First, let’s talk Muir Woods logistics.
There is no cell service or wifi in or around Muir Woods, so be sure to download an offline Google Map if you intend to drive your car to the park.
It is chilly inside the park so be sure to dress in layers and bring a light jacket.
The primary ways to get to Muir Woods are by car and by shuttle bus.
If you are arriving by car, do not fool yourself by thinking that you can just roll up to the parking lot, park and walk into the park. That’s not how things work at Muir Woods as of January 2018. As of January, you must have a prepaid parking reservation which is valid for a 30 minute arrival window.
It wasn’t difficult to get a reservation for the time we wanted to visit, even when booking the night before. I logged onto the National Park Service, found the reservation page, selected the 4-4:30pm time slot, and paid the $8 fee.
I had reservations about the parking reservation, however. There are several parking lots at Muir Woods and our reservation did not designate a specific parking lot. Additionally, how did the National Park Service know if there would actually be parking availability for us during our time slot? There is no maximum time limit as to how long you can park, so what happens if all of the visitors before us stayed in the park for an extra long time?
As expected, parking was a bit disorganized. The first lot we attempted to park at was full. We drove to the next lot and there was a sandwich board sign in the middle of the road that read “FULL”. I stopped by the sign, rolled down my window and asked the parking attendant what the hell we were supposed to do since we were now 0/2 on parking lots.
As he was yelling back at me, the car behind us started honking because we were blocking the road. I ignored the honking and kept talking to the parking attendant until he eventually allowed us into the lot, He said, “If you don’t find a spot, just keep circling”.
We were lucky and found the last spot in the parking lot. Yay us.
If I were to do Muir Woods again, I would park at the park-and-ride and ride the shuttle to and from the park. Sure it may take a bit longer and yes, you will likely have to wait for a return shuttle but the hassle of parking at Muir Woods is not worth it unless you are visiting first thing in the morning when the parking lots are at low occupancy.
Now, let’s talk about the park.
The park was named after John Muir. This name may sound familiar as many of his quotes are found in REI stores like the one below on a wall in the Seattle flagship store.
There are two species of redwoods in the United States, both of which are in California):
- Coast redwood – this species grows on the Pacific coast from southern Oregon to mid-California. Most of the ancient redwoods have been cut but thankfully there are still a handful of areas where the trees are protected like Redwood National Park and Muir Woods. Coast redwood are the taller of the two species.
- Giant sequoia – this species grows in larger bulk than the coast redwood but the trees are shorter. This species is only found in the west slope of Sierra Nevada and some of the small groves of trees are protected. You can find this species in Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Coast redwood trees are the tallest living things on Earth! The tallest coast redwood is 379 ft / 115.5 m tall and lives in Redwood National Park in northern California. The tallest tree in Muir Woods is 258 ft / 79 m tall which is equivalent to a 23 story building. I asked the park ranger where we could find the tallest tree and she said that it is no longer marked because humans had started hiking off of the designated footpaths and their footsteps had started to degrade the shallow root systems of trees (a coast redwood’s roots are typically only 10-13 ft / 3-4 m deep).
The trees in Muir Woods range in age from 500-800 years old and even more difficult to comprehend was the heights and widths of the trees. They are absolutely massive. It is very difficult to photograph the trees without laying down on the ground and pointing the camera to the sky.
By the time of our arrival at the park, the sky had turned a light shade of gray and the temperature had dropped significantly. The park was a natural green sepia tone and I felt as though it was going to rain at any second. It felt very nature-y.
The bark of a coast redwood tree is usually 12 in / 25 cm thick. The bark is spongy and contains tannin which makes the trees fire resistant to low intensity fires. High intensity fires can burn through the bark and expose the heartwood to dry rot. Additional fires can hollow out the dry rot portions and create large black cavities in the trees.
Most of the very big trees were surrounded by younger trees but every once-in-awhile we found young clusters of trees and I wondered how nature works in this scenario as the trees aged and grew. Do the trees merge into one tree eventually?
We walked to Bridge 4 (of 4) along the decked footpath, crossed the creek and walked the Hillside Trail back to the entrance, eventually merging back into the decked footpath on the opposite side of the creek. We spent one hour in the park taking photos (few of which turned out good) and walking the path. It was more than enough time to explore the park and it was nice to be out of the city and back in nature for a bit.
From Muir Woods, we drove an hour to our hotel in Santa Rosa. Santa Rosa was a complete let down for me. The photos of the hotel on the online booking site left me with the impression that the hotel was located on a winery and I dreamt of drinking a glass of wine in their open-air reception and bar area and that dream went up in flames when we pulled into the parking lot of our hotel. Our hotel was the complete opposite of what I thought it was going to be but it got the job done and I was happy to kick my feet up after tackling the hills of San Francisco.