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Muir Woods National Monument: Breathtaking Old-Growth Forest Near San Francisco

California is a state full of natural wonders, including many state and national parks. See interesting sites in San Francisco and beyond.

California Site of Interest

California is the third-largest state in the U.S. (after Alaska and Texas) but ranks as the most populous. It also has some of the highest and lowest areas of elevation in all of the United States. Known as "the Golden State," it is blessed with an over-abundance of natural beauty.

Sites that range from the pounding surf of the scenic Pacific coastline to lofty and majestic mountain ranges, stark desert landscapes, and fertile abundant farmlands... this merely scratches the surface when describing California.

Exciting human-made features and structures of historical interest dot the state from north to south. Fortunately, numerous state and national parks, as well as national monuments, have been set aside to preserve some of their stunning natural features for long into the future.

This article will focus on one pristine and exceptional site—the Muir Woods National Monument—a must-see for all visitors to this state.

Muir Woods

This portion of an ancient forest preserved as a national monument is located just to the north of San Francisco, a mere 16 miles away. As one passes the Golden Gate Bridge with the City of Sausalito on the right and the Golden Gate National Recreation area on your left, Muir Woods would be your next stop on the Marin Peninsula.

It is close enough in proximity for people who wish to escape the crowded city life of San Francisco to access quickly, whether it be for a few hours or a full day of relaxation in one of nature's most glorious of cathedrals.

Of course, long before San Francisco was settled, Native Americans known as the Coast Miwok people lived amidst these glorious ancient redwoods. They hunted and fished and gathered berries and other foods from the surrounding areas. Sadly, when the Europeans started settling in the nearby areas, diseases wiped out most of the resident Native Americans who had no immunity to these foreign maladies.

Old-Growth Forest

These amazing old-growth coastal redwoods are some of the tallest living things globally, reaching the ages of 1200 to 1800 years or more! There are some other parks in California, and some in Oregon also containing these magnificent redwood tree specimens.

Everywhere the redwoods are in view, they seemingly reach up towards the heavens, some of them getting up to 379 feet (115.5 meters) in height. Often one catches just glimpses of the sky between these monarchs of the forest.

The shafts of sunlight piercing those evergreen trees and shining down upon the ground covered with mosses, ferns, and mushrooms are beautiful. No human-made cathedral, no matter how lofty or how richly embellished, can match this type of glorious scenery provided by Mother Nature, in my opinion.

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.

— John Muir



The scientific name of these coastal redwoods is Sequoia sempervirens. They have been able to live these long lives by human standards because of their thick bark rich with tannins, which resists damage from insects and fires. The bark on a full-grown tree can get to be up to twelve inches (30 cm) in thickness.

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They survived nicely up until the logging industry was in full swing by the 1850s. Redwood was also resistant to decay, so this tree was in much demand for not only furniture but also outside uses such as railroad trestles.

I cannot even imagine the sound of what one of those towering beauties crashing to the forest floor would have been. It must have been thunderous!

Sadly before preservationists started getting active and saw the need to save these redwoods from destruction, almost 95% had been logged and clear cut.

Fallen trees are allowed to decompose naturally.

Fallen trees are allowed to decompose naturally.

Muir Woods National Monument

Fortunately, in this instance, we can thank the generosity of William and Elizabeth Kent, who had purchased many acres of land, which was a part of Redwood Canyon back in 1905. They decided to donate 298 acres of it to the Federal Government in December of 1907.

On January 9, 1908, it was declared a national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt and became the tenth one in the U.S.

The National Park Service originated in 1916, and the management of Muir Woods was transferred to that department by the following year. A few years later, in 1921, Mr. Kent donated another 150 acres, which expanded the national monument.

Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument

Civilian Conservations Corps (CCC)

Working for the CCC after the Great Depression, miles of paved trails were established with footbridges, picnic facilities, and boardwalks, among other things which enabled visitors to more readily enjoy this preserved sanctuary.

People who would have been jobless had something to do, and many such projects (like this one in Muir Woods) created lasting legacies for the enjoyment of places that they touched by way of their labor for long into the future.

John Muir

Interestingly enough, William Kent had never met the well-known wilderness preservationist John Muir when this national monument was given Muir’s name. John Muir had devoted a significant portion of his life to studying wild areas in nature and documenting facts about the intricacies of how everything in nature is intertwined and how important it is.

He was greatly honored by the accolade given to him when this newly created national monument bore his name. John Muir was a co-founder of the Sierra Club, and because of their influence after Muir’s death, his beloved Yosemite, where Muir had spent so much of his time, along with Sequoia, were both named national parks. He authored many books, and his biography is an interesting one to be sure!

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.

— John Muir

Fitting Tribute for FDR

An interesting side note: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had spent some time with William Kent, who was active in influencing preservation efforts. Kent had gone on to be a member of Congress from California. One month after FDR's death in 1945, a ceremony was held in Muir Woods National Monument in the President's honor.

Nature's Cathedral

Walking through the quietude of Muir Woods is something that cannot adequately be described. It would be best if you experienced it to get the full effect.

Despite others being on the same path, most people feel a reverence for those towering living and breathing redwoods that have graced the earth for so long a time. Now that they are protected, they will continue to do so for long into the future.

Sounds become muted, and this is a place where one can genuinely let the cares of the day melt away while opening one’s mind and spirit into contemplating the more essential things in life and beyond.

My husband and some friends of ours from Dallas spent some time in the Muir Woods National Monument many years ago before heading on up into the wine country.

If you have never seen this national monument and are planning a trip to California, this is one of the great places to visit within that state.

Everybody needs beauty...places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.

— John Muir


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Peggy Woods

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