Muir Woods National Monument is the closest place to San Francisco where visitors can see coastal redwood trees, just a few miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Lots of people want to visit it, but it's not always what they expect. Here's what you need to know before you go to Muir Woods.
Why You Should See Muir Woods National Monument
Coastal redwood trees are the planet's tallest living things. They can reach 379 feet tall.
The tallest of them would tower 74 feet above the Statue of Liberty if they were side by side. In Muir Woods, they don't get that big, just a mere – but still impressive – 258 feet.
You can see the Muir Woods redwoods in just a few minutes. That is after you get there which may take longer than you think. It's an easy, flat walk that starts near the entrance. It takes about an hour to walk all the way to Cathedral Grove and back out (more with photo stops).
If you're visiting San Francisco and don't have time to see California redwoods trees in other locations, Muir Woods is your only option.
Why You May Want to Skip Muir Woods National Monument
Unfortunately, Muir Woods draw crowds that are nearly beyond its capacity to absorb them, replacing the forest experience with constant human hubbub. Because of that, I give it 2 stars out of 5 for ambiance.
Getting to Muir Woods can take a long time.
You may have to take a shuttle from Sausalito and traffic on the road to get there can be maddeningly slow.
Overall, Muir Woods is a three-star attraction. You will enjoy it more if you go off-season or hike far enough into it to get away from the crowds.
What You Won't Find at Muir Woods
To see the biggest coastal redwoods, you'll have to travel further north, where you may enjoy them more.
Visitors often arrive at Muir Woods asking where the "tree you can drive through" is. It isn't in Muir Woods. There are four drive-through trees in California, but they're in Humboldt County further north.
The world's most massive trees, giant sequoias like General Grant and General Sherman aren't in Muir Woods either. They're in Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks. Use our guide to California redwood forests to find all the places you can see redwood forests in California.
Muir Woods Tips
During busy times, Muir Woods is plagued with parking problems, with spaces filling up early in the day. Avoid the congestion by taking a shuttle. See "Getting There" below for all the details.
Muir Woods is damp and cool all year, reaching a high of only 70°F on a hot day. Bring an extra layer for comfort and be prepared for rain November through April.
Among the best things to enjoy at Muir Woods are the forest sounds, but you have to be quiet to hear them. Respect the silence especially in the Cathedral Grove, keeping your voices down and kids under control.
Muir Woods has six miles hiking trails of varying length and difficulty.
Your best bet is to discuss them with a ranger, who can help you figure out which is best for you.
You'll find a gift shop and snack bar near the entrance, in case you're hungry.
Only service animals are allowed at Muir Woods, so leave Fluffy at home.
Poison oak and stinging nettle grow in the woods. Both can make you miserably itchy if you're allergic. If you don't know what they look like, check the signs near the entrance. Use your phone to take a photo of them, so you don't have to guess later whether you're looking at one of them or not.
Don't feed any animals. It makes them too dependent on humans, can cause behavior problems and can even make them sick.
If you are driving any vehicle that is more than 35 feet long, you may have trouble visiting Muir Woods. That's because they don't have parking spaces for them.
During the summer, you can park in Sausalito and take their shuttle. The rest of the year, you can take a tour with a local tour company. You'll find a list of them at the Parks Conservancy website. A taxi will also work (but will also be expensive) and you'll have to arrange with the driver to pick you up. Uber and Lyft aren't possible because there's no cell phone signal and no internet access to request a pickup.
There is no cell phone service in Muir Woods. If someone is dropping you off, you need to make arrangements for them to come back at a particular time.
All the Details About Muir Woods
You have to pay an entrance fee to get into Muir Woods, with a few exceptions. During the annual National Parks Week, held in April, entry fees are waived in more than 100 parks nationwide, including Muir Woods National Monument. Get more information at the National Parks Week website. Admission is also free on selected other days that vary by year. You'll find the current year's list here.
The shortest loop is a 0.5-hour walk, but it's better to allow 1.5 to 2 hours or more - and also allow time to get there from San Francisco. Check your mobile app to find out how long the drive will be.
Spring and fall are less crowded than summer. Winter can be rainy and muddy.
Getting to Muir Woods
Muir Woods National Monument
1 Muir Woods Road
Mill Valley, CA
Muir Woods website
Muir Woods is 11 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Search for "1 Muir Woods Rd., Mill Valley CA" instead of just Muir Woods to get accurate directions and travel time.
Upcoming Changes for Muir Woods Visitors
Muir Woods attracts more than a million visitors a year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and that many people create traffic jams and parking hassles. The park service has a new system in the works to relieve congestion. By 2018, reservations will be required, and there will be limits on how many people can visit per day. By 2022, all parking on Muir Woods roads will be eliminated.