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Tips for Visiting Muir Woods National Monument

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A very popular day trip from San Francisco for many travelers is an excursion to Muir Woods National Monument. Located in Marin County, California near the town of Mill Valley, Muir Woods protects a forest filled with old growth coast redwoods. Because of its proximity to San Francisco, it is an extremely popular national park site with close to a million visitors a year.

Muir Woods Redwoods

My family lives about a 45 minute drive away from Muir Woods and has visited multiple times. We recently returned for another multigenerational visit when family came into town. Muir Woods delivered again. The majestic towering redwoods are just awe-inspiring and something everyone ought to see.

But planning a Muir Woods visit requires a little bit of knowledge and preparation, including one requirement many non-locals (and a few locals!) might not be aware of.

Here are my very best tips to help you have a smooth visit to Muir Woods National Monument.

Muir Woods Basics

Muir Woods was designated a national monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It is located about 15 miles north of San Francisco in Marin County on Mount Tamalpais.

Like many national monuments, it is operated by the National Park Service. It is also a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area which also includes sites in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin Counties such as Alcatraz, the Presidio, Land’s End, and Stinson Beach. (Read more about national park sites in the Bay Area).

Every Kid in a Park - National Park with 4th Graders - Siblings at Muir Woods

About half of Muir Woods’ 554 acres contains old growth coast redwoods. This endangered species was put into peril due to extensive logging on the Northern California coast in the nineteenth century. These redwood trees can live over 2000 years. The oldest tree in Muir Woods is thought to be about 1200 years old, and most are 600-800 years old.

Driving to Muir Woods from San Francisco

Many visitors to Muir Woods arrive by car, as my family almost always does. I rarely recommend that travelers staying in San Francisco rent a car due to how expensive parking is in the city. It often makes sense to rent a car for a single day, however, to take the trip to Muir Woods. There are car rental agencies located in and around a lot of the major hotel centers like Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square.

Related: Tips for Transportation and Transit in San Francisco

So how far is Muir Woods from San Francisco? In terms of mileage, it’s about 15 miles from Fisherman’s Wharf. The drive takes between 30-45 minutes in low traffic conditions.

But traffic is a regular occurrence in several places along on the route. The Golden Gate Bridge leaving the city can get quite backed up. Once you exit Highway 101 onto California State Route 1, traffic can back up yet again on the busy city streets there. There are a lot of tourist attractions on Route 1, including Mount Tam and Stinson Beach. On summer weekends especially, it may seem like all of San Francisco is taking that same road! Monitor the traffic with smartphone apps and plan for plenty of extra time during peak travel periods.

So how is the drive itself to Muir Woods? If you have anyone in the family who is prone to car sickness, you need to be prepared when driving Route 1. Once you exit Highway 101, the road becomes quite curvy and winding. The curves are definitely enough to bother some passengers (although my nephew who is prone to car sickness weathered the trip just fine this summer!). Luckily, you aren’t on this road for that long of a time. The curvy part is only about 5 miles which takes 15 minutes in regular traffic conditions.

Muir Woods - Creek Path

Muir Woods Parking: Reservations Required!

If you are planning to drive to Muir Woods, there is one essential thing you must do before you plan a trip – book a parking reservation! Back in 2018, the National Park Service implemented a parking reservation system to cope with the crushing crowds that were overwhelming the capacity of this national monument. I remember all too well circling for parking for half an hour, so this reservation system is a welcome development.

But it does mean you need to plan your Muir Woods excursions in advance. To make a parking reservation, visit The cost for a single standard car is $9 per reservation in 2023. This fee is refundable if cancelled at least 72 hours in advance.

Parking for peak holiday weekends can sell out several weeks or more in advance (especially for the morning entry times). Definitely book early! You can book as early as 90 days advance on the site starting at 9:00am Pacific time. The parking vendor holds a small number of additional reservations that are released 3 days in advance as well. Check at this time if your travel dates are sold out the first time you look.

Parking reservations are sold for 30 minute windows. While you have a parking entry time, there is no limit on how long you can stay in Muir Woods once you enter. Be aware that even with a reservation, you may have to park in a remote lot that is about a quarter of a mile down the road. If it looks like you are going to be directed farther down to this lot, you can ask the parking attendants to drop members of your party off closer to the front entrance if you’d prefer.

Muir Woods also has 8 parking spots for visitors with disabilities. If you have an applicable placard, be sure to select the ADA option when making your parking reservation. In my experience, these reservations may sell out a little bit before the rest of the reservations. But are not too tough to get if you qualify. ADA spaces are within a few steps of the Visitors Center. Just tell the first parking lot attendant you see that you have an ADA reservation and they will direct you accordingly.

Muir Woods Accessible Parking

Muir Woods Shuttles & Tours: Alternatives to Driving and Parking

If you aren’t interested in doing the driving to Muir Woods (or missed the chance to book a parking reservation), there are other ways to get there. In 2023, there are two locations in Marin County where a shuttle service will pick you up and drop you at Muir Woods. Those include:

  • Sausalito (corner of Bay & Bridgeway, near the Sausalito Ferry Terminal): Available summer weekdays. No parking available, but a good option for anyone taking the ferry from San Francisco to Sausalito.
  • Larkspur Landing (101 E Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Larkspur, CA 94939): Available weekends and holidays. Free parking available.

Be aware that advance reservations for these shuttles – just like with parking spaces – are required. Book online at The cost is $3.50 for adults 16+ to ride and children are free. Be sure to arrive early so you have time to deal with traffic, parking, or transit delays.

There are also a number of tour companies that will take you on a trip to Muir Woods from San Francisco, offering everything from private tours to big bus options. Check out one private Muir Woods tour option that my friend and fellow travel blogger Karen took or browse the options and combination tours on Get Your Guide.

Entering Muir Woods

Muir Woods Entrance and Visitor Center
Muir Woods Entrance and Visitor Center.

Entrance into Muir Woods costs $15 per person for all adults ages 16 and over. Children under 16 are free. This cost is in addition to the parking or shuttle reservation fees. You’ll pay the entrance fee at the Visitor Center which is right where the sign and pathway leading into the woods starts. In my experience, the line is rarely long so I recommend waiting until arrival to pay instead of pre-booking with your parking reservation (just in case you need to cancel your trip).

Because it is a national monument, entrance to Muir Woods is included for anyone who holds an America the Beautiful annual parks pass. Our family has had one for many of the past several years. At just $80, it’s one of the best deals in travel. Two adult names can be added to the pass so spouses can share a pass, even when not traveling together. And at Muir Woods, the pass is good for entry for up to 4 adults in your traveling party.

Another way for many families to get a discount is through the Every Kid in a Park program. This program offers a free annual pass to all 4th graders from September 1 through August 31 of their 4th grade year and takes just a few minutes to apply for online.

Touring & Hiking Muir Woods

Every Kid in a Park - National Park with 4th Graders - Muir Woods Excitement

So now that we’ve gotten through all of the logistics, you can finally enter and enjoy the majesty of the redwoods. Even though Muir Woods is busy, it’s peaceful. I always feel my blood pressure drop as I stroll through the gorgeous natural redwood forest setting.

One thing I also love about Muir Woods as a family travel destination is just how accessible it is. So many national park sites can be really hard for families with little ones or with grandparents to truly enjoy all together. At Muir Woods, there are a number of paths that are completely flat, mostly along a well-maintained wooden boardwalk that is equivalent to a paved trail. This makes the paths perfect even for strollers or wheelchairs. While my kids are now long past the stroller stage, we visited with my parents the last two times. My mother who currently uses a cane as a result of a recent knee surgery found it quite walkable.

Muir Woods has a lower set of walking paths paralleling Redwood Creek that form a loop. Be sure to pick up a guide and map when you enter that will show you how the trails work. You can choose to close the loop by crossing one of several bridges over the creek to turn back at one of several points. This allows guests to creating a hike that works for the endurance of their traveling party.

Muir Woods Trail Map Sign
Trail map showing the loop path options in Muir Woods.

The shortest loop (crossing Bridge 2) is .5 miles and the middle length loop (crossing Bridge 3) is under 1 mile. The first loop is entirely stroller and wheelchair accessible and the second loop is mostly quite flat even when it becomes a dirt path part of the time.

The longest loop which crosses the creek at Bridge 4 is 2 miles and involves some more variable dirt paths and climbing up to a hillside trail. Both my son (starting at age 5) and my father (in his 70s) were able to complete this loop without any difficulties. We spent about 2 hours in total on our last two trips at Muir Woods, spending only about half that time actively hiking.

If you are more adventurous and have more time, hike up the Canopy View trail or consider one of the longer hikes that offers coastal views.

Muir Woods Weather

One feature of a Muir Woods visit that surprises many a tourist to the area is the weather. The reasons the redwoods thrive in this region is the moist coastal fog. So that means Muir Woods is often really chilly and damp for visitors – sometimes even when other parts of the Bay Area are quite warm!

I highly recommend checking the super-local forecast and packing for variable conditions. Skip the shorts and bring plenty of layers 98% of the time. I’d also recommend a poncho or other rain gear, especially during winter months. When I visit Muir Woods, I usually wear leggings or travel pants, a t-shirt and a warmer zip up fleece or jacket. On our most recent trip in early July we had the warmest weather I’ve ever experienced in Muir Woods, everyone in the family had light hoodies that we still wore the whole time.

The good news is that with the thick tree cover that you will have plenty of shade and likely won’t need to apply sunscreen if you plan to hike just in the main creek valley.

Additional Muir Woods Travel Tips

Muir Woods Map and Guide

Here are a few other essential tips to help plan a successful outing to Muir Woods.

1. Prepare for ZERO cell service.

There is absolutely no cell or data service in the area where Muir Woods is located for many carriers (I have T-Mobile and got nothing, although my parents with AT&T got a tiny bit in a few places). Download any maps you might need in advance and screenshot your parking reservation information before you leave home or your hotel. Have a plan for meeting up in case you are separated from your party. And don’t plan to use Uber for a return ride home – you need to pre-book a ride in some way.

2. Pick up a Junior Ranger book for kids.

Like many national park sites, Muir Woods offers a junior ranger program for kids. Pick up a booklet at the Visitor Center and complete it at strategic points along your hike. There are lots of other learning opportunities within the park as you tour.

Muir Woods Tree Rings
Learning about tree rings with Papa.

3. Expect long food lines.

There is a small counter service restaurant just inside the park (not far from the visitor center and next to the bathrooms), but it can get very busy peak lunch times on weekends. Since most family travelers only spend a few hours at Muir Woods, I’d recommend not planning on a meal there. Bring a few snacks if you think your kids will be hungry (but remember to leave no trace if you do!)

4. Look out for free ranger-led talks.

Muir Woods has quite a few “tree talks” of varying lengths where you can learn about the redwoods. Check the program board when you arrive for times, as those are not published online in advance.

5. Check Park Conditions Early and Often

As she does in many great outdoors destinations, Mother Nature can throw some curveballs into visitor plans. Muir Woods is subject to both flooding and wildfires. Sometimes the park closes or adjusts its hours and offerings. Additionally, man-made closures can happen as well. For example, there is ongoing construction from July 10-November 2023 to protect salmon habitats in some places in the park.

As a result, it always pays to check the official NPS site for current alerts and then check again the day before or morning of your visit in case anything has changed.

Where Else Should You Visit Near Muir Woods?

Muir Woods Tips - Bridge over Redwood Creek

If you only plan to spend a couple of hours at Muir Woods, you may want to do another excursion that same day in the area. Luckily, there are a number of family-friendly attractions nearby.

The closest of these is Mount Tamalpais State Park, where there are other hiking opportunities.

Not far from Muir Woods is the quant seaside town of Sausalito, a popular waterfront stop for tourists across the bay from San Francisco. My family had a late lunch here after a Muir Woods trip a few years ago. Visitors taking the ferry from San Francisco and then the shuttle to Muir Woods can easily make this a stop.

Alternatively, you can also head farther up Route 1 after visiting Muir Woods to either Muir Beach or to the even more bustling Stinson Beach.

Hotels near Muir Woods

Muir Woods Multigenerational Family Selfie

As a local, I never need lodging in the area, but I realize a lot of travelers might, especially if making this a stop on a longer California road trip. If you aren’t staying in San Francisco or simply want a closer hotel choice, here are a few options that are nearby:

  • Holiday Inn Express Mill Valley: A well-located moderate hotel right at the Route 1 exit off of Highway 101 (book this property on
  • Acqua Hotel Mill Valley: A modern hotel on the water near Highway 101.
  • Mill Valley Inn: A boutique hotel in Mill Valley proper (farther from the highway) set among a few redwoods itself!
  • Cavallo Point Lodge: A luxury property within Fort Baker at Cavallo Point with views of the Golden Gate Bridge, this is undoubtedly the most unique hotel offering near Muir Woods.
Visiting Muir Woods National Monument? Tips for visiting this national park site near San Francisco, California, from parking to entry fees to hikes and more.

Where Else to See Redwoods in California?

While Muir Woods might have the most well-known redwoods in the state because it is so close to San Francisco, there are quite a few other redwood destinations in the state – some with even larger trees! Here are a few worth visiting on a longer California road trip:

  • Chandelier Drive-Through Tree in Mendocino County
  • Avenue of the Giants
  • Redwood National & State Parks
  • Around Santa Cruz (Roaring Camp Railroads operates a train that goes into the redwoods)
Tips and a local's recommendations for planning a day trip to Muir Woods National Monument from San Francisco. Essential parking reservation details, what to wear, the best hikes, and how to tour with kids.

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