Located north of San Francisco, Muir Woods National Monument is a serene and enchanting forested area. Despite its small size, the park boasts towering redwoods that are iconic to the region. As a result, the hikes in Muir Woods are nothing short of awe-inspiring!
Six miles of Muir Woods trails make their way around the park, all of which showcase the trees and the environment to their fullest, and many connect with the trail system that runs through Mount Tamalpais State Park, meaning even more hiking adventures.
If you’re planning a trip here, we have you covered! Here’s everything you need to know about the park, including the best hikes in Muir Woods and the best way to get here—which, trust us, can be a feat of its own!
Muir Woods National Monument
The trees in Muir Woods stand an impressive 250 feet tall, sometimes more, and are between 600 and 800 years old on average. The oldest in the park is an incredible 1200 years old! With easy trails and easy access from the city, it is one of the most popular day trips from San Francisco and the surrounding area.
In 1908, the area became a federally protected National Monument which covers an area of 554 acres. Today, these redwoods only grow on a small strip of land between Monterey and southern Oregon, which encompasses Muir Woods, so it is worth making the trip to see them if you can.
The environment here is perfect for the redwoods, as the nearby Pacific Ocean means the area is often covered in a thick fog, which helps the environment thrive. It also adds an extra air of magic to the forests if you visit during a particularly foggy day!
The Best Hikes in Muir Woods
Here are some of the top trails in Muir Woods, starting with the classic Main Trail and then continuing on and expanding off of it to explore this park even further.
1. Muir Main Trail
Length: 1.5 miles
Type of hike: Loop
Elevation: 127 ft
Most people that head to the monument choose to tackle the Main Trail. It is, without a doubt, the most popular hike in Muir Woods. Start the trail directly from the visitor center, and cross Redwood Creek via a series of bridges. Along the way, you can witness some of the most impressive old-growth Redwoods as a backdrop almost as soon as you set off.
It’s flat, easy, and can be shortened by crossing back at one of the bridges and heading back down the other side of the river, turning it into a shorter loop. The first half of the trail up to bridge 4 is mainly a boardwalk, making it an accessible hike, but the ground gets a bit more uneven past this point.
Even if you have decided to do the whole trail rather than just returning the way you came, it is worth turning the hike into a loop so you see some different sights. To do this, cross over the creek via one of the bridges and take the trail down the other side of the river.
It is the perfect hike to get you into the hiking mood and ready for the next adventure. In addition to the stunning scenery of towering trees and babbling brooks, it takes you past some of the most popular sights in the park, such as the Redwoods Tree Slice, Cathedral Grove, Pinchot Tree, and Bohemian Grove.
These are the highlights and where you’ll find all the crowds hanging out—understandably! BUT this is just the beginning. There are tons of detours and further trails to explore if you continue walking, which we highly recommend you do!
2. Fern Creek Trail, Camp Eastwood Trail, Lost Trail, and Canopy View Muir Woods Trail
Length: 3.9 miles
Type of hike: Loop
Elevation: 820 ft
Once you have completed the main trail, if you are like us, it will leave you wanting to see more Muir Woods trails rather than feeling like you should head back to your car.
Again, it starts at the Visitor Center (or continues on from the Main Trail above) and is a loop of Fern Creek Trail, Camp Eastwood Trail, Lost Trail, and Canopy View Trail. It makes a much longer loop from the Main Trail, turning a relatively short hike into a longer one, but still nothing too strenuous.
Follow the main trail up the side of the river until you meet the intersection for the Camp Eastwood Trail to the right, leading you away from the river. When you reach Lost Trail, which connects Camp Eastwood with Canopy View, you will be climbing quite steeply.
Eventually, you will be brought back to the park entrance via the Canopy View Trail. At this point, you are most definitely on the road less traveled, so you shouldn’t expect to see too many other people.
You will soon forget about the crowded boardwalks along Redwood Creek as you make your way through the magical woodlands. The best thing is you will have already done the climb, meaning the last bit of the hike is a solid descent down a series of steps.
3. Ben Johnson to Dipsea Loop Hike in Muir Woods
Length: 4.1 miles
Type of hike: Loop
Elevation: 987 ft
Another way of extending the main trail once you have finished it is by heading south via the Ben Johnson to Dipsea Trail Loop. This one is a bit of a leg burner as you make your way up through groves of redwoods.
Once you reach the final stretch of the hill, you will join the Dipsea Trail before then heading back down through thick woods and more open areas. At this point, you might be able to grab glimpses of the ocean through the trees. Follow the carefully marked signs, and you will eventually find yourself back at the park entrance.
Start this trail from the park entrance with the Main Trail, but after a while, you will veer from the Main Trail and start to head left. Be warned, this is where the uphill climb begins. It is a great Muir Woods trail for those who want to enjoy other parts of the forest and escape the daytripper crowd while still marveling at plenty of redwoods!
On the way back, during the Coho salmon spawning, the footbridge over Redwood Creek may be closed.
4. Ocean View, Lost, Fern Creek, Dipsea, TCC, and Troup 80 Trail in Muir Woods
Length: 7.6 miles
Type of hike: Loop
Elevation: 1,430 ft
If you are up for a long hike and want to see what the whole park offers in a day, then the Ocean View, Lost, Fern Creek, Dipsea, TCC, and Troup 80 Trail is for you. You will definitely be making the most of your entrance fee if you decide to tackle this one. If you couldn’t tell by the name itself—it encompasses A LOT.
Although the crowds at the entrance to the park can be a little overwhelming, this hike allows you to wander through the redwoods at your own pace, and you will likely have stretches of trail all to yourself. By taking a mixture of trails, you will almost be circling the entire park, with a few ups and downs to keep things interesting.
Along the route, you will be treated to beautiful views and maybe even some wildlife if you are lucky.
5. Muir Woods Trail to Mount Tamalpais
Length: 10.5 miles
Type of hike: Loop
Elevation: 2,509 ft
The trails in the small park might not be enough for dedicated hikers. One of the best ways to extend the hike is to continue on from Muir Woods to the majestic Mount Tamalpais. For many, this is one of the best hikes in the bay area as not only will you get to experience the redwoods of the forest but also the highest peak directly north of San Francisco.
Dubbed Mount Tam by locals, the mountain stretches 2579 feet, and although a prominent landmark in its own right, the mountain, and surrounding state park, are significantly less well known than neighboring Muir Woods.
Like most hikes in Muir Woods, you will start by following the main trail through the park from the visitor center and parking lot. Once out of the woods, you will have to tackle some pretty steep sections, some of which are in direct sunlight on a clear day.
Yes, it is hard, and yes, there is significant elevation gain as you are literally climbing a mountain, but the views from the top make it well worth the climb!
Once you have hauled yourself up to the peak via a steep and rocky single track, you will be greeted with 360-degree views. On a clear day, you should see San Francisco, the Pacific Ocean, the bay, and the forests of Northern California. What a view!
Other Things to Do Around Muir Woods
Aside from all the hikes in Muir Woods, there are a few other things to know about to enrich your experience here…
Take a Guided Tour
If you are interested in the park’s nature and geography, a good option is a guided tour. There are all sorts of tours of the park available, some of which include transportation and a few other points of interest included in the tour.
If you have your own transportation and don’t want to do a full-day tour, the park has a program of events and tours throughout the season that allows you to explore and learn more about the forest.
15-minute tree talks are offered twice daily and aim to give visitors a brief introduction to the towering redwoods dominating the forest.
At the entrance to the park sits the Muir Woods visitor center. Head inside to discover everything you need about the park and its history. There are several exhibits and plenty of brochures and maps of the area.
There are also seasonal displays and a cafe, and a gift shop nearby. Once you get to the park, you must pop into the center to check in anyway. It is a great place to pick up a trail map and chat with the ranger staff.
It’s unsurprising that Muir Woods is a haven for wildlife, so while walking the paths, keep your eyes open. Although bird life in the park is limited to around 50 species due to the lack of bugs to feed on, several mammals have decided to set up camp under the shade of these towering trees and thick ferns.
Most of the wildlife in the park tries to steer clear of the many visitors, but if you are lucky, you might spot white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, gray foxes, river otters, owls, and maybe even bobcats. If you are there between November to early January, turn your gaze to the river for salmon migrating upstream.
How to Get to Muir Woods—IMPORTANT!
Don’t skip this section! It’s actually super important if you want to get into Muir Woods!
When to Visit and Costs
It is open from 8.00 am to 5.00 pm every day and is a great destination to visit no matter the time of year, although peak travel months are between May and October. We think this is definitely one best places to visit in November in the USA because the crowds won’t be as bad and the weather will be great.
If you can, try to plan a trip in the off-season to avoid the mass of crowds that descend on the park during the summer. It’s $15 per person to get in (16 years +). This does NOT include parking. America the Beautiful Passes are also accepted here.
Driving and Parking
We will be completely honest with you, getting to Muir Woods can be a bit of a nightmare, but then all the best places are.
If you can access a car, driving to Muir Woods is usually the most convenient option. There is a parking lot within walking distance of the park. However, have to remember to make a reservation BEFORE visiting.
You will be turned away if you turn up to the parking lot without making a reservation in advance! The monument is a popular attraction, so it is worth making a reservation far in advance to avoid disappointment.
It’s not as easy as getting up the mountain and then trying to make a reservation, as the cell service is notoriously non-existent; plus, you run the risk of no reservations being available, as the parking lot is not that big.
It’s important to note that even if you have a reservation, you won’t have a designated parking space waiting for you when you arrive. It means you will be allowed to park, but only when a space becomes available after driving up the twisting mountain road to get there.
If you don’t have a car or would rather not make the effort of trying to get a parking reservation, it’s time to look at other options. The next best thing would be to use the shuttle service that takes visitors from off-site locations to the park.
The downside of this is the shuttle is usually only running on weekends and occasionally other times, such as holidays, and only runs from Larkspur Landing. You can drive directly to this shuttle stop.
Both the parking and the shuttle have fees. The shuttle fee is less than parking, but paying for the shuttle per person soon starts to add up if there are multiple travelers. On top of that, you will have to pay the $15 entrance fee to enter the monument (it is free for those 15 years and under).
If you plan on visiting a few times, consider the Muir Woods Annual Pass for $45, which covers up to 4 people a visit. You will have made your money back in one visit if three or more of you are there.
Driving Here BUT Coming Through The “Back Door” (This is What We Did!)
Here’s a hot tip, if you don’t want to deal with the mess above and are willing to hike more, you can come through the “back door.” All along the Panoramic Highway along the north side of the park are other trailheads with parking that descend into the park. So instead of coming through the front entrance, you’re hiking toward the entrance from the back way!
All of the hikes in Muir Woods that we spoke about above were explained as if you came through the front entrance. But you can come through the back entrance of those hikes and just do it the opposite way.
For example, you can do this Fern and Dipsea route (#4 above) that has you park near Mountain Home Inn. You’ll still hike to the main Muir Woods trail, and if it’s too long for you, you can always cut up the middle to make it a bit shorter.
There are trailheads at Pantoll and Bootjack Campgrounds, the Sierra Trailhead, and the Panoramic Trailhead. They have open parking, but of course, it can still get busy too! So come early, and bring extra snacks because you’ll be hiking a bit more.
I’ve personally done it both ways, parking at the entrance and then using this backdoor method, and I found the backdoor method to be much easier personally. If you don’t have a lot of time, you’ll need to go through the front (aka deal with the parking situation), but if you have time and don’t mind the extra mileage, this is the way!
Muir Woods Trail Tour
If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of trying to get to the park yourself, and we don’t blame you, another option is to book an organized tour. On this tour, you will be out and about for around 5 hours, and it includes a bonus location of the artistic bayside enclave of Sausalito in addition to the majestic trees of Muir Woods.
You will venture across the Golden Gate Bridge via an air-conditioned coach with a professional guide all the way to the park, stopping at a scenic San Francisco skyline viewpoint along the way. When you get there, you won’t have to worry about park entrance fees, as this is included in the price.
Once in the park, you will have 90 minutes to tackle some of the best trails in Muir Woods and explore what the park offers. Take to the forested paths and admire the towering trees.
Then it is time to hop back in the coach with the scenic coastal town of Sausalito as your destination. Before returning to San Francisco, you will have 60 minutes to pop into the small shops and art galleries and grab an ice cream if the sun is shining. Book this tour here.
Where Are You Headed After?
We hope this helped you plan your visit and hikes in Muir Woods!
I’ve been perpetually traveling and living around the world for years but it’s hard to beat California and the PNW. After years of road-tripping the area, I guess you can say I know it pretty well! When I’m not writing guides for you, you can catch me somewhere petting a dog, attempting to surf, hiking a volcano, or stuffing my face with bread and cheese.