Muir Woods Road Trailhead,
Mount Tamalpais State Park/Muir Woods National Monument,
California State Parks/National Park Service
Marin County
In brief:
6.7 mile loop through Muir Woods and surrounding coastal scrub. Dipsea Trail is a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment.

Distance, category, and difficulty
:
This 6.7 mile loop hike is moderate, but you can create easier and harder hikes from this trailhead. Trailhead elevation is about 110 feet. The featured hike climbs to about 1300 feet, then descends back to the trailhead. Total elevation change is about 1300 feet. Most of the elevation change is moderate, but the ascent and descent on the fire roads are a bit relentless.

Exposure
:
Mix of sun and shade.

Trail traffic
:
Moderate-heavy.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt fire roads and trails.

Hiking time
:
3 1/2 hours.

Season
:
Good anytime, water levels at Redwood Creek can be high in winter.

Getting there
:
From US 101 in Marin, exit CA 1/Stinson Beach, and drive about 1 mile to the junction with Almonte (less if you've exited from the north). Turn left to stay on Shoreline, and drive about 2.5 miles to the junction with Panoramic. Turn right onto Panoramic and drive about 1 mile to the junction with Muir Woods Road. Turn left and drive about 2 miles (0.6 mile past the Muir Woods entrance) to a pullout on the south side of the road, across from Deer Park Fire Road (gate is visible from the road).

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/343

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, and restaurants back off Shoreline in Mill Valley. No camping in Muir Woods; Mt. Tam State Park's Pantoll campground has walk in sites.

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3753'10.62"N
Longitude
12234'6.05"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Trailhead details:
Parking for about 6 cars on the side of the road. No entrance or parking fees. No toilet facilities, drinking water, or maps available. Pay phone at Muir Woods ranger station, about 0.6 mile back up Muir Woods Road. There are no designated handicapped parking spots, and trails are poorly suited to wheelchairs or strollers. Unfortunately there is no direct public transportation to Muir Woods.

Rules:
Some trails are signed closed to bicycles, and others are multi-use. Dogs are not permitted on these trails.

The Official Story:
CSP's Mount Tamalpais page.
NPS's Muir Woods page.
Mount Tamalpais Pantoll Ranger Station 415-388-2070
Muir Woods Visitor Center 415-388-2595 (recorded info)/415-388-2596 (to talk to a person).

Map Options:
Map from NPS (download Muir Woods trail map).
• Download the park map pdf from CSP's website.
A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of Mt. Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands (order this map from Amazon.com) is all the map you need.
Mount Tam Trail Map, published by Tom Harrison Maps (order from Tom Harrison Maps). Comparable to the Olmsted map.
• Barry Spitz's Tamalpais Trails (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and detailed trail descriptions.
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order this book from Amazon.com), has a decent map and descriptions of the Ridge Trail segments through Mount Tamalpais.


View photos from this hike




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Hiking from this "trailhead" (in the loosest sense of the word) is kind of like getting into Disneyland through the employee door. Roadside parking along Muir Woods RoadNo frills, glossy pamphlets, long lines, crammed parking lots, or entrance fees. Of course, as a consequence, there are no maps, toilets, drinking water, or amenities. You can easily use the Muir Woods entrance as a trailhead, but I find the main entry to be overcrowded and depressing (maybe the sight of tourists snapping photos of scrubjays while smoking should be uplifting, but it isn't for me) most of the year. Also, there are some spectacular loop hikes that are much more practically started at this trailhead. One 8 mile favorite of mine combines Miwok Trail (another Bay Area Ridge Trail segment), Coyote Trail, Coastal Trail, a short stretch on CA 1, and Redwood Creek Trail. Another good loop ascends Deer Park Fire Road to Dipsea, heads into Muir Woods where you hike uphill on the Hillside Trail, takes Ben Johnson Trail and Stapelveldt Trail through a haunting and lovely section of woods, then cut back over to Deer Park Fire Road and descend to the trailhead. This hike is over 4 miles.Redwood Creek Trail
      This featured hike can be walked in either direction, and is best taken on a clear, cool, winter day, but it's also sublime in spring, when there are plenty of wildflowers along the trails. If you're visiting during whale migration, bring binoculars for spout spotting.
     Start at the Redwood Creek Trail, on the south side of the road. The narrow hiking and equestrian trail (a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment) travels along a riparian corridor, through thickets of blackberry, willow, buckeye, and alder. Along this 1.17 mile segment you'll cross Redwood Creek a few times via wooden bridges (equestrians go through the creek), where thimbleberries and blackberries are common in summer. In winter months Redwood Creek Trail is usually muddy and quiet, but in summer when it's heavily used by equestrians the trail can be dusty. Sharing this path with horses can be a bit alarming. Crossing Redwood CreekOnce in summer I was hiking through a meadow and the grass was so tall I couldn't see more than a few feet. Suddenly the ground starting shaking and I heard a series of unidentifiable loud thuds. And then, a few feet away and closing, came an equestrian at full gallop heading towards me down the trail. I jumped into the grass on the side of the trail with some resentment, lucky to have escaped a trampling. As you walk at a mostly level pace on Redwood Trail, look for one massive redwood standing by itself on the right side of the trail. The trail bisects a stand of California bays clustered around some boulders, then curves left and reaches a slightly sunnier area, where coast live oak thrive. At 0.18 mile Miwok Trail (and with it the Bay Area Ridge Trail) breaks off and heads east at a signed junction. Remain straight on Redwood Creek Trail.
     Look for hawks in the trees along the edges of a grassy meadow. At 0.44 mile, there's a faint trail on the right, marked by a trail post (once Kent Canyon was marked on one side, but no longer). Heather Cut-off This path crosses the stream and Muir Woods Road and then explores Kent Canyon. It's a dead-end trail of about 0.5 mile, with a marvelous view of Kent Falls. Continue straight on Redwood Creek Trail.
     
 An old cement structure sits crumbling off the right side of the trail. You'll cross another bridge and at 0.56 mile, reach a spur trail leading to the road; stay to the left. The path remains within shouting distance of Muir Wood Roads, and fennel, blackberry, poison oak, and bush lupine fail to screen the views or noise. At 0.98 mile you'll reach a signed junction with a connector to Heather Cut-off. Continue straight following the sign that reads "Heather Trail to Pacific Coastal Trail." 
     Almost immediately the trail swings right to cross Redwood Creek. When I hiked here in February 2002 a fallen California bay blocked the trail, forcing an ad hoc reroute, adding more confusing to an already perplexing creek crossing. Looking back down to Heather CutoffThe trail crosses the creek with the slight benefit of two logs. If the water level is low, you can cross without getting your feet wet. In winter and early spring, if the creek is full, you'll probably get a bit wet. The trickiest part is picking up the trail on the other side. You might look around for a few seconds before you spot a trail marker that points towards Muir Woods Road. The path ends at Muir Woods Road at 1.17 miles. A white gate and trail signs are visible across the street. Carefully cross the road.
        Heather Cutoff starts here, at the edge of a grassy field. The most worn route, heading straight from the gate, goes to a horse camp. Heather Cutoff is the faint trail through the field to the left (new signs help with navigation through here). As you draw near the far side of the flat meadow, look for a trail sign on the right, at the edge of the hillside, and angle toward that (it's much easier to spot the trail coming from the other direction, because from above the path is evident). If you get to the corral you've gone too far. A sign indicates that this trail is closed to cyclists (although every time I've been on the trail tire marks were evident). Coastal Fire RoadHeather Cutoff is narrow and can be choked with tall grass, and poison oak is common, so long pants are a good idea. As it winds uphill, climbing over 400 feet in just over a mile, the trail affords views to the south of Dias Ridge, and further up, back downhill to Frank's Valley. Sagebrush, coyote brush, bush lupine, and sticky monkeyflower line the sides of the path, which steps over the same branch of a creek several times as it crisscrosses uphill. Damp areas host lush ferns and pink-flowering currant shrubs. Switchbacks, reinforced with railroad ties, fill the air with the smell of pitch when it's hot. In the upper reaches the trail passes clusters of ceanothus, creambush, lizardtail, California bay, Douglas fir, and French broom. Heather Cut-off straightens and passes by a large rock formation partially covered with moss, then ends at a signed junction with Coastal Fire Road at 2.40 miles. Coastal Trail(If you're visiting in January or February, you can make an out-and-back side trip through the heather farm, where entire hillsides take on a purple hue. Head south on Coastal Trail from this junction. After about 0.1 mile, a path heads right to a roadside pullout. Continue south on the trail running parallel to the road. You'll see some heather almost immediately, right off the west side of the trail.) Turn right onto Coastal Fire Road. (Note: this next segment was realigned in 2006 and is now named Coast View Trail -- I'll revise the description after my next visit)
        Coastal Fire Road begins a long, moderately steep climb through coyote brush and blackberry, with vistas west to the ocean, south to the headlands, east to Mount Diablo, and north to the three peaks of Mount Tam.With virtually no shade, the wide, multi-use fire road can be sweltering on a hot summer day, inscrutable when foggy, tempestuous and chilly when windy, and very muddy and rutted after a rainstorm. As part of a restoration campaign, State Parks staff have cut down non-native pines that grew along the trail near the former Camp Shansky, site of a Christmas tree farm, and you might notice a few charred stumps along the trail. Deer Park Fire RoadIt's common to see deer here, but keep a look out for coyotes and bobcats as well. I saw a bobcat on this trail in 1999, walking across the path (the biggest one I've ever seen -- click here to see the photos). A spring-fed damp spot on the left side of the trail is lush with ferns. As Coastal Fire Road draws closer to the forested slopes of Mount Tam, the grassy patches on either side of the fire road are great stops for a scenic lunch break. At 4.33 miles, you'll reach a signed junction. Turn right onto Deer Park Fire Road.
      This stretch of trail is another Bay Area Ridge Trail segment. As the fire road descends at a moderate grade into Muir Woods National Monument it enters a lush forested area filled with Douglas fir, tanoak, and redwood, with fern and huckleberry bushes in the understory.Deer Park Fire Road  Hound's tongue is common in winter. Look for a huge old Douglas fir on the right, with branches the size of other trees' mature trunks. Dipsea Trail crosses Deer Park Fire Road at 4.66 miles, the first of many crossings the two trails have in their tangled journeys down the hill. (Dipsea is an optional trail -- just return to Deer Park Fire Road before Dipsea Trail turns north into Muir Woods, at 6.05 miles, a junction unfortunately no longer marked with a Bay Area Ridge Trail symbol. I prefer Deer Park to Dipsea because narrow Dipsea, a favorite with joggers, is more heavily traveled, especially when runners are training for the Dipsea Race in spring.) A few steps later, at 4.76 miles, Ben Johnson Trail heads down into the heart of Muir Woods at a signed junction. Continue straight on Deer Park Fire Road.
      Deer Park Fire Road snakes around some large redwoods and Douglas firs which perfume the air with a delicious woodland smell, better than a Christmas tree farm.Woods along lower Deer Park Fire Road Some old redwoods have fallen, revealing their shallow root systems, and others have trunks blackened by fire. A California bay makes a graceful arch over the trail. Deer Park Fire Road abruptly leaves the woods to reenter grassland (as well as the State Park). Mostly bordered by coyote brush, the trail passes through some pockets of California bay, coast live oak, and Douglas fir, where you might see milkmaids in winter. The grade is consistently moderate, but the long descent can really take a toll on your knees. In winter red-berried toyon shrubs stand out from the drab tan patches of grass. When it's clear there are lovely views to the south. After passing the last Dipsea junction at 6.05 miles, Deer Park Fire Road continues downhill to end at a gate on Muir Woods Road, across from the roadside pullout.

Total mileage:  6.65 miles
Last hiked:  Monday, February 11, 2002