Northern California’s Muir Woods National Monument is a destination renowned for its towering redwoods, but it’s also an infamous tourist trap. Traffic backs up for miles on the weekends, and the serpentine drive to the parking lot is enough to induce carsickness. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
There are several lesser-known hiking routes into Muir Woods from the nearby town of Mill Valley. Follow one, and you can enjoy the sky-scraping splendor of sequoia sempervirens the misanthropic way.
Ocean View Trail
A bucolic hillside meadow beckons you into Muir Woods from the ridge above. As the trail switchbacks ever lower, the redwoods amplify in girth, until you find yourself in a shady grove of behemoth arboreals. This 3.5-mile route takes you in the “back door” by circumventing the official entrance – and the entry fee.
Getting there: Just across from the Mountain Home Inn at 810 Panoramic Highway in Mill Valley park in the small lot or along the road. Head left on Panoramic Trail, then veer right at the fork on Ocean View
The Dipsea Steps
The most rigorous hike into Muir Woods starts in Old Mill Park in downtown Mill Valley and heads up 688 stone and wooden stairs called the Dipsea Steps, then crosses Panoramic Highway and continues on the Dipsea Trail.
This single-track trail heads seaward, paralleling Muir Woods road for most of its descent. When it converges with the paved road at mile 1.8, head right through the official entrance gate of Muir Woods. At this point, you’ve earned your trees.
Getting there: Park near the Mill Valley Library in downtown Mill Valley and look for the first flight of stairs on Cascade Drive, just behind Old Mill Park.
Diaz Ridge Loop
While the suckers are bumper-to-bumper along Muir Woods Road, park at the top of pastoral Diaz Ridge and swoop down to Muir Beach on foot – stopping perhaps at the quaint Pelican Inn for an Arnold Palmer – then follow the trail away from the coast to enter Muir Woods from sea level.
Getting there: From Highway One, turn right onto Panoramic Highway and park soon after the hairpin turn. The trailhead is on the left, across from the fruit truck.
This issue of Bootprints contributed by Joslyn Hamilton