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.
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.
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 trail climbs up the canyon wall through thick sections of tall, straight, 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
Canopy View Trail Map
Click on any photo to view a larger version. You can also leave comments on any photo.
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
- GPS user? Download the GPX track.
- Check the official Muir Woods National Monument website for the latest information on hours of operation and events at Muir Woods.
- Get an high-level overview of the trails in the area in this Muir Woods Trail Map (PDF).
Muir Woods National Monument Weather Forecast
Special thanks to Joan, Kaete and Christopher for joining me on this hike.
Very nice trail to explore…I’ll be checking this our next time I’m visiting (from New Zealand). Off to do the Abel Tasman coastal walk this month – can’t wait.
Jennifer Berkey says
Great choice for an outrageous escapade!
Nancy R says
I will be in SF on business soon. Does anyone know if there’s a reliable source of transportation from Westin Saint Francis Union Square to trailhead?
Admin Istrator says
You can book a tour bus (not my cup of tea) but probably the easiest. A much more fun way (if you have time) is to take the ferry across the bay to Sausalito, then catch the Muir Woods Shuttle. Note that the shuttle is seasonal, and is currently operating only on weekends and holidays. During the peak season in summer, it runs every day.
Lauren DeGracia says
Thank you for posting this! Very helpful.
Thanks heaps Jeff for your detail description of the trail. We followed to the tee and had a great hike. The wood is magical 🙂
jonathan klineman says
This is Terrific! Thank you! How much time does this trail take to hike on average?
William Beach says
I wish I saw the trail head when I first started walking on the boardwalk area as I began this trail on the opposite side towards the bridge and what a beast it is going up the never ending staircase! I was ecstatic as well as the poor unfortunate souls of dad’s with kids on their backs when we saw the summit and the sign for the mountain home and the wooden bench. The bonus though of going the way I did it was the return path was a nice gradual incline.
Canopy View, such a great trail! One of my favorite spots on the trail is the grove marked by a bench “David Saren Grove.” Carefully find your way inot the grove and dance with giants.