There are people in the above photo! Can you find them?
We walked through the trees in a kind of hushed, whispered silence, our heads turned upward toward the canopy of green above us. The path leading through the trees wound in a snakelike fashion through the forest. Every now and then we would stop to touch a tree or notice some little trick of nature – mushrooms growing, little flowers blooming underneath the ground cover, or the mark of a lightening strike. The air was fresh and filled with the deep pungent odor of the earth.
It was late afternoon and the sunlight slanted through the tree tops, shedding light onto the path not unlike the light passing through a stained glass window in a cathedral. Deer wandered amongst the trees. Stopping every few feet the shutter of one our cameras would click. Redwoods are not the easiest things in the world to shoot. They tend to stray out of the picture frame.
We took off down a side path where there were no other people, other than the two of us. It immediately became quiet and peaceful.
At one time there were a guestimated two million acres of redwood forest living along the coast of California. Muir Woods is the only patch of old-growth redwoods in the Bay Area, and actually it is one of the last on the planet. The rest have been cut down and used as lumber for such things as to build the old city of San Francisco, redwood decks and hot tubs.
Why are they called redwoods? My friend had expected to see a forest of red trees. These trees are green. That is because it is the deep bark and the wood of the tree that is a warm reddish color, not the surface bark or the leaves of the tree.
One of the other curiosities about the redwood is that the second and later generations of the trees tend to grow in a circle. These are trees that have sprouted from the roots of parent trees, from dormant buds in the burls at the base of a tree, or from fallen trees. Usually, in the middle of the ring of trees you will see the remnant stump of the mother tree, but every now and then the it is possible to find the mother tree still within the circle. Locally, these circles of redwoods are often called fairy rings.
Muir Woods is a kind of living museum that exists to preserve what is left of the only untouched redwood stands that once covered Northern California. Some of the trees in this grove are well over four hundred years old and reach two hundred and forty feet high. They are a spectacular, yet simple, reminder of how connected and grand the Universe actually is. To walk through them is equal to walking through any grand Gothic cathedral in Europe. Maybe even better.
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Muir Woods is a must see if you are new to the California landscape, and even if you are not! Be forewarned that this particular redwood grove is crowded on weekends all year round. The best days to visit the grove would be during the mid-week.
General Entrance Fee: $5 for Adults; Children 15 or younger are free. Annual Pass is $20.
From San Francisco:
Driving: Take 101 North, over the Golden Gate Bridge, through the tunnel with the rainbows and over the hill. Follow the signs to ‘Muir Woods / Mt. Tamalpias’ and take the ‘Muir Woods / Mt. Tam’ exit. Follow the string of cars (even on a slow day there will be traffic), and make a left at the stop sign onto Highway 1. Follow this narrow, windy (yet well paved) road to the next stop sign. Your choice is to go forward to the right, up, or forward to the left, down. You can go in either direction as the road goes in a large circle. But most go forward to the right, up. At the next stop sign, make a left and go down the hill. Follow this road until you reach the entrance to Muir Woods.
If you are heading to Green Gulch farm for a Sunday morning sitting or a retreat, then at the stop sign on Highway 1, take the forward left, down option, the entrance to the farm will be on your left.
Note: If you happen to be following a MapQuest or google map that takes you into Mill Valley, the right hand turn onto Ethel is one road too early. You want to take the road just after Ethel. So it would be from Miller, left on Montford, then right on Molino then on to Edgewood, left onto Sequoia Valley Road, straight across Panoramic Highway onto Muir Woods Road.
From Points North and the Richmond Bridge:
Driving: Follow 101 South and take the ‘Muir Woods / Mt. Tam. / Highway 1’ exit. Once on Highway 1, follow the directions above.
Other Things to See and Do on a Day Trip to Muir Woods:
After taking a hike through Muir Woods, there are a number of things to see and do while on that side of the Bay.
Pelican Inn: When exiting the parking lot, take a right. Follow the road down to the row of mailboxes on the left. There is also a stop sign there. Take a right and Pelican Inn is the white building on your right. Not so great for coffee or hot chocolate (as we found out) but this replica of an English pub is good for a pint or glass of wine or a pot of tea. Complete with dart board!
Muir Beach: A little further down the road is the entrance to Muir Beach. A nice beach for walking, meditating, picnicking and finding rocks. The weather can vary greatly here. Some days are exquisite with blue skies and pounding surf. Other days can be foggy and downright misty. Part of the beach is also designated as a nude beach – to get to it, when entering the beach, walk as far as you can to the right. The rest of the beach is definitely clothes on!
Green Gulch Farm: Green Gulch is a Zen Buddhist retreat and study center. You can actually walk onto their valley property on a trail coming from Muir Beach. If you happen to be heading out this way on a Sunday and want to experience a ‘sitting’ and a lecture (kind of like going to church without the preaching) then head over early in the morning. Call them for times (415.383.3134). After the sitting there is morning tea and muffins. There are also trails leading up into the hills from the Green Gulch parking lot.
Stinson Beach: Is a little community situated on a sandbar that is a few miles north of Muir Beach on Highway 1. The beach at Stinson is THE San Francisco get out of town beach. The town of Stinson has some nice cafes and restaurants.