California is famous for its giant redwoods but redwood forests have almost disappeared from Californian shores. To see giant trees I made a day trip to Muir Woods Redwood Forest that is the only remaining redwood forest in San Francisco bay area.
The trip was a half day self drive tour and I was traveling with my husband. Muir Woods is located only 12 miles north of the Golden Gate.
On the same trip we visited the small town of Sausalito and walked in the Marin Headlands that offers splendid views of Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco.
Day Trip to Muir Woods Redwood Forest Trip: Route Map
After crossing the Golden Gate Bridge we turned to Hawk Hill and made a loop in the beautiful national park of Marin Headlands. After the loop we returned to the main road and took a shorter side road to Sausalito instead of the freeway.
From Sausalito our trip went on to Muir Woods Redwood Forest from where we returned along the Muir Beach road.
San Francisco to Muir Woods
Golden Gate Bridge
To drive north from San Francisco you cross the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge, the symbol of San Francisco and the United States.
Golden Gate Bridge has six lanes for cars, a bike lane and a lane for walkers. Cars pay toll but only southbound, on the way back to the city. You have to pay the toll in advance on the web or by phone. But no troubles on the way north. You don’t have to worry about how to pay.
After crossing the bridge we stopped for a while for the great views back to the city. We turned towards Hawk Hill and Marin Headlands in the first crossing right after the bridge and walked a bit in this kind of scenery. It was really nice bridge views with San Francisco in the background.
Mists coming from the ocean are a common view on Californian coast so a misty view is very typical of the area. We made a loop in the Marin Headlands and once more returned to the bridge and to Vista Point almost below it.
Vista Point is a popular place to stop at. Also today there were crowds of people so we left Vista Point and took the small side road from Vista Point to Sausalito.
Sausalito is a pretty town right across the bay from San Francisco. It is a popular destination for excursions from San Francisco and most visitors cross the bay by ferry.
Sausalito consists of old buildings from the rumrunners and sailors time and even the visitor office in the harbor is located in an old-style hut.
If your want to have more sightseeing on your way to Muir Woods the next stop could be the other pretty town on the north shore of the bay, Tiburon.
We instead took Highway 101 north and turned to Tamalpais Valley Junction where we took the winding US 1 Shoreline Highway to Muir Woods National Monument.
There are good Muir Woods signs in every road crossing and you can also check on my map the exact driving route to Muir Woods.
Muir Woods Redwood Forest
So we finally came to Muir Woods! Since the woods are a popular destination there are parking problems and they advice you should visit on weekdays in the morning or late afternoon.
We made our Muir Woods trip on late Sunday afternoon and arrived just before the park was closing. At that time there was no problem parking in Muir Woods but the negative side was that it was soon getting dark. But we are tree lovers and we think trees look beautiful at any time, at least these giant redwoods.
Muir Woods National Monument is the last remaining redwood forest San Francisco area. Northern Californian shores used to be covered with redwood but it all disappeared in the 19th century when most forests were cut down for lumber.
The Woods have been named after conservationist John Muir who also turned Yosemite into a national park.
The Muir Woods area is small enough to explore on foot even if you’re not a hiker. There are good walking trails on both sides of Redwood Creek that runs through the forest.
Muir Woods Redwood Forest Trail Map
Map source: National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior
This is the Muir Woods trail map. You start following Redwood Creek from the Visitor Center. You can walk on either side and return along the other and choose which of the four bridges you take to cross the creek. In total there are six miles of walking trails.
The redwoods are too high to fit in any photos. But they almost fit in two photos.
The tallest tree in Muir Woods National Park is over 250 ft. (76 meters) and many other trees are almost the same height. To compare with European trees: the tallest pines in Finland are half as high as the redwoods. Finnish pines can be up to 38 meters high.
In Muir Woods redwood was never hugged so the trees represent different ages. Most of them are 500 to 800 years old and the oldest trees are at least 1000 years of age.
The bark is up to 12 inches (30 cm) thick. Look at that bark!
You can see signs of fire on the bark. The role of the thick bark is to protect the trees against fire.
In ancient times there was a natural fire in redwood forests every 20 to 50 years and the trees needed these fires. The other thing redwoods need for living are the fogs. So redwoods can only grow in coastal fog areas where they get all the moisture they need, even during the dry Californian summer season.
Redwood Creek Trail
The most popular trail, Redwood Creek trail runs in a canyon along a creek. All the main trails are easy to walk and most of them are wheelchair accessible.
And Redwood Creek Trail in the middle of the forest is where you can see the tallest trees.
Yes, redwoods are tall. But they are also wide, with a diameter of up to 22 ft (6.7 meters). No wonder most visitors to San Francisco also want to visit the Muir Woods National Monument to see these giant redwoods.
This is Redwood Creek that runs in the deepest point of the canyon, leading water from Mount Tamalpais to Pacific Ocean.
In addition to redwoods Muir Woods Redwood forest offers nature lovers other things they can enjoy.
We noticed that many plants and the undergrowth were different from what we had seen before, they were adapted to these conditions. There were lots of big ferns and thick mosses on both sides of the trail, and other kind of redwood undergrowth that needs both shade and fog.
You can see big areas where the ground is all covered with sorrel:
On many old tree trunks we could see amazing sized burls. A burl is a kind of rounded outgrowth that looks odd if you haven’t seen them before and in old redwoods burls can get very big.
Some giant redwoods were hollow and looked like they had been torn in two pieces. But I guess they have been that for ages and will still stand here for some hundreds of years more.
After our hike (3 km, 2-miles) in Muir Woods Redwood Forest it was time to return to San Francisco. On the way back we took a longer route to the highway, via Muir Beach.
Muir Beach and Village
Due to the fog it was not a beach weather so we only stopped once on the way back in a small village. There were only a couple of old houses but from the long row of mailboxes we could tell that more households exist in this isolated and forest area.
Back to Golden Gate Bridge
Once again we crossed the Golden Gate bridge into the city and were happy for the decision to make a day trip to Muir Woods Redwood Forest in California.
For detailed information and great photos on Muir Woods Redwood Forest check out the National Park Service Muir Woods website.