John Muir Woods, or more formally known as Muir Woods National Monument, is just north of San Francisco. With the park only 30 minutes outside of San Francisco, this National Monument is the closest way for someone in in the city to experience hiking through a redwood forest. Naturally, this makes for a relatively crowded park, but venturing off the main trail allows for more seclusion.
Important Information about American National Parks and Muir Woods
Muir Woods is named after John Muir, who championed the preservation of land and was nicknamed "The Father of National Parks." Those familiar with the San Francisco area are sure to encounter Muir's name, as his popularity with Americans in the American West is notable and a number of trails and nature preservations are named in his honor.
While John Muir's influence on the national parks system makes it possible for people like me to enjoy hikes in beautiful places, it should be mentioned that the land America has preserved as its national parks wasn't uninhabited wild life; Native Americans have a long history of being forced out of their homes or killed for their land. California in particular has a long and bloody history of genocide against Native Americans, so I can't be overly celebratory of American National Parks. That said, if this information is new to you, I recommend doing some research into American history with regards to National parks and indigenous people. If you don't know where to start feel free to contact me and I can direct you to some good resources.
Although America's history of land preservation isn't wholly positive, John Muir Woods is extremely accessible given its proximity to San Francisco and low entry fee (though one should be aware that parking reservations need to be made in advance, so check their website before you visit). This National Monument doesn't require very much time or money to visit and thus brings nature a whole city at an affordable cost.
You arrive at the National Monument's parking lot after a 15 minute drive, that winds through the hills up and down switchbacks. Like a lot of California's costal driving, this quick elevation change with frequent turns isn't ideal for those prone to getting car sick, and if you're like me you probably want to do the driving or sit in the front. But once you arrive, you'll be pleasantly greeted by cool fresh air of this lush forest.
If you arrive on a sunny day, you'll immediately notice how cool and dark the forest floor is despite the California heat. The trees are so dense that it is difficult to see the sun, even at noon.
The main hiking trail, which is more of a large wooden path than a trail, is a 2 mile loop that follows one side of a creek and then crosses the creek and comes back on the opposite side of the creek. This is a very versatile hike since there are a number of bridges along the creek so if you want to shorten the loop and cross a bridge before the last bridge you can go back on the other side of the creek. There are also a number of trails that fan out from the main trail which offer quieter, and more challenging hikes.
Although the scale is difficult to capture, the Redwood trees along this hike are absolutely massive. Some of these trees have hollow trunks which can easily fit 3 or 4 adults inside. And while the trees at Muir Woods are huge, the farther north you go the larger the Redwoods get, some of which are large enough such that you can drive your car through the trunk.
In addition to the trees, the creek is lovely to look at. The undergrowth is comprised mostly of ferns and saplings due to the low light beneath these tall giants, but the ferns look particularly nice lining the creek.
Most of the trail is bordered with a fence such that you cannot approach the creek, but in a few places you can get down off the trail and take pictures with the creek close to eye level, which is ideal to take longer exposure pictures like this.
This hike makes for a great, easy walk through the woods and offers some nice side trails for those adventurers looking for more of a challenge. Around sunset I was able to get a few pictures of the sun coming through the trees so for those hiking later in the day or very early, you can enjoy the light flittering through the morning or afternoon haze.
As a tangential final remark, for those looking for a place to cool off after hiking in the woods, Muir Beach is a short drive west from the trail head. Like most beaches in this part of California, the water is quite cold and the wind is quite strong, so be sure to bring a sweater!
Thanks for stopping by! If you have any questions about the hike or the area please let me know and I'll do my best to answer them. I'll be detailing my trip from the West Coast to the East Coast in the coming weeks so if you enjoyed this post, stay tuned!