Muir Woods National Monument

Walk among towering redwoods hundreds of years old at this National Park, less than an hour’s drive from downtown San Francisco.

Muir Woods is a 550-acre (223-hectare) redwood paradise, full of monumental trees that reach as high as 258 feet (79 meters) above the forest floor. Sit and watch as sunlight dances between the branches of these colossal giants that have survived for centuries. The oldest trees are estimated to be at least 1,200 years old.

The coastal valleys of Northern California used to be blanketed with redwoods, but many were lost to logging. In the early 1900s, the Muir Woods nearly suffered a similar fate. It was considered ideal territory for a dam, which would have flooded the trees. Luckily, Congressman William Kent and his wife bought the land and donated it to the federal government.

In 1908 president Theodore Roosevelt declared this awe-inspiring area a national monument. It was named after naturalist John Muir whose work helped to establish the national park system.

You don’t have to be an experienced hiker to enjoy strolling the paths among these majestic trees. The six miles (10 kilometers) of wooded trails provide hiking trips that vary in length and difficulty. Some trails are paved and for the most part level and easy to navigate. About 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) of the trails are wheelchair accessible. Download a map from the National Parks website or pick one up from the Visitor Center at the entrance to the woods.

Spending time among the towering redwoods creates the peaceful sense of being in a wilderness retreat, even though you’re only a 17-mile (27-kilometer) drive from downtown San Francisco. The woods can be crowded during summer weekends, so the best time to enjoy the serenity is on a weekday, or early or late on weekends.

The park is open every day, and throughout the year this shaded environment is cool and damp, so dress accordingly. Visitors aren’t allowed to picnic in the park because of concerns that litter and human food will harm the wildlife. However, a café near the entrance to the park sells beverages and healthy snacks.