A couple of months ago, my wife and I drove up north of San Francisco to visit the John Muir Woods. The Muir Woods National Monument is basically surrounded by the Mount Tamalpais State Park, and all of the trails in one connect to the other. If you live in the area, I highly recommend a visit to the Mount Tam area - the views are beautiful, the forest is lush, and if you are a Star Wars fan it's basically a required visit as they filmed Endor there!
There are a variety of trails between the two parks, and all of them have very different views. We had previously done the Dipsea Trail from Stinson Beach, which is an excellent choice if you are looking for beautiful views of the ocean. Here's a picture from this trail. If you look closely, you can see San Francisco on the left side:
This time around, we decided to do the Sun Trail Loop, which I would definitely recommend. The primary Muir trails get very, very crowded, and are more like a boardwalk in a forest than an actual trail. The Sun Trail loop gives you a lot of variety in trail type, is not heavily trafficked, and you'll still get some time on the primary Muir Woods trail so you can get the official visit in.
The Sun Trail website linked above (and again, here), has great details on the trail itself. It is just about 5 miles long (or will be once you park), the elevation gain is a cool 930 feet, and the hike will take you 3-4 hours. You'll want to park at the entrance to the Muir Woods National Monument. We got there at 9 AM, and all of the lots were already full. We were lucky to find parking along the side of the road, but plenty of other cars didn't. Be sure to get there early to secure a spot! If you park in one of the overflow lots, you don't need to pay to park.
I recommend starting the loop by heading North on the Dipsea trail, which you pick-up just across the street from the parking lot. Here's the trailhead:
Since you hike on so many different trails, you'll need to keep an eye out for your turns. Here is your trail plan:
- Start out heading north on Dipsea. At once point, this trail will pop you out facing a road, and you'll have no idea where to go. Look to the right, and you'll actually see the trail continue along the side of the road, down the ravine. Take that, and then it will eventually bring you out to a road-crossing with a clear trail on the other side. Shortly after crossing the road, you'll have the option of continuing straight or doubling-back to your left. You should double-back to your left , here.
- Turn Left on the Sun Trail. This trail will end on a very small run of pavement. This is actually the driveway for The Tourist Club. If you plan your hike right, you can stop here for a beer - but only on certain weekends! Anyway, beer or not, take a right along the tool shed to pick up...
- The Redwood Trail. This trail will bring you to the only really confusing intersection of the hike. You'll end up at a T-intersection, probably not sure if you should go left or right. Go left, following south along the road, which will eventually take you to another T-intersection.
- Turn Right on to the Lost Trail. You'll see a trail to Camp Alice fork off on your right, but you should:
- Continue Straight on to Fern Creek Trail. This trail will bring you down the mountain into the valley where you'll then pick up:
- Take a Left on the Main Trail. This is the primary Muir Woods trail. It will likely be very crowded by the time you get here. Take this trail back to the Visitor's Center, which you should have passed when you parked earlier.
For whatever reason, I completely neglected to take any pictures on this hike, which is a huge bummer because there are a lot of very pretty views from the trails along the way. If you decide to take this loop and capture any good shots, please send one my way and I'll post it here!