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Muir Woods

Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument Links:

September 1st, 2002

6.0 miles
1115 vertical feet
Total Time: 3:29

Rating: 7/10

Directions:   View Driving Map


I usually try to stay away from over-crowded places on holiday weekends. However, we were going to be up in San Francisco anyway, so I thought we would take the opportunity to head up to Muir Woods on this Sunday before Labor Day. As you might expect, we ran into our fair share of crowds.

It took us nearly two hours to drive from San Francisco to Muir Woods, much of the delay coming from a backup into the Golden Gate Bridge parking lot (which was full, which meant cars were backed up onto the bridge). Once we got to Muir Woods, the parking lots were full (of course), so we had to park along the roadside just like everyone else. We then walked 15 minutes back to the park entrance, where we finally got started on our hike at 3:20pm.

It was very crowded as we headed down the paved trail toward Cathedral Grove. Families walked beneath the towering redwoods. Normally I would have taken some pictures here, but it was so crowded and we got such a late start that we wanted to keep going and get away from the crowds. I will say that I like the color of sequoias better than coast redwoods, but that's my personal preference. Maybe I've been spoiled by too many trips to Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

Lady Bugs

We walked past four bridges which cross Redwood Creek, and started off on the Bootjack Trail at the fourth bridge. Here the pavement ends and the crowds begin to dissipate rapidly. The trail also heads uphill, steadily and somewhat steeply. After trudging uphill for about 300-400 feet, we stopped at a bench. Jean noticed lady bugs on the branches above us; I would have walked right by without noticing. I thought they were just berries or something. A closer look revealed thousands upon thousands of ladybugs crammed together on the leaves and branches. I've never seen a larger congregation of living things in my life. The butterflies at the top of Mt. Rose surpass it for sheer wow factor, but there were far more lady bugs here.

More Lady Bugs

While we were stopped here (I had to take the opportunity to take pictures), a few other hikers walked by. We pointed out the lady bugs to them; they too would have walked by if we hadn't pointed them out. Quite an amazing sight, and I have to say I don't think I saw another lady bug the rest of the hike.

Still more Lady bugs

Continuing the climb, the trail grew darker as the late afternoon sun sank below the hill tops. It was quite dark on the Bootjack Trail as we climbed alongside Redwood Creek. Some parts of the trail include wooden steps. Soon after a series of these we topped out at Van Wyck meadow. The meadow is a small flat area about the size of a football field (just the field, not the stands), with a big rock in the middle. Not much to see. There is an amusing sign which ways "Van Wyck Meadow -- population 3 Stellar Jays".

We turned left onto the TCC trail, plunging back into the darkness. This trail is relatively flat, climbing ever so slightly. It crosses Redwood Creek on a foot bridge and follows the contours of the hills. 3.6 miles from the trailhead, we reached a major trail intersection. On the other side of a small bridge is a bench and the intersection with the Stapelveldt Trail. A trail continues straight up to Pantoll, but we would be turning left. But first, lunch. Yes, by this time it was 5pm and I hadn't eaten my sandwich yet!

View of the forest

After a nice break we started our descent down the Stapelveldt Trail, which switchbacks down to the Ben Johnson Trail. Though the Bootjack, TCC, Stapelveldt, and Ben Johnson Trails are mostly unspectacular in comparison to the towering redwoods at the start of the hike, they do have the admirable quality of being much less crowded. The Ben Johnson Trail also has the unique feature of including a couple of rather large bridges made from trees sawed in half, lengthwise. The trail continues directly on top of these trees.

Soon enough we were back to civilization, so to speak. We reached the trail near the fourth bridge. Instead of taking the bridge and returning the way we came, we turned right before the bridge, onto the Hillside Trail. This trail traverses the hillsides above Redwood Creek on the other side of the creek from the paved trail. In my mind, this is some of the best scenery on the hike. I would say you get a bird's eye view of the redwoods, but that's not entirely true. Even though you are perhaps 50 feet above the paved trail below, the redwoods still tower above you. It's an impressive sight. It would have been better in noon-time light. Unfortunately, it was 6pm and there wasn't enough light to justify stopping for a picture. You'll have to take my word for it and go there yourself. I'd also recommend getting there early to avoid the traffic, the parking hassles, and to get better light than I did. You probably can't avoid the crowds completely unless you go mid-week.

Soon we reached the second bridge. We returned to the paved trail and finished out the last three-tenths of a mile back to the main parking lot. Unfortunately that meant we still had another 15 minutes to go to reach our car.


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