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Hiking: Bay Area

Something to Look Up To

February 25, 1996|JOHN McKINNEY

"This is the best tree-lover's monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world," wrote John Muir upon learning a preserve was dedicated in his name. "You have done me great honor and I am proud of it."

Most of the million-plus visitors a year who walk in the woods would agree with the great naturalist. Without a doubt, the national monument is a must-see for visitors from around the state and around the world.

Muir Woods, administered by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, definitely draws an international crowd. While walking the trails, expect to hear half a dozen languages praising the tall trees--though something about these cathedrals of redwoods quiets even the most effusive visitors.

Muir may have provided the inspiration for setting aside these redwoods, but it was a Republican congressman, William Kent, who provided the necessary funds and political juice. In 1905 Kent purchased 300 acres of virgin redwoods, just in time to save them from the loggers' axes. He then persuaded President Theodore Roosevelt to declare the grove a national monument and name it for Muir.

Tips to beat the crowds: Arrive early (before 9 a.m.) or late (after 4 p.m.). Visit on weekdays rather than weekends. As in other popular parks, a mile's walk leaves most other visitors behind.

Directions to trail head: From U.S. 101 north of San Francisco, take California 1/Stinson Beach exit. Head west three miles to Panoramic Highway, turn right and drive another mile to Muir Woods Road. Turn left and proceed 1 1/2 miles to the parking lots and monument visitor center.

The hike: From the parking lots, walk north to the visitors center. Cross the bridge to the west side of Redwood Creek.

Your northbound trail soon brings you to Bohemian Grove, where California's premiere men's club members retreated in the 1890s. The Bohemians considered building a camp here, but opted for the more temperate environs along the Russian River.

Now you embark on the monument's nature trail, keyed to an interpretive pamphlet. Stay with the nature trail to its end, then cross Redwood Creek on a footbridge to the east side of Redwood Creek and Cathedral Grove.

Head north a quarter-mile to reach the William Kent Memorial Tree, which, to most visitors' surprise, is not a redwood but a sky-scraping 273-foot-high Douglas fir--the tallest tree in Muir Woods.

Return to Cathedral Grove and proceed south along Redwood Creek.

For a longer loop, follow Muir Woods Main Trail, which becomes the Blackjack Trail and continue along Redwood Creek through the forest to Van Wyck Meadow. Here you'll join the historic World War I-era TCC (Tamalpais Conservation Club) Trail heading south, then briefly west to the Stapelveldt Trail. Switchback down to Ben Johnson Trail, which leads back to the heart of Muir Woods. Main Trail or Hillside Trail return to the visitor center.


Main, Bootjack, Ben Johnson Trails

WHERE: Muir Woods National Monument.

TERRAIN: Redwoods along Redwood Creek.

HIGHLIGHTS: Majestic redwoods, heart of Muir Grove.

DISTANCE: 2-mile and 6-mile loops.


FOR MORE INFORMATION: Muir Woods National Monument, Mill Valley, CA 94941; tel. (415) 388-2596.

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