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.
Mix of sun and shade.
Dirt fire roads and trails.
3 1/2 hours.
Good anytime, water levels at Redwood Creek can be high in winter.
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:
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:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
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.
Some trails are signed closed to bicycles, and others are multi-use. Dogs
are not permitted on these trails.
The Official Story:
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).
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
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
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.
photos from this hike
Hiking from this "trailhead" (in the loosest sense
of the word) is kind of like getting into Disneyland through the employee
door. No 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 bluejays 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.
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
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. Once 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 written on one side of the
post, but no longer). 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. The 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
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). Heather 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. (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. It'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). Sometime in 2000 or 2001 a controlled burn was conducted
on the right side of the trail, and late winter now brings vibrant
green grass to the hillside. This should make for a few seasons of great
wildflowers in the years to come. 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
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. 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. 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.
Last hiked: Monday,
February 11, 2002
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