Muir Woods offers visitors change of pace

MILL VALLEY, Calif.—Looking up at hulking Coastal Redwoods towering overhead, it’s pretty easy to get lost in the beautiful foliage. It almost even makes you forget about the outside world.


But that’s a perfect reason to visit Muir Woods National Monument. Located in Marin County, the 550-plus acres of some of the most amazing plant life is a great diversion. With the media delivering bad news seemingly every day, the peaceful serenity of Muir Woods is a much needed change of pace.

Muir Woods National Monument in Northern California provide breathtaking views of ancient trees for visitors (Photo by Joey Held).

 “The experience makes you feel small,” said Michael Goldfarb, a visitor from Fort Lauderdale. “It puts you in your place that you’re just a part of nature.”


So maybe that eye-opening experience will help ease the pain of the ever-prevalent economic situation, or anything else causing worry. And one of the ways to experience Muir Woods is through a guided tour. Some of the best are small private ones, such as Tom’s Scenic Walking Tours.


Led by Tom Martell, an avid world traveler and Sierra Club tour guide, groups of six hike through the Woods in the morning, before some of the more commercial tours begin. Martell explained why his tour is a unique experience.


“A lot of visitors just want to come to the front entrance and snap a picture,” Martell said. “I call it a ‘drive-by photo.’ If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine, but I like to cater to those who really want to see what Muir Woods has to offer, and I present some unique anecdotes and facts about the area.”


One such fact is that Muir Woods is actually a national monument, not a national park. This means that it can be logged and demolished if someone with a lot of power actually wished to do so. Visitors like Goldfarb expressed concern over this.


“As humans, we want to change everything,” Goldfarb explained. “Hopefully we won’t be destroying this place in the future.”


Muir Woods is located just north of San Francisco (Photo by Joey Held).

Of course, Martell said there’s probably nothing to worry about.

“It’s hard to see them destroying something like this,” Martell said. “There’s just so much land and so much beauty to see, it would anger too many people. This is as much a part of San Francisco’s history as anything else.”

He’s right about that. San Francisco is well-known as one of the most liberal cities in the United States, if not the world, and is a big proponent on same sex rights. And since Muir Woods is a major player in San Francisco’s background, it’s only fitting that the first same sex marriage took place within the monument, right underneath a giant Redwood.

“Did I mention it was between two park rangers?” Martell added. “It was a pretty elaborate affair.”

The Woods in fact may not have even been so named if not for the work of a few important men in the early 1900s. William Kent, a former California congressman, donated the land, which was known as the Redwood Canyon. But Kent requested that the monument be named for conservationist John Muir. The man he had to persuade? President Theodore Roosevelt. The National Park Society has letters between Kent and Roosevelt that the public can view. Kent showed some of the photographs to Roosevelt and the latter was easily swayed.

A tour guide shows visitors a slug in the Muir Woods (Photo by Joey Held).

“All Americans who prize the undamaged and especially those who realize the literally unique value of the groves of giant trees,” wrote Roosevelt in a 1908 letter to Kent. “[They] must feel that you have conferred a great and lasting benefit upon the whole country.”

“Those are awfully good photos.” Roosevelt went on to write in a later letter.

Martell pointed out that had someone else been president at the time, Muir Woods may never have come to be.

“Kent liked nature, and Roosevelt absolutely loved the outdoors and hunting,” said Martell. “When you get two guys together that enjoy hunting, things get done. 

Plants in the Muir Woods are unusual and plentiful (Photo by Joey Held).

But while fun facts and plants are interesting and plentiful, there’s more to Muir Woods, specifically in the form of wildlife. From different kinds of birds to banana slugs (the mascot of the nearby University of California at Santa Cruz), these aren’t your everyday animals.

“The only thing I was disappointed about was that we didn’t see one of those big woodpeckers,” laughed Goldfarb. “I saw a sign for the red-headed woodpeckers, so I know they’re here, we just missed them.”

Some of the featured animals are the banana slugs, who are surprisingly tame. They’ll let you pick them up and sit on your hand, leaving a small slimy residue once you take them off.

“Be careful not to make the mistake of leaving them on your hand for too long,” warned Martell. “They do have some pretty sharp teeth.” He showed us some marks from a previous mistake.

Seeing some of the plants and wildlife was especially entertaining for Owen Todd, a Nottingham, England, native who was visiting the United States for the first time.

“Simply stunning,” Todd said. “There’s something about the woods, the freshness of it all that really just makes you feel alive.”

Visitors listen to their tour guide discuss the plants and animals of the Muir Woods National Monument (Photo courtesy of Joey Held).

“It’s a spiritual experience, really a wonderful thing,” added Goldfarb.

The refreshing scent of the massive trees, the chirp of crickets and the song of birds attempting to woo mates help make Muir Woods a unique experience. It’s one that can help you forget about the tough times of our current climate.

And if things get really bad, you can even get food from the woods. Some of the leaves can be put together into a salad. Not only are the leaves edible, they are actually quite delicious—a sweet tang that would make even the stingiest eater’s mouth water. And they’re all for free if you know where to look. But be careful. 


Cutline needed here (Photo by Joey Held).

“Leaves of three, let it be,” said Martell. “You don’t want to be eating those, but the edible stuff tastes great.”

Food, wildlife, foliage, enjoying the relaxing grasp of nature—what could be better? There aren’t too many things left like this in its natural state, so take advantage of it while you can. It’ll be one thing to ease your mind.

If You Go:

  • Muir Woods is located in Mill Valley in Marin County, Calif. For directions and contact information, visit or call 415-388-2596.
  • The entrance fee is $5 for adults (16 and over). Kids under 16 can enter free of charge. An annual pass can also be bought for $20.
  • Park hours vary, but are usually 8 a.m. to sunset.
  • Parking is free in both Muir Woods and Muir Beach.
  • Tom’s Walking Tours can be booked at or by calling 415-264-6235. The cost is $60 per person.
  • Things to bring: a jacket, sunscreen, sunglasses and walking shoes. Food is not encouraged, as there are no picnic areas.


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