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Hiking the Canopy View Loop in Muir Woods National Monument

Hiking the Canopy View Trail in Muir Woods

Walking among the ancient, towering trees in Redwood Canyon, I’m reconnected to the natural world and to history itself. Most of the old growth redwoods here are between 600-800 years old, and the oldest is about 1200 years old — still young by redwood standards. As I hiked among these giants, it was easy to imagine the view being much the same as when John Muir visited this grove.

Trail Details
Distance: 3.5 miles
Time: 60-80 min.
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation gain: 842 ft
Dogs: No
When to go: Year-round
Muir Woods National Monument was created in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, making it one of the earliest national monuments in the country. It’s only 30 minutes away from San Francisco, but transports you to another time and place. For that same reason, it’s also a very popular park. Fortunately, you can avoid the crowds and enjoy Muir Woods in relative solitude–at least some of the time. Read on.

Muir Woods National Monument: When to Go and How to Get There

Muir Woods National Monument is famously crowded. There is limited parking, and on the weekends, visitors are highly encouraged to take the shuttle bus. The first step to beating the crowds is to go when it’s less crowded. It seems like common sense, but for whatever reason, most people don’t do it. Be smarter than the average visitor. Go on a weekday, and go early. Muir Woods opens at 8:00 AM, and if you get there by then, you have a good chance of getting a space in the small, second lot (the first lot is mainly for shuttles and handicapped parking). Click here for the location on Google Maps.

Getting to Muir Woods early gives you the best chance of snagging a coveted parking spot, beating the crowds, and seeing wildlife. And as an added bonus, you might even get in for free. Normally entry is $10 for anyone over 16 years, but if you get there before the visitor center opens (as we did when we went) they have a “free admittance” sign posted.

Hiking the Canopy View Loop

The second best advice for avoiding the crowds at Muir Woods? Take the road less traveled — the Canopy View Trail.

Most visitors are content to wander up the boardwalks along Redwood Creek, craning their necks upwards and bumping into each other as they make their way up the canyon. Instead, take the Canopy View Trail and leave the crowds behind.

Boardwalk in Muir Woods

As you enter Muir Woods, follow the boardwalk — the Main Trail — into the redwoods. You’ll pass by the gift shop and cafe (which open a bit later) and catch glimpses of the first giant trees.

At the first junction, take the Canopy View Trail to the right. Some maps refer to it as the Ocean View Trail, but when you see the steps climbing up the east side of the canyon, you’ll know you’re on the right path.

The Canopy View Trail leads away from the crowds.

The trail climbs up the canyon wall through thick sections of tall, straight, young redwoods.

Thick grove of young redwoods

It is a dirt single track trail with sections that are covered in roots, but the trail is in great condition overall. Trekking poles and boots are optional on this trail; my Solomon trail runners were a perfect match.

Early morning sunlight in Muir Woods

This is not a trail to race through (although the oldest trail race — the Dipsea Race — passes nearby). This loop trail is meant to be hiked slowly. Pause and reflect. Breathe deeply. Think about the history that these ancient trees have lived through.

At about 1.5 miles, you’ll reach the junction with the Lost Trail and the high point of this loop. There’s a rustic log bench for resting. When you’ve caught your breath, continue down the Lost Trail.

Also described as the Fern Canyon Trail on some maps.

The Lost Trail descends pretty steeply, but the trail has steps built to reduce erosion and impact to the fragile environment. Take your time and watch for wildlife. We saw one other couple hiking behind us, and passed one couple headed in the opposite direction — so the “crowds” were non-existent up here. We did however see a young three-point buck just above the trail.

The only "crowd" we saw on the Canopy View Trail was this young buck.

The namesake vegetation in Fern Canyon
This is described on maps as the Fern Creek Trail (not Fern Canyon).

The Lost Trail actually leaves Muir Woods National Monument and enters Mt Tamalpais State Park, eventually connecting with the Fern Creek Trail and cuts back to the south. True to its namesake, the hills were lined with lush, green ferns.

This is also described at the Main Trail on some maps and signs.

At the bottom of Fern Canyon, you’ll reach Redwood Creek. There’s an interesting bridge built atop a fallen log that leads further up Redwood Canyon, but you’ll turn left and follow the Redwood Creek Trail downstream.

This bridge is built atop a fallen redwood

This junction is quiet, but it used to be seriously bustling with the arrival of tourists taking the Muir Woods Railway from Mt Tamalpais. There were cabins and the Muir Inn where you could spend the night in the woods. The inn burned down in 1913, and the railway ceased operation in 1929, but you can visit Mt Tam where they have a gravity car on display at the “other” end of the railway. It’s a worthwhile side-trip after your hike.

The Redwood Creek Trail (aka the Main Trail) is where you re-enter the crowded section of Muir Woods. The crowds grow as you get closer to the visitors center, but you’ll want to take your time anyway. Follow the trail back toward the visitor center and the end of the loop.

Towering redwood giants on the Main Trail in Muir Woods

Canopy View Trail Map

Download file: canopy-view-loop-in-muir-woods.gpx

Photo Gallery

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Muir Woods is criss-crossed by trails, many which connect to other trail networks in Mt Tamalpais State Park. You can easily modify this to suit your time and inclination. Pickup the overall map at the visitor center and go explore!

Muir Woods National Monument Tips

  • Bring a liter of water. Even if it’s foggy or overcast, you’ll need hydration on the climb.
  • Be prepared for slick trails. Hey, this is Marin County we’re talking about. It’s often damp and foggy and dripping with moisture. Don’t expect to have the nice dry trails I saw.
  • Be sure to Leave No Trace. In fact, go a step further and bring a bag to pickup any trash you see.
  • There is no cell phone coverage in Muir Woods. I used GaiaGPS to track my route, but downloaded the maps before going so I’d have them even without cell coverage.
  • One minor peeve: The signage in the park and the maps available use conflicting trail names. The Fern Canyon Trail is sometimes referred to as the Fern Creek Trail. The Main Trail is also referred to as the Redwood Creek Trail. Numerous inconsistencies in naming can be confusing and frustrating, but if you can read a map and follow the signs, you’ll be okay.
  • There are two official maps available from the park, the Muir Woods National Monument Map and the Historic Walking Tour Map. They are $1 each, and I highly recommend picking up both for the wealth of information they provide. They can be found at the visitor center, or in self-service dispensers on the Main Trail (with an honor-system donation box).

More Muir Woods National Monument Resources

Muir Woods National Monument Weather Forecast

[forecast width=”100%” location=”94941″]

There is no wifi in the forest, but you will find a better connection

Special thanks to Joan, Kaete and Christopher for joining me on this hike.

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