Muir Woods National Monument

Jocelyn Murray January 23, 2012 No Comments

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Muir Woods

The majestic coastal redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument are the tallest living things on our planet

There is something about the primeval wood that has enchanted many for ages. Muir Woods National Monument in the San Francisco Bay Area is no exception. Its grove of coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) stand tall with a timeless grace that has captivated visitors with its moss draped branches and variety of lichen that cling like soft fragrant velvet.

This ancient forest of majestic redwoods is often shrouded in mists due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, while light pierces the canopy in long thick rays that seem to set the forest aglow with an emerald fire.

Muir Woods moss

The ferns and fragrant mosses add to this primeval wood's enchantment

I had the opportunity to visit Muir Woods National Monument with my family over the holiday season. I happened to go during a crowded time since many people were off from work and school, and parking was a challenge. The parking lot by the entrance is small and it fills up quickly, leaving many cars to park along the road leading to the entrance. Because of this, it is best to go off-season and early in the day.

Muir Woods visitor center

The visitor center has a small gift shop with souvenirs and maps

The forest is a short comfortable drive from San Francisco and is found 11 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, off of Highway 101, from the Highway 1/ Stinson Beach Exit. Steep and winding roads lead up to the park with signs guiding the way. As of January 1, 2012 the entrance fees are $7 for adults (16 and older) and free for children 15 and under. Food is not permitted in the park other than a light snack on the cafe deck and plaza.

There are 6 miles of trails consisting of a 30 minute loop, a 1 hour loop, and a 1 ½ hour loop. Longer trails that encompass nearby surrounding parks can also be hiked. All of the trails allow hikers to view the regal coastal redwoods. We went on the 1 hour loop trail which was perfect for my two school age children ages 7 and 9. The hike was comfortable and wide enough for a stroller, though a backpack child carrier would be most suitable for transporting tiny tots.

Muir Woods trail

The trails offer breathtaking views of the forest

There were several rest areas with benches to stop and rest along the way. A few fallen hollowed-out logs even afforded children a fun place to explore and take pictures. The paths are well marked and easy to follow with lots of wonderful photo opportunities along the way.

Coastal redwood trees are the tallest living things on the planet, and can reach heights of up to 380 feet, though the tallest tree in Muir Woods stands at over 252 feet. The trees range in ages of 500-800 years old, while the oldest trees are well over 1,000 years old.

Although the redwood is the star attraction at this monument, the ancient forest is also home to the Big-leaf Maple, the Tanoak, and the California Bay Laurel trees. Its lush undergrowth makes the most of the lovely dappled light that filters through the canopy above, thriving in this protected sanctuary. There are cool mosses, sword ferns and a host of pretty little wildflowers that grow in cheerful clumps by decaying fallen logs in this shaded refuge.

Muir Woods -  tree cross section

The cross-section of this 1000-plus year old fallen tree has an interesting timeline of historical dates plotted along its rings

Informative displays along the trails provide interesting trivia about the trees and the forest. A large cross-section of a redwood is marked with a timeline of significant historical dates along its rings and goes back to the tree’s birth in 909 AD. How fascinating to trace Time’s chronological incidents that have shaped our history and see them plotted on a tree – one that lived through it all as a silent witness in this wooded cathedral.

This particular tree was alive during the building of the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings that began in the year 1100, through the Aztec construction of Teotihuacan, Mexico in 1325, the sailing of Columbus to America in 1492, the founding of Jamestown, Virginia by the English colonists in 1607, the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the 1849 California Gold Rush, the establishment of Muir Woods National Monument in 1908, until its falling in 1930.

Muir Woods tall tree

These gentle giants inspire a deep respect and reverence for life

Fallen trees are a critical part of the forest’s life cycle, as they provide nourishment and refuge to the plants and surrounding trees. And this forest is a lovely place to observe the unending cycle of life and how each stage is essential to the prosperity of the flora and fauna. Hiking here serves as a valuable reminder of our humble place in the grand scheme of things, of time’s continuing march, and of the quiet grace and majesty of these gentle giants of nature. It inspires a deep respect and reverence for life and its unending cycle.

For more information on Muir Woods National Monument, visit their official website at http://www.nps.gov/muwo

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Jocelyn Murray is a travel writer and historical fiction novelist. She holds two university master's degrees in both English and Education, along with a bachelor's degree in Economics and European Studies. She also has a teaching credential and taught at the elementary school level.

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