The natural beauty of the Bay Area is often overshadowed by the impressive man-made structures dotting the skyline. However, a short ten mile drive north of the Golden Gate Bridge places you far from the hustle and bustle of the city. One of the most memorable experiences I have had in the Bay Area was a visit to Muir Woods National Monument. I visited the old growth Redwood forest on a crisp Friday morning in late February 2012.
Muir Woods sits on a plot of land donated to the federal government in 1907 by William Kent, a U.S. Congressman passionate about protecting the Redwoods. President Theodore Roosevelt created the National Monument, the first of its kind, on January 9, 1908. Per Kent’s request, the monument was named after renowned naturalist John Muir. On the property today there is a visitor center, bookstore, gift shop and trails. There is a great cafe committed to sustainability attached to the gift shop. The usual displays, a variety of weekend programs, and other information about Muir Woods are easily obtained at the visitor center. Also, keep in mind that there is a $7 fee for adults 16 and older.
From the visitor center, I struck out on the Main Trail, which follows Redwood Creek through the forest of old growth Redwoods. The most popular trail in the park, the Main Trail, is an out and back, well maintained path, partially on boardwalks, along opposite sides of Redwood Creek. Roughly two miles round trip, there are two opportunities to shorten the hike into 1/2 hour and 1 hour loops instead of the full 1 1/2 hours.
After a third of a mile, I began to enter the Redwood groves. The most impressive of all, the Cathedral Grove, was just a few minutes further down the trail. Wandering through these groves, the immense size and beauty struck me deeply. Between 600 and 800 years old, these Redwoods, towering over 200 feet, are the last remaining old growth forest in the Bay Area. I paused often and marveled at just how small a part we are of a larger whole.
I decided to take the Hillside Trail back to the visitor center. Similar in length, but not as hard packed or wide as the Main Trail, the Hillside Trail runs along the hill on the west side of Redwood Creek. The trail provided a welcome break from other visitors and allowed me to become engrossed in the living giants.
Muir Woods offers no camping options, but the surrounding Mount Tamalpais State Park has several possibilities. The Steep Ravine Cabins and Campground are a particularly good choice. Just off Highway 1 and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it offers visitors nine cabins and seven primitive sites for those willing to rough it. Book early as the cabins get snatched up fast. As often happens, civilization cut my time in nature short, but I will definitely be back to visit again soon!