National Park Getaway: Muir Woods National Monument

Kids looking over a railing at the woods
More than a million people a year explore the wonders of Muir Woods, home to the tallest and smallest forms of life on the planet.

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Walk among ancient giants in an old-growth forest of redwoods in the San Francisco Bay area. Tucked in one of the nation’s largest urban areas is Muir Woods National Monument.

Redwoods are the tallest trees on Earth. The tallest redwood at Muir Woods is 258 feet tall. That's the height of a six-foot person stacked head to toe 43 times. Redwood roots only go down 1013 feet but extend sideways up to 100 feet. Redwoods interlace their wide root systems with the roots of other redwoods. In this way, the trees hold each other up. When trees fall, they become new homes as nurse logs for moss, ferns, and lichen.
Two people jogging on a trail next to redwoods
The old-growth forest has three distinct layers from bottom to top: herbaceous, understory, and canopy. These layers are similar to the carpet, furniture, and roof of a home.

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Old-growth redwood forests used to cover two million acres of California and Oregon. Approximately 95 percent of the ancient trees are gone, mostly because of logging. In the early 1900s, women's clubs mobilized to save coastal redwoods throughout California. Their efforts set the scene for Congressman William Kent to donate the land of Muir Woods to the federal government in 1908.

When Kent donated the land, President Theodore Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish Muir Woods National Monument. Kent insisted the site be named for famed naturalist and conservationist John Muir, who was influential in the preservation of wilderness and creation of public lands. It was the nation’s first national monument created for a living thing: the redwood trees. Over the past 110 years, millions of people from around the world have experienced the natural woodlands. Muir Woods National Monument protects more than 550 acres of land dominated by coastal redwoods, but this land also home to an incredibly diverse array of plants and wildlife. Peek into the past and compare it to today with a glimpse of the park then and now.
Banana slug on a boardwalk
Watch your step! When not enjoying the trails of Muir Woods, banana slugs help the overall health of the woods by eating dead plant matter, like leaves, logs, and branches, and converting it to nutrient-rich soil.

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The land of giant trees is also home to small creatures. Slugs, butterflies, and even microscopic invertebrates like springtails are in abundance. Named for their yellow banana-like features, banana slugs leave translucent eggs hidden in leaves or logs on the forest floor. The forest is alive with the sounds of wildlife for those who stop to quietly listen. Nocturnal California giant salamanders “bark” during rainy days in the wet season. Coho and steelhead salmon overcome obstacles to spawn in the waters of Redwood Creek.

Look up to see some of the park’s feathered residents living in the canopy. Pileated woodpeckers can be heard drumming trees as Stellar’s jays fly about. Old-growth forests generally have a relative scarcity of birds due to the lack of food in part from tannin on the bark of trees repelling insects and deep shade limiting the growth of flowers and fruits. Despite these unwelcoming conditions, birders can spot more than 50 species throughout the year. Muir Woods is crucial habitat for threatened birds, such as the northern spotted owl. These owls only nest in old-growth conifers like ones found in Muir Woods.
Two kids wearing masks doing an arts and crafts project
Join ranger programs and kids activities to explore the woods more in depth. Or check out ways to volunteer in the park to help protect it for future generations to enjoy.

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Vehicles are not allowed beyond the parking area inside Muir Woods National Monument. Visitors experience the park's six miles of trails on foot. The forest's oldest, tallest trees are located along an accessible, 2-mile loop trail of paved paths and boardwalks. For farther treks, follow dirt trails into neighboring Mount Tamalpais State Park. Staying on established trails helps protect the fragile ecosystem on the forest floor.

Muir Woods is a popular destination, so it is important to plan ahead. Shuttle or parking reservations are required to get there. Check out our app (iOS or Android) if you are visiting the many other National Park Service sites in the San Francisco area.

Last updated: August 18, 2020