Heading to the City by the Bay (SF) and thinking about making the short trip from San Francisco to Muir Woods? You’re in luck! This Muir Woods travel guide has everything you need to know for a successful visit to the giant redwoods!
And when I say everything – trust me. EVERYTHING – you wood not believe it (get it, wood…). Okay, no one said my jokes are funny. :p Now let’s get to it.
Visiting San Francisco for 3 days or longer? You’ve gotta add on a day trip from San Francisco to Muir Woods. Being only a few minutes north of San Francisco in Marin County, Muir Woods is by far one of the best day trips from SF. We always encourage visitors to experience the towering coastal redwoods for themselves!
Imagine walking along thousand year old trees in a dense redwood forest. Close your eyes and smell the fragrant red bark. Feel the refreshing, cool misty air on your skin. Yup, we’re talking about Muir Woods here!
The redwoods are majestic, awe-inspiring, and downright humbling. They’re actually the tallest living organisms on the planet AND they existed when dinosaurs roamed the Earth (kinda insane, right?).
- And although it isn’t actually one of the nine National Parks in California, it is a National Monument! Which is just as impressive.
Within the 558 acres of Muir Woods, one of the last remaining ancient redwood forests in the Bay Area exists. The National Monument actually preserves these trees, with some of them being nearly 1,000 years old (!!!) and over 250 feet tall (!!!).
Fun history fact → Muir Woods was named after conservationist John Muir, and it was the first national monument to be in such close proximity to a major city!
No one can say it better than John Steinbeck himself — “The Redwoods once seen leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always”.
Let’s get this San Francisco to Muir Woods day trip started! First, a bunch of logistics:
Where is Muir Woods
Muir Woods is located across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, near a tiny town called Mill Valley. And it’s super close to the city (with the distance from San Francisco to Muir Woods being only about 16 miles/30 minutes north), making it the perfect day trip for any nature lovers visiting the hilly city.
For some reason, visitors assume Muir Woods is in the city of San Francisco itself. And honestly? I can kinda understand why! So many people tack on a morning in Muir Woods to their trip to San Francisco.
When to Visit Muir Woods
TIME OF YEAR
The redwood forest is cool and somewhat damp most of the year. It’s never too hot, and never too cold, with temps ranging from 40-70 degrees F. It’s a tad warmer and dryer from June to August, although this is when it’s most crowded.
Winter is the rainy season (late October – early May), so if you’re coming then – dress appropriately! That means a rain jacket, umbrella – the whole works! However, you never really know what winter will bring – we had bright, sunny weather in early November on our last visit!
If you have max flexibility, I’d choose September or October for a visit to Muir Woods – as that’s when it’s the warmest. Plus – San Francisco will be most pleasant those months as well, meaning you may catch a few glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge without the fog impeding the view!
TIME OF DAY
And as far as timing goes: go as early as you can! No joke though – Muir Woods gets crazy crowded. No matter the day of the week, and yes, even on weekdays.
Since the Muir Woods tour buses typically start getting to the forest around 9am or so, you’ll wanna make sure you get there prior to their arrival. This means waking up early and eating a quick breakfast in the car! You can have a nice lunch afterwards either in Sausalito or back in San Francisco.
I’ve also heard that later in the afternoon isn’t as insanely busy, as the tour buses start leaving around 3pm-ish.
How to Get to Muir Woods
You definitely need to plan ahead coming from San Francisco to Muir Woods — 100%. Like, you’ll be turned around and asked to leave if you don’t. Because you NEED to make a parking or shuttle reservation in advance. Keywords: in advance.
Essentially, you can’t wake up one morning wanting to go to Muir Woods, and actually expect to be walking under the trees in an hour.
In order to get to Muir Woods, you’ve basically got two options if you’re coming from San Francisco or nearby: driving over the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County, or taking the shuttle. You can also opt for an organized Muir Woods tour bus if you’d like as well.
I’m getting into lots more detail about the three options, so listen up!
By Car (Driving)
Expect the drive from San Francisco to Muir Woods to take about 30-45 minutes, dependent on which neighborhood you’re coming from. They’ll typically ALWAYS be traffic, but the earlier you leave, the better!
And once you’re over the bridge, the roads to Muir Woods are quite windy and twisty, so stay alert and be careful. Be a respectful driver: don’t drive too fast, and pull over for others if need be.
- Psst → wanna explore more of Marin County after visiting Muir Woods from San Francisco? Rent a car for a day. You’ll probably wanna check out Sausalito, Muir Beach Overlook, Battery Spencer, and/or Stinson Beach once you’re done walking along the redwoods.
Important Note: If you’re driving a car to Muir Woods, you MUST reserve your parking spot in advance. Like, they’ll turn you around without one. There’s no way around this. Find tons more info about getting reservations below.
There’s really no reason to rent a car when visiting San Francisco (unless you wanna make a whole bunch of day trips – my favorites right here). And thankfully, there’s still a way to get from San Francisco to Muir Woods without your own set of wheels – the shuttle!
The shuttle serves three bus stop locations (all in Marin County), which you’ll need to reserve in advance:
- Sausalito (runs all weekends and holidays plus weekdays in peak summer season, no parking available)
- Marin City (runs all weekends and holidays plus weekdays in peak summer season, no parking available)
- Pohono Park & Ride (runs all weekends and holidays – NO weekdays in summer, but there is free parking!)
You didn’t see SF on that list, now did you? Unfortunately, there’s no shuttle directly from San Francisco. But if you’re visiting SF without a car, you can thankfully take the ferry to Sausalito pretty easily, and then hop on the shuttle from there!
A few things to note about the shuttle:
- Shuttle tickets are round-trip
- You don’t need a parking reservation if you’re taking the shuttle
- The shuttle reservation fee is currently $3.25 per person (2020), age 16 or older
- The last shuttles of the day fill up quickly, so plan ahead!
- As mentioned above, there’s no routes directly from San Francisco to Muir Woods
Why opt for the shuttle? Well, for starters, you won’t have to drive through the windy roads yourself, so that’s huge if you’re not a fan of navigating through twists and turns.
And secondly, the super limited and fully pre-booked Muir Woods parking spaces get booked up pretty fast, so if you can’t snag one of those, say hello to the shuttle! Just make sure to get on the right shuttle getting back (it’s easy to get them mixed up and end up in Sausalito if you parked at Pohono, just FYI). 🙂
* COVID-19 Alert: The Muir Woods shuttle has been suspended.
By San Francisco Redwoods Tour Bus
Looking for the easiest possible way to get to Muir Woods from San Francisco? Join a Muir Woods tour! Organized group tours are best if:
- Renting a car isn’t your cup of tea
- You’re not about complicated public transportation (a ferry ride to Sausalito, then hop on a pre-reserved shuttle to Muir Woods)
- Time is extremely limited and you need the quickest way get from San Francisco to Muir Woods
- Driving on twisty, windy roads sounds super scary
Tour buses take you directly from San Francisco to Muir Woods over the Golden Gate Bridge, without the hassle of reserving a parking spot in advance. And some of these tours even take you to other spots after Muir Woods (think Sausalito and Napa Valley)! Yay! Might as well make the best use of your time!
Psst → if you really wanna visit Muir Woods on a particular day and there’s no parking reservations left, check out a group San Francisco Redwoods tour! The park does not require Muir Woods tour guests to have parking reservations, since you’re not the one driving!
Recommended San Francisco to Muir Woods tours:
- Muir Woods National Monument Tour with Entrance Fee Included: Escape San Francisco to enjoy California’s pristine nature on this half-day San Francisco Redwoods tour to Muir Woods National Forest. This tour features extended time inside the park, giving you plenty of time to marvel at the beautiful ancient redwood trees. Bonus – it even includes some time in Sausalito AND picks you up from your hotel in San Francisco.
- Muir Woods, Sausalito and Alcatraz Combo Tour: Cross three things off your San Francisco bucket list in one day! Spend the day admiring giant redwoods, the gorgeous Sausalito and the chilling Alcatraz Island. Alcatraz entrance and ferry ticket included!
- Redwoods and Wine Country – Napa and Sonoma Full-Day Combo Tour: Spend the morning among the coastal redwood trees then visit California’s wine country (with fees included for three wine tastings, and learn about the winemaking process). The Muir Woods tour even stops at the Golden Gate Bridge for photos.
Local Tip: Don’t rely on a rideshare from San Francisco to Muir Woods for transportation. Since cell service is extremely limited and pretty non-existent, you’ll have a pretty hard time getting back to SF. You could take a rideshare from San Francisco to one of the shuttle stops though, which would be a good option if you don’t wanna rent a car.
Muir Woods Parking Reservations
Okay, now some of the logistical boring-yet-necessary stuff.
As stated earlier, if you’re driving your own vehicle from San Francisco to Muir Woods (or from anywhere, really), you need to make parking reservations in advance (if not – well, you’ll be turned away).
EVERYONE needs to make a parking reservation, even if you have an Annual Parks Pass, like America the Beautiful (but not if you’re coming by San Francisco Redwoods tour bus).
A few years ago, Muir Woods National Monument started requiring visitors to make parking (and shuttle) reservations (kinda like at Haleakalā National Park in Maui, Hawaii). Why, you ask? Well, the park has gotten oh so popular!
I remember visiting pre-reservation days (in 2015, I think), and my friend and I had to park over a mile away from the entrance to the park. IT WAS INSANE to say the least. We basically took a hike before our hike. Along narrow roads with cars. So yeah, it wasn’t very safe. And the new reservation system better manages that and reduces overcrowding.
Plus, who wants to be walking along the redwoods only to bump into people every 2 steps? That doesn’t sound like a relaxing stroll in the woods.
So while it may seem annoying and unnecessary to be forced to reserve not only a specific date but time slot as well (in 30 minute windows), trust me. The other way (without reservations) just doesn’t work for a place this popular.
Once you enter the park, simply show the staff your reservation, and they’ll direct you to the EXACT spot for you to park. Our experience was super easy, and it was SO much better than looking for and then fighting for a spot! Everyone wants to go to Muir Woods, and everyone always wants the best spot (for whatever reason).
A few important notes:
- If you’re coming on foot, by bicycle, or on a Muir Woods tour bus, you DO NOT need to make a reservation.
- Reservations are required seven days a week, year-round.
- A parking reservation for vehicles up to 17 feet is currently $8.50 per vehicle (2020)
- Reservations are available 90 days in advance on a rolling basis.
- Parking reservations are not sold on site at Muir Woods, and must be made in advance.
HOT TIP → There is NO cell phone service or WiFi at or around Muir Woods National Monument. Download (and screenshot) your parking reservation (or shuttle ticket) in advance. You’ll be glad you did.
What to Wear to Muir Woods
Honestly, the weather from San Francisco to Muir Woods probably isn’t all that different. Just like there’s crazy microclimates in San Francisco (and the Bay Area in general), Muir Woods is no exception.
Muir Woods’ location plays a HUGE role in the weather. Being located in a narrow valley over 1,000 feet above the Bay, AND just across a ridge from the Pacific Ocean, means possible FOG (typically in early morning and late afternoon).
With that being said, you’ll wanna layer up, yes, even in the summer. It’s always chillier in the woods, and there isn’t much direct sunlight on the valley floor (meaning you’ll be in the shade most of the time).
So, even if it’s sunny in San Francisco/Sausalito, be sure to bring at least a windbreaker to Muir Woods. You’ll be glad you did.
And of course you’ll want comfy shoes for hiking the trails. On my past few visits, I wore yoga pants or stretchy jeans, sneakers, a tee shirt, and a light jacket and/or fleece.
How Long to Stay
You’ll only need a day to visit Muir Woods, and possibly not even that much! A few hours will suffice, especially if you visit early in the day before it gets crazy crowded. You could honestly see so much of the park in just 2-3 hours.
We took visitors to Muir Woods a few months ago, and since our reservation was right after opening, we were done exploring by lunch time! We then showed them other things on our recommended 3-day San Francisco itinerary.
Where to Stay When Visiting Muir Woods
Most visitors opt to take a day trip from San Francisco to Muir Woods, and I fully support that decision to cross the Golden Gate Bridge for a morning or afternoon. BUT if you think you’ll wanna explore the area a bit more, why not consider spending a night or two up here? There’s actually lots to see, it’s a pity most people make a beeline for the woods and then leave — typically right away.
With that being said, if you wanna stay north of the Golden Gate Bridge (in Marin County, NOT San Francisco), I recommend spending a night or two in Sausalito or Mill Valley.
My top hotel picks in and around Sausalito include:
- Cavallo Point Lodge (views of the Golden Gate Bridge!)
- Casa Madrona Hotel & Spa (stay in a 1885 mansion!)
- Mill Valley Inn (super close to Muir Woods)
If you’re looking for a more local feel, check out the following AirBnB rentals:
- Dreamy and Modern Airstream Retreat (a boutique hotel feel near Muir Woods)
- The Hideaway Mill Valley (large deck with stunning view)
- The Heart Of Sausalito (soak in the Sausalito sailboats and sunlight from every room)
There’s no camping allowed in Muir Woods National Monument, so that’s not an option. If you’ve got your heart set on waking up under the redwoods, check out Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park in Big Sur, and/or Butano State Park in Pescadero instead. I’ve got my eyes on this AirBnB in Felton a few miles south of San Jose (roughly an hour and a half or so south of San Francisco).
Ticket Cost: $15 park entrance fee (for ages 16 and up) – in addition to any parking reservation fees or shuttle bus tickets.
And if you hold an annual Parks Pass, entry is included! Wooooo!
Additional Tips when visiting Muir Woods (and hiking in general)
- Arrive early and leave on the earlier side to get from San Francisco to Muir Woods! It gets busy, even with the parking reservation system. Plan to visit the gift shop once you’re done exploring the park (and not before).
- Be sure to LEAVE NO TRACE and do your part to protect the outdoors. Whatever comes with you into the park, comes out. This means no crumbs, wrappers, etc. Anything. And with that being said, no picnics or camping are allowed in the National Monument.
- Always stay on the trail and always look out for poison oak. Going off trail harms plants and causes erosion.
- Leave the wildlife alone – don’t feed them, don’t chase them, don’t touch them, etc. Keep wildlife wild. Although you probably won’t see too much (well, besides tons of plants and trees), Muir Woods is actually home to more than 380 different plant and animal species.
- There’s NO cell service in the park, so make exact plans with friends to meet up beforehand. Make sure to decide on a meeting spot! And if anyone in your party gets lost, have an emergency meet-up spot as well!
- Bring more water than you think you’ll need, even if it’s foggy or overcast. Avoid dehydration and drink often. Pace yourself, rest in the shade, and eat salty snacks.
Hiking in Muir Woods
This may come as a surprise, but there really aren’t any super long hikes in Muir Woods. So yup, you can fulfill all your redwood fantasies with minimal effort!
Despite the National Monument being over 500 acres, the longest hike within the actual park is roughly 4 miles. In total, there are only 6 miles of trails; crazy, right?! The different hiking loops take approximately ½ hour (.5 miles), 1 hour (1 mile), and 1 ½ -2 hours (2 miles), all connected and all along Redwood Creek.
You’ll find these easy, well-marked trails right from the entrance after you pay – it doesn’t get simpler than that! Most of the trails are pretty flat, and even boardwalked!
You basically follow the same path from the Visitor Center, but can turn around at whichever bridge you’d like (look at the map above). This path is called The Main Trail, but it’s also referred to as the Redwood Creek Trail sometimes. The shortest loop will have you turning around at Bridge 2 (being a quick ½ mile loop), while the longest has you turning around at Bridge 4 (taking roughly 1 – 1 ½ hours to do the complete 2 mile loop).
No matter which bridge you turn back at, you’ll pass by the Founders Grove! This is where you’ll find the largest tree on the entire trail – the Pinchot Tree (dedicated to honor the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot)! And it’s ridiculously massive and then some. Don’t miss it!
The ½ hour and 1 hour loop are totally paved and super accessible for everyone – strollers and wheelchairs included! The longer 2 mile loop climbs up a bit on some dirt paths – this is the one we hiked (and it was honestly very easy with very minimal elevation gain).
Next time I want to hike up the Canopy View Trail → it’s known to be way less crowded, and check out The Lost Trail and Fern Creek Trail (appropriately named and lined with lush, green ferns).
However, if you are coming from San Francisco to Muir Woods looking for some longer hikes – don’tchu worry! There are some longer hikes which extend into Mount Tamalpais State Park if you’re looking for something a bit more advanced.
Other Things do in Marin (near Muir Woods)
As mentioned earlier, you can easily satisfy your craving for redwoods in just a few hours. And that leaves the rest of the day for further exploring! If you’ve got your own car, check out a few of my other favorites in the area:
- Stinson Beach: Sunny day? Dip your toes in the sand and watch the puppies play at Stinson! We love to bring our dog Kona here!
- Muir Beach Overlook: A super short trail brings you directly over the Pacific Ocean! I don’t recommend visiting when it’s foggy though – you won’t see much of a view! Bring a sweater – it’s almost always windy over here.
- Sausalito: Ohhhh one of my favorite day trips from San Francisco! We love to stroll around the waterfront with a cone from Lapperts in hand, and just take in all the warm Mediterrannean vibes. Read my full guide to Sausalito here!
- Mt. Tamalpais: Head over here for much more hiking, with drastically different views!
- Battery Spencer: If you’re looking for those postcard-worthy views of the Golden Gate Bridge, this is where you’ll find them.
- Point Bonita Lighthouse: Visiting on a Sunday or Monday? You’re in luck, as tours to the Point Bonita Lighthouse are only offered these days! One of my favorite hidden gems in the Bay Area!
So there ya have it – my complete San Francisco to Muir Woods day trip guide! Are you planning a visit soon?!