We revisited Marin County in California to view the redwoods at the Muir
Woods National Monument, which shares its forestry with Mt. Tamalpais State Park. Established in 1908 as a National Monument, Muir Woods has been one of the popular locations for tourists to view the historical redwood trees along a paved road. The initial 2 mile walk around the paved road has been preferred by many casual visitors who wish to view the forestry with family members, but there are many other trails throughout the National Monument that offer more seasoned hikers to delve deeper into the redwood forest.
- Date visited/Time of Day: November 6th, 2016; 8:30AM – 12PM
- Trail name(s): Bootjack/Ben Johnson Trail
- Weather conditions: Cloudy and slight rain in the beginning of the trail; clear skies in the afternoon
- Length: ~4 hours
- Difficulty: moderate/difficult
The Muir Woods National Monument was officially established in 1908 by Theodore Roosevelt via the Antiquities Act of 1906. Beforehand, U.S. Congressman William Kent bought the now roughly 550 acre of forestry in 1905, and proposed that the monument be named after John Muir, whose environmental activism helped push for the rise of national parks and in effect, the preservation of valuable forestry and landscapes for future generations. *For more information on the history of the park, head on over to https://www.nps.gov/muwo/learn/historyculture/stories.htm)
In the past, the scenery and weather during our time at the Mt.Tamalpais State Park has made our hiking experience memorable, and we couldn’t wait to head back out to the area. Luckily, the popular Muir Woods National Monument was just next door, and after a good month of non-exploration, Netflix and video games, it was about time for us to go explore once again.
Although not as many trails as Mt. Tamalpais, Muir Woods National Monument (also mentioned as “Muir Woods,”) houses a good number of routes that connect with adjacent areas like Tamalpais and Stinson Beach. There are two kinds of trails that you may want to consider when going to Muir Woods.
The first of these trials, the scenic routes, involve very minimal effort and paved roads which help you guide your way around the park. The most recommended scenic trail (and perhaps the only within the National Monument) is the Redwood Creek Trail, starting at the entrance to Muir Woods and the location of its Visitor Center. This route takes 2 hours total as it goes around the redwood grove, and circles back down through the Bohemian Grove Trail (Take note of the blue highlighted trail on the map above.)
Be wary of parking when coming up to the marked entrance of Muir Woods: by mid-day, parking will be full and you may have to park alongside the road leading to the parking lot itself. You will also have to bring $8 for the parking fee; there have been stories where the parking fee is not enforced, but do not try to test out that rumor. The best time to head over is at its opening hour at 8:00AM. The second kind of trails you will encounter in the park, which we went through, are the more difficult trails that are designed for hikers and those who wish for a challenging experience with varied terrain and steep slopes. The reward for doing these is not only burning 2000+ calories, but also enjoying the different sights of Muir Woods other then the redwood trees that the park is known for.
As noted by the title of this post, we took the Bootjack/Ben Johnson Loop, which transitions into the Redwood Creek Trail for half a mile before circling back into the difficult trails. Before coming, be sure to:
- – check the weather beforehand to see if there will be rain, thunderstorms, etc
- – plenty of water and small snacks to replenish your energy along the way,
- – a map so you don’t make the wrong turn when you reach intersections (and know how to read maps too.)
- – $8 for the parking fee
- – Jackets (if in cold weather)
Instead of starting at the Muir Woods main entrance, we decided to start at the Pan Toll Campground Parking Lot in the Mt. Tamalpais State Park, mainly because we wanted to avoid the bad parking at the Muir Woods entrance in case we get unlucky. We arrived at the parking lot at 8:30AM while the parking was still pretty empty. If you are going down Panoramic Highway heading from the direction of Highway 101, be sure to look for the sign as pictured above after you go past the Bootjack Campground Parking Lot. You will need to head to the ranger station nearby to purchase the parking pass, which you can use at any other parking lots throughout Mt. Tamalpais all day.
Then, the beginning of the loop starts at the Alpine Trail, which is located at the right of the entrance of Pan Toll as you walk up the slope onto Panoramic Highway. Then, you will walk along a dirt road until you reach the intersection with Bootjack Trail at the end of a downhill slope. Be sure to turn RIGHT and go downhill; if you turn left and go uphill, you will find yourself back onto Panoramic Highway and the Bootjack Campground Parking Lot.
Bootjack Trail will be a continual downhill path towards Redwood Creek Trail, which is big foreshadowing as to how “fun” going back uphill through Ben Johnson Trail will be. Early into Bootjack Trail, you will encounter a large open space known as Van Wyck Meadow, which can be identified by a very large boulder sitting in the middle of the area (You can see it in one of our preview pictures that are featured above.) You will come across two diverging trails: Bootjack and the TCC Trail. Look for signs pointing towards Bootjack, which should be the left option, and continue down that trail.
From hereon, you will find more and more redwood trees the closer you get to Redwood Creek Trail, as well as some stairs. Additionally, you can see the Redwood Creek itself on the right side of the trail and a great expansive view of the meadows at a high vantage point. Be careful as some parts can get a bit narrow.
Redwood Creek Trail will come up once you find a trail map of the Muir Wood scenic hike and a paved road with handrails. From there, you may choose to cross Bridge 4 and immediately begin your trek back up through Ben Johnson or continue down Redwood Creek Trail as far down as you want to, restock at the visitor center or just view the grand trees at your leisure. If you want to circle around instead of going back up the same trail, you can take the Bohemian Grove and/or Hillside Trails, which you can access by crossing Bridge 1 or 2, respectively. By the end of your quick tour of the main Muir Wood area, you will be on the other side of where you first entered Redwood Creek Trail on the Ben Johnson Trail.
You will see the same sort of scenery going upward, however be prepared for a workout, as the uphill slope get pretty steep for a good while. At the middle point of your journey back, Ben Johnson Trail will transition into Stapleveldt Trail once you reach a fork in the road. Keep on right at that fork into Stapleveldt Trail. Near the end of your hike, you will find a T-intersection, with Alpine Trail on your left, and a bridge on the right that leads into TCC Trail. Go up Alpine Trail, and after some windy uphill walking, you will find the end of your journey at one of the Pan Toll Campground spots on the top of the hill.
This hike is a mostly meadow-heavy loop, and definitely challenging for novice-intermediate hikers. However, you will get as close to the redwoods as you can ever be and they are marvelous to look at. The fresh brisk air that you find throughout Mt. Tamalpais still roams the Muir Woods, and well-maintained trails help keep you on track and not go off course. If you prepare ahead and know where you are going and what you plan to do, Muir Woods National Monument will provide a unique and memorable experience for you and others to see how alive nature still is.