Muir Woods

The Forest by the City by the Bay

This August, my family and I took a trip to San Francisco. While there, we took a side trip to Muir Woods National Monument. This is a fantastic slice of nature just outside the city, a short 15-20 minute drive, as long as you’re not stuck in the middle of mid-city traffic (San Francisco city traffic is a topic for a whole different post!).


Muir Woods is a national monument, rather smaller than national parks like Yosemite (click here for an article discussing differences between national parks and national monuments. It is not just about the size!).

The dominant feature is of course the giant California redwoods you can see through out the park. Pictured above is just one example with my family in for scale. These trees are huge! Walking through the main entryway into the monument feels almost like you are walking into a giant building with the trees forming a roof high overhead.

There are a series of hiking trails of varying challenge levels. Many of the trails are rather steep with a high incline and long decline because you are climbing up and down a canyon wall. Trails are well-marked and well-maintained for the most part (we found one area where a trail sign had been knocked over so there was no way to know which way it was supposed to point, but I am sure they have fixed it by now).

We took the “Crest View” trail, which was a little challenging for my younger kids, but only because we do not hike often. Pack some water, snacks, allow for rest stops. No problem!

The ”bottom floor” of the monument has a wooden plank walkway that is very well designed and maintained. There are many educational placards to help you and the family learn more about the monument and the flora and fauna found within. It is accessible for folks with mobility challenges. You could spend all your time just strolling along that walkway, enjoying the sights.

Like all the parks and monuments in the National Park system, there is a junior ranger activity program where kids get an activity book to fill out while visiting, and if they complete the activities, they get a special pin afterwards. I found it very useful to have a directed set of learning activities so the kids had a specific goal in mind, not just me saying, “hey look, more trees!” It really was fun for all of us to work on it together.

As mentioned, Muir Woods is very close to San Francisco, so it is easy to head over in the morning and be back in the city in the afternoon for further activities. However, the monument is also very close to the small city of Sausalito, which is a cute place with the vibes of a small resort town, even though you are really just a few minutes away from a very large city. I would recommend a jaunt over there for a “part two” of the day if you do not plan to spend the whole day at Muir Woods.


Costs: Usually the cost of entry is $15 for adults. Kids (15 and under), veterans and gold star families are free. There is of course a gift shop and café for food, prices are what you’d expect for a captive audience.  

Free days: There are specially designated “free days” where entry is free for everyone. The dates are listed on the website. The remaining free days for 2022 are September 24 and November 11 (Veterans Day). The trade off of the free days is obviously the monument will get much more crowded than usual.

Parking reservations are required and must be made in advance (click here).

Parking tip #1: Print reservation email in advance. There is no wifi at the monument and even 5G coverage is spotty, so once you get the reservation, make sure to print it out and bring it with you. This is easier than trying to pull up your email on your phone once you get there. They will have staff checking you in as you arrive.

Parking tip #2: Make your reservations for earlier in the day. Really the earlier the better. We got there at about 8 am, and there were a few other families, but plenty of room roam around and not worry about seeing other people. By the time we were leaving around 1 pm, the place was getting very crowded, especially the “ground floor” section, and there were more shuttle buses showing up as we were leaving.

General San Francisco tip: Plan for cool weather. Despite California’s reputation as a land of sunshine and warmth, the San Francisco area can get pretty chilly in the summer, especially in the morning where there is a lot of fog in the air. Basically, dress as you would for autumn anywhere else. When we got there at 8 am, the temperature was around 60 F (15.5 C). Not freezing, but it was a good thing we had dressed in long pants and had sweaters for the kids. Once we started moving around and it warmed up a bit, we were quite comfortable without the sweaters. Check the weather in advance if you’re visiting at another time of year besides summer.


Because the monument really is right next to the city and its suburbs, you get quite a mix of folks showing up. You get families like us who are visiting from out of town and are geared up as if visiting a national park. But there are also groups of young people looking like they are on a short break from work or school dressed in flip flops or fashionable clothing.

The parking lot is pretty small, and the reservation system is there to prevent massive crowds from showing up all at once. But there were lots of buses and shuttles rolling up as we were leaving, so the place can still get pretty crowded. Again, getting there early is highly recommended.


I highly recommend a trip to Muir Woods if you’re already in the area. It would probably not quite be worth a special trip just for Muir Woods (there is no overnight camping or parking though there are plenty of hotels close by). But if you’re already in the San Francisco area or heading through, it is definitely worth your time. It is a great chance to spend some family time in a natural setting, see some beautiful trees, learn more and support our National Park system, without the investment of time and money that a trip to Yosemite or Sequoia would entail. Of course, I do recommend those as well, but those are parks you’d plan an entire trip for!

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