“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” John Muir
I like to think of the Golden Gate Bridge as the wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, so Muir Woods National Monument and all that lies north of San Francisco is obviously the magical land of Narnia! It’s truly one of my favorite places in all the world, and there is SO much to explore.
A quick history lesson: John Muir is the “father of the national parks.” He lived in the 1800’s, and traveled all over the United States, studying nature and advocating for the preservation of land as national parks. This is a MUCH abridged version of a super interesting dude, and I encourage you to read more about him, especially if conservation and nature are your jam. How fitting that Muir Woods be named after such an important man!
Muir Woods National Monument is just across the Golden Gate Bridge and to the west. It’s only about a half hour drive from the GGB, and a worthwhile way to spend half or all of a day. The road into the woods is SUPER bendy, so if you’re prone to carsickness, I’ve found that opening a window to the chilly breeze makes a big difference. But my goodness! It’s a beautiful drive, and the air is just fresh and full of oxygen!
You’ll want to arrive early, because the parking situation at Muir Woods is atrocious. We normally time our arrival for 15 minutes before the park opens, and have always found a place to park. If you wait to mid-morning, or even worse, afternoon, you’ll be walking a half mile to a mile before you even arrive at the entrance to Muir Woods. And remember that fresh air? Well, once the tour buses arrive, it’s not so fresh. More of a “death by diesel” situation, where you want to take shallow breaths through the mouth as you cross the parking lot to the main entrance.
Another reason to arrive early is because there is nothing so heavenly as wandering through the massive redwoods in the early morning quiet. You’ll be able to hear the river in the background, and the wildlife is still out and about, getting ready for the day. The way the sunlight streams through the trees, spotlighting small sections of the forest floor, as the mist is burning off is really beautiful.
The main trail in Muir Woods takes you down along one side of the river, across and then back. There are quite a few turn around points over the river, so you don’t need to commit to the whole circuit, but I highly recommend going back as far as you can. Spend all the time you want to spend in this “cathedral of nature” before the crowds arrive, soaking in the magnificence of these incredible trees. It’s like going to #church!
If you’re traveling with kids, they will LOVE exploring the hollow trunks and fallen trees. There are lots of neat nooks and crannies for them to examine, and the size of the redwoods makes a huge impression on children.
You’re probably wondering when I’m going to bring up the subject of food. Well, right now would be the time! About a month before we headed out to Muir Woods for the first time, I happened to be watching Food Network’s show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and they had a segment with Tyler Florence. He was visiting Muir Woods National Monument, and shared his love for the grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup at the Muir Woods Trading Company. I can attest to the fact that they are delicious and satisfying! I also recommend the honey cornbread. It’s. So. Good.
After a bit of lunch, it’s always a good idea to go for a hike! When deciding on a trail, you may want to talk to a ranger or park employee to get some input, or do a little research online. There are quite a few trails off of the main path, but we have only explored two of them. If you are looking for a GREAT hike, and have some time, I recommend the Canyon View Trail just off the path beside the Visitor Center/Trading Company. There are several maps of Muir Woods, and here’s another. The Canyon View Trail will take several hours if you go at a leisurely pace, but the payoff at the top is worth it!
When you come up above the forest, and stand on the rock, you can see as far as the Bay. It’s really incredible.
What I love about nature, and specifically Muir Woods, is that it levels and elevates man, stripping away all of the nasty ways we get tangled up in our “rightness.” We are simply mankind, gazing upward together, feeling gratitude for a moment. I find it impossible to hold on to defensiveness or judgement while walking among giants. Being filled with awe leaves no room for scraping and clinging to what we think is “ours.” I leave refreshed, with my heart wide open to the world beyond.
And also, I am pretty sure I saw Channing Tatum and (his wife at the time) Jenna Dewan on the main path in Muir Woods a couple of years ago, which is pretty much a celebrity endorsement of this post! 🙂 Happy hiking!