Walking Amongst Giants: Guide to Muir Woods Hiking

Muir Woods hiking is like taking a step back into a primeval forest.

In fact, with trees dating back 3,000 years that’s not far from the truth.

California’s coastal redwood trees are the tallest living things on Earth, and to walk beside, among, and under them is humbling and awe-inspiring.

For this reason, Muir Woods National Monument is a popular spot for both hikers and tourists visiting the San Francisco area.

hiker on main trail at muir woods national monument

Although Muir Woods is not home to trees as immense as those in Redwood National and State Parks further north, many people argue that it remains the best place to experience this amazing ecosystem with its ancient towering red-barked trees.

Thanks to William and Elizabeth Kent we today have one of the last remaining strands of old-growth redwood forests still in existence. The couple saved the forest from the logging industry when they purchased the valley in 1905.

Soon after, they donated the land to the nation under the caveat that the new park bear the name of the American naturalist and environmentalist, John Muir.
hiker looking up at redwood trees

The Main Trail

Muir Woods hiking offers many options for all skill levels.

If visiting Muir Woods National Monument for the first time, the Main Trail is an easy and lovely introduction to the park’s oldest trees.

The Main Trail starts at the main entrance to the park.

The trail forms a loop around a stretch of Redwood Creek, the main waterway in the park that courses through the forest and out to the Pacific Ocean at Muir Beach.

Much of the Main Trail is paved with a wide boardwalk.

The elevated boardwalk protects the delicate forest floor and shallow root system of the great trees, and also makes it easier for visitors in wheelchairs to visit the park.

hiker at main entrance to muir woods

The Main Trail is by far the busiest in the park and can get rather crowded with tourists.

To save the splendor of Muir Woods Hiking (almost) all to yourself, follow one or more of these tips:

  • Get there when the park opens (between 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. depending on the season).
  • Go on a weekday hike in the off season (but keep in mind that Muir Woods gets tourists year-round).
  • Visit during so-called foul weather. If you don’t mind a little rain, wet weather actually adds a special charm to the forest and has the benefit of keeping most tourists away.

moss at muir woods

The Main Trail is an easy and level walking trail.

Once you have that under your belt, there are several off-shoots you can take for more active Muir Woods hiking, and also for exploring the many faces of the park.

Here are just a few of the many routes:

Our Favorite Muir Woods Hikes

1. Ocean View Trail to Lost Trail to Fern Creek Trail

(Moderate | 3 miles round trip | +/- 2 hours of hiking)

Taking the Main Trail from the park entrance, veer right up a hillside onto the Ocean View Trail.

muir woods redwood canopy

(Note that newer trees have grown and obscured the view of the Pacific Ocean from the trail.)

Once near the top of the ridge, the trail becomes harder to discern.

Here you’ll see a sign for the Lost Trail. (The trail got its name from a 1930’s landslide that erased the trail for three decades.)

Lost Trail begins to the left and descends a fairly steep hillside until it meets with Fern Creek Trail.

The Fern Creek Trail follows the tumbling watercourse of the same name as it runs down to Redwood Creek.

Fern Creek Trail offers the lush green foliage of the forest understory, the photo-worthy creek tumbling over rocks, and of course the stately old-growth redwood trees.

The trail links back to the Main Trail and to the main entrance.

2. Redwood Creek Trail to Muir Beach

(Easy | 6 miles round trip | +/- 3-4 hours of hiking)

For longer but easy Muir Woods hiking, the Redwood Creek Trail is mostly level ground and follows the main waterway on its course out to the Pacific Ocean, at Muir Beach.

Photo courtesy of Mark W. Sutton
muir beach

To get to the trailhead, continue on Muir Woods Road past the main entrance to the park. After about one half mile past the entrance, Redwood Creek Trail begins on the left hand side.

The trail weaves along the stream and ends at an intersection in Muir Woods Road.

Take the fork north (Highway 1 North) to get to the Muir Beach Overlook, or continue on Muir Woods Road (Highway 1 South) to get to the beach itself.

3. Boot Jack Trail to Ben Johnson Trail Loop

(Strenuous | 6 miles round trip | +/- 4 hours of hiking)

For more challenging Muir Woods hiking, try taking the Boot Jack Trail to Ben Johnson Trail Loop.

hiker crossing fallen tree at muir woods

From the park entrance, take the Main Trail (a great intro, as mentioned above) until you reach the fourth bridge, where Main Trail becomes Boot Jack Trail.

Boot Jack follows Redwood Creek upstream through the forest until you reach a clearing at Van Wyck Meadow.

From the meadow, take a trail on the left hand side called the TCC Trail (built by the Tamalpais Conservation Club during World War I). From the TCC Trail, take a left onto Stapelveldt Trail.

Stapelveldt descends down switchbacks to the Ben Johnson Trail Loop and leads you back to the Main Trail and entrance.

4. Muir Woods to Mount Tamalpais

(Strenuous | Various Routes | full day of hiking)

For a full-day Muir Woods hiking experience, the jaunt up to Mount Tamalpais is a rewarding option.

Photo courtesy of John H. Kim
view of mount tamalpais from beach

From Muir Woods, you can access the tallest peak in the area, the East Peak of Mt. Tamalpais (2,571 feet).

Mt. “Tam” is one of the most prominent peaks in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be seen from the San Francisco peninsula, Marin, and the East Bay for several miles.

The East Peak is north of Muir Woods and is accessible by numerous inter-connected trails. Many of the trails follow old railroad grades that carted visitors between Muir Woods and Mt. Tam.

Depending on the route you take and your pace, hiking from Muir Woods to Mt. Tam may take a full day. So, start as early as possible and keep realistic track of time and your pace, to avoid getting locked in park gates.

leaves and fog at muir woods

This hike may be safer in the summer months to take advantage of longer days and longer park hours.

More Muir Woods Hiking Tips:

1) There is no parking fee, but $5.00 is charged for every adult entering the park.

2) Do purchase a trail map for $1.00 at the park entrance kiosk. (The maps are not waterproof, so a map cover is a good idea to keep your map in one piece on wet days.)

3) Take rain gear for the eventual rains or drizzles that are common in the moist environment of the coastal redwoods, especially fall through spring.

sign with quote at muir woods

4) Getting There: Muir Woods National Monument is accessible by car from U.S. 101 north of San Francisco. Take the exit for Highway 1/Stinson Beach and head northeast towards Mill Valley. After leaving the small towns and entering a rural area, turn right onto Panoramic Highway.

After about one half mile, turn left onto Muir Woods Road, which leads you to the park entrance.

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