Author’s note. I take you back to spring break 2011. I would retire from my position as a prof in the Department of Education at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine two months later. Hannah and I flew into SFO (San Francisco Int’l Airport) to hike the national parks/monuments of the area. Though one now needs reservations to visit Muir Woods, back then we found a parking spot and had the run of the park.
Escaping the city limits of San Francisco by way of the Golden Gate Bridge, Hannah and I take to the four-lane California 101, then exit onto the winding two-lane Pacific Coast Highway with its tight hairpin turns and no shoulders.
Enter the Redwood Grove
Arriving at the Visitor Center at Muir Woods National Monument in Mill Valley, CA, we take the ranger-recommended hike up Redwood Creek along the Bootjack Trail.
Redwood Creek among the redwoods of coastal California
Immediately, we are in the midst of the tallest living things on the face of the earth, 250-foot plus redwood trees. Redwoods! Oh, they are majestic, certainly magnificent, indeed breathtaking, regal is no overstatement. You might be thinking, enough already with the inflated adjectives. Well, my impatient readers, please think again. As my college roommate Big Steve would say, these trees are stunning. Feeling like Jack looking for the top of the Beanstalk, we crane our necks skyward unable to see the tops of the redwood canopy.
The redwoods along the boardwalk at Muir Woods National Monument
Through this forest of clustered redwood families is a blacktop or a wooden boardwalk trail, maybe 12-15 feet wide. Among tourists in sandals and street shoes, we warm up for our hike in this lush rainforest where thick, hairy moss hangs from every branch. We are within a few miles of the Pacific Ocean. Ferns abound on either side of the boardwalk with the snow fed rushing waters of the Redwood Creek, just an arm’s length away. With the wet winters and fog off the ocean throughout the rest of the year, this climate is perfect for redwoods.
After a mile of humanity, we step straight ahead on the aforementioned Bootjack Trail, which is muddy and sloppy from last night’s drenching rain. Hiking boots are a must with the trail rocky and crossed by roots as it ascends into the Pacific coastal mountains. The roaring creek makes it difficult to talk; for the next hour we see no one on the trail to break up the hike or possibly make a brief connection with a kindred spirit. Arriving an hour or so later at the Van Wyck Meadow, we lunch while sitting on a rock in the sunshine.
Our lunch time rock at the Van Wyck Meadow
Turning left we hit the Tamalpais Conservation Club Trail for the home stretch which, rather than climbing the canyon wall, cuts into the canyon hundreds of feet above the thundering creek with little elevation change. Using hands and feet, we do grope through a 12-foot section of the trail washed out by last night’s downpour.
Though the park information lists this loop hike as plus or minus four hours, we do it under three hours with 15 minutes for lunch. Fact is, we primarily hike for exercise. We cruise pretty well and smell fewer roses. It’s just in our DNA, but it’s one heckuva good workout.
Oh, there’s one final joy – cell phones don’t work in Muir Woods. We tried.