Muir Woods – the perfect day trip from San Fransisco, California. And a day trip, it is! We thought we would just “stop by” Muir Woods for a few hours before heading back home. We wanted to sneak it in between donuts in Santa Cruz and lunch in San Fran’s Nob Hill neighborhood. Little did we know this was not the way to visit Muir Woods. We did plan ahead. We had reservations and an idea of how long we wanted to spend at Muir Woods. We just simply did not plan enough time.
I was pleasantly surprised at how close San Fransisco is to Muir Woods. I mentioned in another blog post how bad I am at geography. I thought Muir Woods would be upstate or at least in a remote location. Nope. We were barely 10 minutes across the Golden Gate Bridge when we pulled into the shuttle parking lot. Another 20 minute drive and we arrived at the entrance to the park.
How to Plan for a Day at Muir Woods:
First, you must go online and get reservations. Reservations are required for admittance to the park AND parking. Currently, the park is using remote park&ride lots with shuttle buses to alleviate congestion near the park. We used the shuttle at the Pohono St. Park and Ride. Follow this link for all the details on parking and entrance reservations.
Second, dress in layers. Mark Twain said, “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Fransisco.” It is CHILLY out there, especially when the wind picks up. Also, decide if you want to pack a lunch or purchase food at the park. There is a small cafe inside the park with things like sandwiches, salads, and ice cream.
Next, show up for the shuttle. When we first pulled into the parking lot we looked around like, “Okay, great, but now where do we go?” We wandered around the buildings for a few minutes and then finally noticed a small “Information” trailer on the northwest side of the parking lot, marking the line for the shuttle. Our shuttle was scheduled for 10 a.m. but it does not run on an exact schedule. We did not board the bus until almost 10:30.
The purpose of the shuttle is to protect the eroding, crumbly, narrow road that provides the only entrance to Muir Woods. This road is slowly but surely being reconstructed. It is unclear if the shuttle service will take over completely in the near future or if private vehicles will still be allowed. There is also parking on the shoulder of the road but it is over a mile walk from the available shoulder parking to the actual park entrance.
When you arrive, you must pay your admittance fee. There is a pay booth right outside the visitor center. A National Parks Season Pass does cover the fee. Find all fees here.
Once at the park, there are two ways to see it.
- Stay on the main loop trail that is about 2 miles round trip.
- Take time to visit other trails, adding hiking miles and time.
I would HIGHLY suggest taking the time to add other trails. The main trail is very crowded and not at all peaceful. It is like visiting a very noisy science museum. To get to the other trailheads you still have to take the main loop so you still get to see all the good stuff. Read the “What to Expect” section below to learn more about trail options.
The shuttle runs every 25 – 30 minutes and the schedule is not exact. When you are finished at the park you could be waiting anywhere from 0 – 30 minutes for the shuttle. The good news, there is a Visitor’s Center not too far from the shuttle stop. As long as you have someone on lookout, you can shop until the shuttle arrives.
What to Expect at Muir Woods:
The main trail begins at the Visitor Center. It is a paved two-mile loop that is wheelchair and stroller accessible. It is noisy and crowded. It is also stunningly beautiful.
There is one spot, about midway through the trail, called Cathedral Grove. When you hit Cathedral Grove there are signs cautioning you to enter quietly. Most people do not heed these signs. However, if you do enter quietly and you do stay long enough to get a few moments without other people around, you can hear some remarkable natural sounds. Kenon and I were able to catch the trees creaking as the wind gusted through their tips.
Along the paved two-mile loop trail, there are other trails that meander through different aspects of the park. View a map here and trail descriptions here. I cannot stress this enough – give yourself time to wander through at least one other trail! Kenon and I did not. The experience is incomplete if you stick to the main trail. John Muir loved these woods for their serenity. Seek places that get away from the crowds.