.
If you do that, you’ll have seen Muir Woods. But it’s so pretty there, and the redwoods are genuinely majestic, so if you have time, hike some additional trails, stop at the Muir Woods Cafe, and then go to Muir Beach Overlook for sunset at the end of the day.
Are there giant redwoods in Muir Woods? Does Muir Woods have Giant Sequoias?
Muir Woods has coastal redwoods that are not the same as the giant redwoods you might see in the Sierras. Those giant redwoods are actually more accurately described as giant sequoias, and you can learn about the differences here.
How old are the Muir Woods redwoods?
The oldest redwood trees in Muir Woods are estimated to be 1,100 years old.
Most of the redwoods there are centuries old, which you can feel as you wander through Muir Woods and see the old, interwoven roots, thick layers of moss, and pristine redwood forest.
Is Muir Woods part of Redwood National Park?
No, Redwood National Park is a different park located near the California-Oregon border, about 330 miles north of Muir Woods.
Can I just drive through Muir Woods?
No, you can’t drive through Muir Woods. There are parking lots in the Muir Woods at adjacent Mt. Tamalpais State Park areas, but to actually go along the Main Trail and other hikes you’ll need to get out of your car!
Is Muir Woods easy to walk?
The Muir Main Trail is very easy to walk. The trail is flat and a combination of paved and boardwalk sections. There are various bridges that let you loop back as well, so you can walk for just half a mile or up to two miles if you’d like.
Because of this, Muir Woods is very accessible. There are parking spots for disabled individuals, and the Main Trail is even wheelchair accessible. (Service animals are allowed, but otherwise, no pets are permitted.)
Other trails beyond the Main Trail are moderate to strenuous and not recommended if you’re looking for a flat, easy hike.
Do I need a reservation to visit Muir Woods?
A reservation is not required for entry into Muir Woods, but parking is very limited in the area and requires a reservation. You can buy tickets in advance and reserve parking here.
Is it better to go to Muir Woods in the morning or afternoon?
Visiting Muir Woods in the morning at 8am when the park opens is the best way to avoid the crowds that show up later on. If you’re okay with crowds, then I’d actually say the afternoon is nicer since it’s likelier to be sunny then.
What should I wear to Muir Woods? Do I need hiking shoes for Muir Woods?
You should wear warm clothes to Muir Woods. It’s often about ten degrees colder than the weather reports for that area because of the shade due to the canopy of redwoods. I’d recommend the standard bay area attire, which is a couple thin layers and then a wind-proof jacket.
The Muir Main Trail doesn’t require hiking shoes–I’ve done it in flip-flops!–but if you plan to hike off the main trail then good sneakers or hiking shoes would be useful.
Why is Muir Woods so popular?
Muir Woods is popular because it has beautiful redwood trees and is close to San Francisco. Add in an easily accessible main trail and surrounding towns to visit along the way or on the way back, and it makes a perfect day trip.
Is the drive to Muir Woods scary?
The drive to Muir Woods from San Francisco takes you across the Golden Gate Bridge and then through some winding roads as you get closer to the park. It’s not scary–the roads are well paved–but if twists and turns make you carsick then perhaps be mindful of that.
Is it worth going to Muir Woods?
Yes, Muir Woods is worth it!
Even if it were further away, seeing old-growth redwoods and such a beautifully managed park would be worth the drive.
That it’s just 30 minutes away from San Francisco makes it a no-brainer, and we think it’s one of the best places to see redwoods near San Francisco.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Partnerships & Management
Suneel has lived in California for 32 of his 35 years of life. He regrets those other three because there really isn’t any other state like the Golden State. Suneel has lived in San Diego, Berkeley, San Francisco, Fremont, Hayward, and Sacramento, and has crashed on plenty of couches when visiting friends and family throughout the rest of the state. As a San Diegan, even if he lives in Norcal now, he still insists on saying “the” before the freeway number, rooting for the Chargers (even if they’re not in San Diego anymore), and gets excited whenever he has an excuse to make a trip down.
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