There’s never been a better time to visit Muir Woods


The past two weeks of rain have turned parts of Muir Woods National Monument into a swamp, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go — though you might want to bring waterproof shoes. 

After so many years of drought, there’s a certain rush to experiencing all this water in our creeks and rivers, even with the destructive power we know it can have. Fern Creek, which winds its way through Muir Woods and alongside its main trails, is not just running; it’s absolutely gushing with water. In fact, there is so much water that continuing onto the Fern Creek Trail from the Lost Trail toward Camp Eastwood is not allowed; the conditions are too hazardous, according to the Mount Tamalpais State Park webpage. Fortunately, you can pick up the Fern Creek Trail the other way, into Muir Woods itself.

In the park’s Cathedral Grove, usually a place for near-silent reverence, the soundtrack is now the hypnotic thrum of flowing water. On a visit this past Monday, Jan. 16, a few of the paved trails near the visitors center were covered with thin layers of rushing rainwater, and one had nearly become a creek itself. There were many deep puddles. 

Fence on dirt path in forest at Muir Woods National Monument in typical times.

Adam Hester/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Water fills the forest next to the path at Muir Woods National Monument post storm. 

Water fills the forest next to the path at Muir Woods National Monument post storm. 

Kendra Smith/Special to SFGATE

A Muir Woods trail before and after recent storms. Adam Hester/Getty Images/Tetra; Kendra Smith/Special to SFGATE

Following the Panoramic Trail to the Canopy View Trail and then onto the Lost Trail, nearly the entire hike was accompanied by the hum of rushing water, at a variety of volumes. There were squishy spots, slippery spots and at least one place where you have to step on a pile of fallen branches to keep hiking. A few railings in key places are busted, and there is one small midtrail sinkhole. That said, the park is open, and many hikers of all ages and abilities hit the trail Monday to explore. 

Somehow, the battalions of ladybugs that cluster in the redwoods every winter managed to make it through the storms. They can be observed on fallen branches and the ends of fences and railings as they normally would this time of year. 

Ladybugs cluster on a fallen redwood branch near Fern Creek in Muir Woods National Monument.

Ladybugs cluster on a fallen redwood branch near Fern Creek in Muir Woods National Monument.

Kendra Smith/Special to SFGATE

The best part about this way into Muir Woods, which has been referred to as “the back door,” is that while the park itself requires reservations and costs money, hiking in from the Panoramic Highway needs no advance booking and is completely free — other than the typical human cost of a 4- to 5-mile hike, that is. 

The road was closed just beyond the Mountain Home Inn earlier this week, so while there is plenty of parking, turning around can be awkward. Find spots in a small lot across from the Mountain Home Inn and along the Panoramic Highway. 

You can pick up the trail down into the park from the Panoramic Trail, which runs below and next to the highway. Follow the signs toward Muir Woods, and be sure to veer right onto the Lost Trail, which will then descend, eventually depositing you onto the open portion of the Fern Creek Trail that leads into the park. It will be worth the hike back up.

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