A mere ten miles and twenty minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the redwoods of Muir Woods await to blow your mind. Looking skyward at these 250’ towers of beauty, I wonder if anyone but the winter wrens and spotted owls have ever seen the tops of these majestic scrapers of the sky. Named for the naturalist John Muir who was celebrated by Ken Burns in the PBS series on the National Parks, Muir Woods lies at the base of the winding Panoramic Highway in Mill Valley; an isolated paradise of redwood wonder.
With the sun settling to the west this late January afternoon, we have an evening deadline to get to the San Francisco International Airport to fly East for Winter’s Revenge. Seizing one last hike, we choose the Ocean View to Lost Trail to Fern Creek Loop. The trail guide calls it a moderate hike with steep sections that takes two plus or minus hours; bring it on, for soon enough we’ll be thigh deep in Maine snow.
With the weekend crowds two days away, we and maybe seventy-five others have the park to ourselves on this Thursday in January. Due to its proximity to San Francisco, Muir Woods attracts one million visitors per year, mostly during the summer and on weekends. This afternoon local school kids with notebooks and a running start are here to explore nature’s treasure that is Muir Woods.
As with most trails at Muir Woods, the one mile long meandering boardwalk of the hall of redwoods begins our hike. Ninety-five percent of all visitors seem to confine themselves to this stretch of majesty with its 1000 year old crimson towers.
The entry to the Ocean View Loop is a well-identified right and takes us immediately above the Redwood Creek riverbed. As we hike the 800 feet of elevation gain past redwoods and Douglas firs, we will soon learn that the Ocean View Trail has in fact no ocean view. The cool, damp redwood forest belies the reality of a drought ravaged California. Three years ago when we last hiked Muir Woods, the Redwood Creek was raging. Today we can’t even see a trickle, a dribble, or a droplet during what is their quote rainy season.
Hugging the canyon-side, we climb a trail just wide enough for one. Redwoods can only survive in the coastal California because the fog belt here provides the necessary moisture for the grand dames of the arboreal world to flourish during the dry season.
In the mid-afternoon we step purposely along the switchbacked trail occasionally passing hiking couples. Breaking my code to converse with one and all on the trail, we pass others by nodding “a see-ya-later” in order to meet our flight departure deadline. The redwood canopy blocks most of the sun which on this January day near 4P is beginning to set. Old timers say that at one time the trees did not obscure the ocean view.
While the Ocean View Trail goes on further into the Tamalpais Mountains, we turn south on the Lost Trail, steeply pitched with railroad tie stair steps to ease the hilly descent. A 1930s landslide covered this trail for 30 years and hence the name Lost Trail. Later we turn back towards the Redwood Creek on the Fern Creek Trail.
Focused on our upcoming departure to the Great White Northeast, we have motored through this two hour hike in 75 minutes. As you can guess we don’t exactly stop to smell the roses or let the tannins from the six inch bark of the redwoods create any olfactory delight. But we do get the exercise and soak in the redwood experience one last time.
Packing away our hiking boots and gear, we fit all our clothes and gear into a carry-on travel bag and a sizable canvas bag each. Though it’s 5P, the traffic south to the Golden Gate Bridge is manageable and we sail across and then down 19th Avenue through the city.
Arriving at the airport we find our 11P flight to Boston is on schedule. We crash in quasi-comfortable airport chairs playing with our iPhones as we await our departure.
Our California dream world hiking vacation is ending as we set our sights for home, our New England paradise on the coast of Maine. It’s just that our East Coast nirvana may not be ready for us until May.