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5. Muir Woods National Monument

The Muir Woods National Monument protects one of the last remaining redwood forests.
Stand among ancient redwood trees over 1,000 years old, up to 250 feet tall, and 14-feet wide. Photo by Melanie Haynes licensed from Unsplash

Muir Woods, named after famed conservationist John Muir, is the last remaining ancient redwood forest in the Bay Area. Because it’s so close to San Francisco, it’s more accessible than many other national monuments and about as snow-free as the best Joshua Tree hikes — perfect for winter training. The wide, well-marked, beginner-friendly paths are some of the best hiking trails in Norcal for kids.

Hiking Muir Woods takes you through a temperate rainforest filled with gigantic redwood trees (they grow up to 250 feet tall and 14-feet wide). As a child, I was awed by their size compared to my small body. In addition to the towering trees, I’m reminded of another epoch: the area features ferns, moss, and creeks brimming with fish and amphibians. I love hiking in this area because it feels like I’m walking in the age of the dinosaurs.

Dipsea Trail

The Dipsea Trail is a 7.5-mile trail that runs from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach, climbing 2,200 feet up the side of Mt. Tamalpais. Along the way, it crosses through Muir Woods, Mt. Tam State Park, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The trail starts with an infamous 700 stair step climb, which is what originally attracted me.

Home to a handful of famous trail running races every year, the Dipsea Trail is an important part of the sport’s history. The Dipsea Race is the oldest cross country race in the U.S. and one of the oldest foot races in the country.

The first time I hiked this trail was during a Double Dipsea (an out-and-back), and I noticed a trail-side memorial for an ultrarunner centered around his favorite salad dressing bottle. You can expect to see other memorials honoring runners like this along the trail.

Muir Woods to Stinson Beach

If you like the idea of doing the Dipsea Trail but you’re looking for something shorter, hike the 5.4 mile section from Muir Woods to Stinson Beach. Following this route avoids the 700 stair step climb, making for a more manageable out-and-back option.

The Canopy Trail is another low-key option that avoids many of the crowds along the main trail. From the Muir Woods visitor center, it climbs a minor ridge to meet the other trails. From here, connecting the Lost Creek Trail and Lower Fern Creek Trail creates for an enjoyable 5-mile loop hike.

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