WHAT IS IT? One of the Bay Area’s last remaining ancient redwood groves. These spectacular towering trees were saved from logging interests in 1905 by a local businessman and named in honor of famed conservationist, John Muir.
BEAUTY (8/10) Walking among the redwoods always astounds. The height defies your life’s knowledge. Trees cannot possibly be this tall, can they? You stare upward, mouth agape, for minutes on end. They have you under their calming spell. The redwoods are so tall and so large that they wholly change the world around them.
The temperature is at least 10 degrees colder; there is no sun. The yellow scrub California hills are transformed in lush Edens. Clovers and ferns line the surface. Yellow banana slugs creep slowly on the trees. The only colors are greens and browns. The blues have disappeared. Every so often rays of sunlight stream through the branches at 45-degree angle, reminding you that an exterior world exists.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10) Muir Woods became a National Monument in 1908, by Theodore Roosevelt’s proclamation. Its ancient trees had seen a pre-Columbian America but were threatened by civilization’s progress. Congressman William Kent purchased these sacred 295 acres and donated them to the federal government. With hope, future generations will be able bask in these great trees’ wonder.
Teddy’s cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt also loved these redwoods. In 1945, just after WWII, he requested that the members of the newly formed United Nations meet at Muir Woods and learn from the trees, which he called a “temple of peace”. He wanted the delegates to “gain a perspective and sense of time that could be obtained nowhere in America better than in such a forest.”
FDR died before the UN meeting took place but the International delegates refused to let his idea die. They met in Muir Woods’ Cathedral Grove, dedicating a plaque to FDR’s legacy and honoring his “vision, foresight and determination”.
CROWDS (5/10) Get here early in the morning or late in the afternoon if you want a parking spot and, regardless of time, expect to walk the early sections of the loop trail with hundreds of other tourists. Do not get discouraged. Once you reach Bridge 3 (about a ½ mile in) the crowds dramatically begin to thin out. The tourist buses slot a 45-minute visit, so most of the tourists cannot take the full loop into the Cathedral Grove. If you have the time, keep going. You will be rewarded with solitude and time for silent introspection among an idyllic surrounding.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5) The Muir Woods NM is located in southern Marin County, just a 12 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Approach the Site from U.S. Highway 101.
Click here for what the Park’s website calls “The Most Simple Directions”
They may sound confusing but do not worry. There are many signs that point you in the correct direction. Be aware, the parking lot tends to get very full. We arrived at 9:00 a.m. on a rainy Wednesday morning. The lot was full by 11:00 a.m. A great portion of Site visitors arrived on small tour buses on day trips from San Francisco.
On the weekends, a free shuttle bus runs to the Site from the Marin City Gateway Shopping Center and the Manzanita Park and Ride, both of which are located near Highway 101.
The redwood grove itself is quite accessible. A 2½-mile paved loop trail (mostly boardwalk) meanders alongside the Redwood Creek and underneath the Park’s gentle giants.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5) The Muir Woods NM’s small size dictates a focused bookstore with a limited number of titles. Sections are devoted to John Muir, the Redwoods, Muir Woods, Muir Beach and Native Americans. The stylish Muir Woods logo finds its way onto T-shirts, sweatshirts, ball caps, framed post-cards and coffee mug. We thought the six-foot tall Redwood Tree Growth Chart was cute.
COSTS (3/5) Entry is $3 per person, free with the National Parks Pass.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (1/5) Thousands of visitors and no Rangers.
TOURS/CLASSES (2/10) None during our visit. There is only one naturalist walk a week, no introductory video and no Museum. 1,000,000 people visit this Site every year; why are there so few educational opportunities?
FUN (8/10) A constant drizzle and skies white with mist and fog transformed Muir Woods NM into a mysterious otherworld, a tropical rainforest sitting high above and seemingly far away from the cities below.
One might expect visitors’ spirits to be dampened as they watch their day of sightseeing get washed out. Not so. A few ponchos were purchased, umbrellas were shared and people plunged into the darker shaded forest to continue their pilgrimage.
Getting caught in the rain seems to open up people’s inhibitions, allowing them to smile and laugh at their soggy selves. We shared a lot of knowing grins with others as we all tried to capture the beautiful redwoods on film while getting the least amount of raindrops on our cameras.
Sites like these, catered to large crowds with minimal time, trying to give the most bang for the touring buck, offer a very different experience. The traditional idea, at least ours, of a National Park brings to mind camping, hiking and immersing oneself in nature over the course of a few days. Muir Woods NM makes this immersion possible for everyone. It just takes 45 minutes here to see some wonderful stuff.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10) If you are traveling to the San Francisco area, you probably want to see a grove of ancient redwood trees. The Muir Woods NM is your easiest opportunity. Pockets of redwoods sprout up and down the California coast, but none are as close to San Francisco as the Muir Woods NM.
Even though the Park has only six miles of trails, most of which are boardwalked or paved, both the hardcore hiker and environmental purist are bound to be won over by this heavily traveled but endearing tree-lover’s monument. Muir Woods NM is not an escape from the City or society, in fact, it exists for the urban denizens as a reminder of nature’s strong and fragile beauty.
The Muir Woods speak to the healing power of self-reflection, silence and solitude. It beckons the visitor to continue their outdoor journey. Keep searching. This Park is just the beginning.
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