Managed by the National Park Service since 1908, Muir Woods National Monument is the closest collection of impressive old-growth coastal redwoods remaining in the immediate San Francisco Bay Area.
Located in Marin County just 10 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, this small, 554-acre preserve was primarily created to protect quickly vanishing stands of coastal redwoods, the tallest tree species in the world. Within the monument, the Bay Area's well-known temperate climate and coastal fog has nourished trees that now that are up to 1,200 years old and over 250 feet tall.*
The massive trees are accessible to visitors via a network of walking trails running the length of the canyon. The highlights are the trees of Cathedral Grove that are reached using the Main Trail. Running parallel to the Main Trail is the Hillside Trail, which offers an elevated perspective on the forest.
The Muir Woods trail network connects to surrounding open space in Mount Tamalpais State Park and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Combining a longer hike with a visit to Muir Woods is recommended, as crowds quickly taper off after leaving the canyon floor. Longer hike options include loops with the Deer Park Fire Road and Bootjack Trails.
Interestingly, although the monument is named after well-known California conservationist John Muir, the creation of the preserve is credited to then U.S. Congressman William Kent, who purchased what was then called Redwood Canyon from the Tamalpais Land and Water Company. Kent sought to preserve the behemoth redwoods during a period when old-growth trees were being harvested vehemently up and down the coast. At the time, other interests wanted to dam Redwood Creek and flood the valley to create additional municipal water supply for nearby Sausalito, but Kent's donation of the land to the federal government sealed the trees’ protection.
Due to its proximity to San Francisco, Muir Woods sees a hefty amount of traffic, particularly on weekend days. Try to time your visit during early morning and mid-week and you may find you have Muir Woods to yourself. Visit after heavy winter rains and you also may be lucky enough to spot one of Redwood Creek’s endangered coho or steelhead making their way upstream to spawn.
* The tallest tree in the park stands at 248 feet; currently the tallest coastal redwood, named Hyperion, stands at 379 feet and is located in a remote area of Redwood National + State Parks.