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Muir Woods: A Perfect, Pocket-Sized National Park

Laurie Jo Miller Farr
September 20, 2012

Muir Woods in Marin County, California, is certainly not the largest of our national parks, but it is awe-inspiring and convenient to San Francisco. Only 11 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods makes for a day in the great outdoors under the canopy of the majestic redwoods without putting a dent in the gasoline budget or requiring an overnight stay.

John Muir: Father of National Parks

A forward-thinking preservationist known as the father of our national parks, John Muir emigrated from Scotland to Wisconsin with his family in 1849. Later, running a mill of his own design while living in a small cabin by the Yosemite River, he spent time in geological and botanical pursuits, eventually introducing a bill to Congress to preserve Yosemite as a national park. Continuing with these pursuits, he co-founded the Sierra Club in 1892.

Wealthy U.S. Congressman William Kent donated 295 acres of a rare redwood grove to the federal government in 1908, requesting that President Theodore Roosevelt name the new national park, the tenth one in the U.S., after John Muir.

Rare Coastal Redwoods

Sequoia semperviren are the main attraction at Muir Woods, at the foot of Mount Tamalpais. A smaller relative of the giant sequoias found at Redwood National Park, these redwoods grow to two-thirds that size, about 250 feet. Our park ranger explained that old-growth forests are exceptional; this one was probably spared from destruction due to its inaccessibility. Coastal redwoods thrive in a misty fog resulting from proximity to the Pacific Ocean; therefore, they exist only from the Monterey Peninsula to Oregon. Inside the forest, visitors notice much cooler temperatures and filtered shafts of sunlight through the upper canopies.

Historical Highlights

A slice of tree trunk from a fallen redwood has its rings designated with major historical events to assist visitors in interpreting the age of these trees, some of which are up to 1,200 years old. Follow the trail to Cathedral Grove, where the United Nations Conference placed a plaque in memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the month after his death.

A Busy Forest

Free guided tours depart from the front entrance frequently -- the volunteers' times are posted each day. Your guide will explain the eco-system, which involves salmon and trout; flora; 50 species of birds, including spotted owls and woodpeckers; bats; sea otters; chipmunks; and gray squirrels.

Choose a Trail

Muir Woods' main trail is a gentle one on boardwalks and suitable for visitors of all ages, with plenty of benches. At the end of the one-hour ranger's tour, some visitors choose to walk uphill, where longer trails of 1 to 2 miles are marked. Brochures are available ($1) for a self-guided tour with 10 marked stops, or attend a 15-minute informational talk from a park ranger. Junior ranger talks and a secret quest through the woods are available for children ages 6-12. Older children and adults will benefit from an illustrated, educational information sheet.

Plan Your Visit

The park is open every day of the year, including holidays, from 8 a.m. Do get an early start, as by 10:30 a.m., the parking lots are quite full. Reservations are not required for the $7 adult (16+) entry. Dogs and picnics are not permitted. There is a cafe and a gift shop. Call 415-388-2595 for a recorded message of visitor information.