Exploring Muir Woods National Monument with Kids
Muir Woods National Monument is often described more like a pilgrimage than an excursion. This majestic collection of redwood trees ranges in age from 400 to nearly 1,000 years old and each tree stands more than 250 feet tall.
Douglas fir, maples, tanoaks, and red alders sprout up in the sprays of light that squeeze in between the redwoods’ huge trunks, and wildlife like owls, deer, chipmunks, and woodpeckers play and live among their branches and roots. Flat easy trails loop through the park and several of them include ways to cross Redwood Creek, which flows all year long.
All of it is here today because of a wise and forward-thinking investment, a donation made by Congressman William Kent and his wife Elizabeth. They understood that redwoods, which grow in a very narrow strip along the coast of California, are rare and should be preserved for future generations to enjoy. So the Kents protected this gorgeous expanse of over 550 acres (240 of which are old-growth coastal redwood forests) from destruction by purchasing it in 1905, then donating it to the Federal Government. It wasn’t long after when President Roosevelt signed protective legislation creating the Muir Woods National Monument.
Located about 12 miles north of San Francisco, Muir Woods is an easy day trip from the city. Here are some tips to consider for pulling off a successful visit.
Getting to Muir Woods National Monument
Planning to drive?
Muir Woods is just a hop across the Golden Gate Bridge. Once on the other side, take highway 101 north, then take the Mill Valley/Highway 1/Stinson Beach exit and follow the signs. Be sure get there early, the parking lot at Muir Woods is small, and while there is an overflow lot, it too can fill up quickly. The only other option is roadside parking which can involve a pretty long hike to the park entrance.
Take the shuttle
During the summer, it’s not unusual to spot signs reading, “Muir Woods Parking Lots Full,” along highway 101. If that’s the case, you can park at the Manzanita or Pohono Street parking lots and hop on the Muir Woods Shuttle.
Muir Woods Weather and What to Wear
Ocean fog plays a role in providing the moisture needed to keep the gigantic redwoods healthy. Muir Woods’ location just above the San Francisco Bay and over the ridge from the Pacific Ocean means plenty of moisture is delivered to the trees and plant life in the park. It also keeps the area very cool. Daytime temperatures rarely climb above the low 70’s, so be sure to bring a sweatshirt even if you visit during the summer months. A visit in the winter months could require toting a warm jacket or an umbrella.
A Magical Walk
While there are plenty of trails to hike and explore at Muir Woods National Monument, the Main Trail Loop is a great place to start, especially if you are visiting with young children. It also provides a nice experience for families who have only a short time for a visit. An easy one-mile hike, the trek starts out on a wood plank walkway that winds its way through interpretative displays including a thick slab of redwood trunk illustrating how to read the age of the majestic trees.
The wooden trail gives way to a level, paved path that meanders alongside a creek where ferns grow lush on the banks, and there are multiple bridges for crossing over the water and back. Watching my children skip back and forth over the creek bed trying to pinpoint the location of the treetops was a pure and beautiful moment of childhood that isn’t often seen in our modern, high-tech, hustle and bustle world.
We continued on the trail passing by nature’s fantastic green carpet of forest plant life. My son seized an opportunity to crawl through a tree placed on its side and hollowed out for kids to explore. He struck a broad smile as he sat upon its exterior patting the hard wood surface while other visitors approached the enormous trunks of the nearby portion of the forest and looked up into their branches like they were peering into the eyes a long lost friend.
The turnaround point for our walk was at Cathedral Grove, a quiet area of Muir Woods where visitors are asked to remain silent and mute cell phones. I didn’t need a sign to ask me to do that though, there is a reverent air about this part of the park. Some of the largest and oldest coastal redwoods in Muir Woods are located here and they will leave you awestruck. How can the experience of standing under a 1,000 year old tree not get at least a “WOW!” out of every visitor?
As my children and I leaned against the massive trunk of one of the mammoth trees in the Cathedral Grove, we closed our eyes and realized why silence was encouraged here. “It’s so you can hear the forest,” my daughter whispered to me. She was right. Despite there being about 50 people lingering nearby, it was possible to hear the breeze move through the leaves above our heads as well as on the forest floor. We also heard what might have been the soft footed scamper of tiny woodland creatures.
I opened my eyes and spotted my daughter still sitting next to me with her eyes closed and a peaceful smile on her face, breathing in this amazing place.
“What are you doing?” I asked her.
“I’m making a memory so that I can take a tree with me,” she responded. She’d seen it in a movie and decided that this was the place to try it out. Meanwhile her brother was tracing the lines on the trunk of another tree, leaving me to suspect he was deploying his own method of taking the ultimate forest experience home with him. This is what Muir Woods does to those who visit; it not only changes your view of nature, it stays with you.
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- Read all of articles on family vacations to San Francisco
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Kristine lives in Mountain View, California, where she is the mother of a gifted girl athlete and a special needs charmer. Like almost everything in her house,…