Travel: Day Hike from Muir Woods to Stinson Beach

The first weekend of March, we did the 10-mile hike from Muir Woods to Stinson Beach. It was a Friday and the woods was absolutely empty. You have to reserve a parking spot ahead of time and pay for two entrance fees into Muir Woods. The entrance fees were $15 per person and the parking lot fee was another $8.50. You can absolutely do 90% of this hike if you start at Stinson Beach, but just know that you cannot enter Muir Woods without a pass (or well, you risk being stopped and checked for a ticket). To be honest, no one stopped us on the day that we went, but then again, no one was there. It was magical. If you ask me if the fee was worth it, I would give a resounding 100% YES, but only because we literally had the park to ourselves. We arrived at the parking lot and stopped by the restrooms before heading into the woods. The first part of the hike is easy. I recommend taking a left turn at the first bridge and hiking above the woods to begin. You can hike the bottom half of the woods when you return.

If you take my suggestion to start hiking up after the first bridge, you would be up in the treetops walking above the quiet trails below. You’ll reach a dead end eventually, at which point you make a left to continue onto the trail. If you chose to stick to the forest floor, make a left at the fourth bridge and you will end up on the same spot.

The first half of the hike takes you steadily along a wide dirt path underneath the shade of magnificent Redwood trees. The trail is well-maintained and well demarcated. There are some steps, but nothing stressful on the way to Stinson. I must warn you that the way back is much more difficult, as you’d have to climb many consecutive steps returning from the beach. If you aren’t an avid hiker, perhaps doing a one-way trip and catching a lift back to the parking lot is best. We were just fine, but my thighs were a bit sore the next day. Then again, they weren’t sore enough to stop us from going on a 7-mile hike. Enjoy the shade of the trees, the silence underneath the canopies, the soft Earth underneath your boots, the smell of sap and the occasional breeze. Eventually, you will pop up on the hillside and if you’re lucky, it’ll be a charmingly sunny afternoon with blades of green grass lining the hills.

The views from the top of the mountainside are beautiful on a clear day. You can see the Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco, as well as Marin County. You’ll see mountaintops peeking over the ocean. I saw a couple, far out in the distance, hand-in-hand frolicking quite literally down the hillside. I must say, I felt the same way.

Eventually, you will re-enter the trees again, but the second half is different. Less moist, less coverage, more sunlight. Plus, this portion is all down-hill. Don’t let that deceive you though, as the rough part lies in the return journey. But for now, enjoy the branches and tree trunks. They’re kind of fun to look at whether they be stick straight or wavy.

Eventually, you’ll come to a clearing which is the first time you’ll see Stinson Beach. You are almost there! Perhaps another mile to go at this point.

You can hear the cars on a nearby road passing by. It made us turn around and Mike spotted two deer. The next series of photographs shows the two deer looking at us as we were looking at them. They ambled over for a second, until the sounds of other walkers shooed them away. See if you can spot their curious selves trying to discreetly peer at us from the bushes.

Of course, the deer wasn’t the only cool wildlife present. We saw hawks circling above us in search of bunny rabbits, or so I gander. A banana slug or two made me jump in surprise. A few colorful mushrooms popped out of the forest floor, and even a beautiful lone flower said hello on our walk home.

Once in a while, do look back. This is a photograph I snatched after realizing that behind me lay a bundle of rocks hidden in the hills. We finally arrived at Stinson Beach after 2.5 hours of walking. To be frank, we were going at a relaxed pace, stopping every so often to snap photographs and observe the wildlife. At Stinson, we ate at Parkside Cafe, which I would highly recommend. We walked to the beach and stepped into a few tiny shops before heading back.

On the way back, I would cross the 4th bridge back into Muir Woods and walk the wooden boardwalks within the park. If your legs have it in them, I would recommend some of the side paths to the east of the park. Please do take note, if you are trying to catch the gift shop, they close earlier than the park does and I would recommend getting back by 3pm to check out the souvenirs by the entrance. We were hoping to snag one for Mike’s mom’s birthday but we returned to the entrance a little after 4pm, which is right when the gift shop closed. You can always return to the eastern trails (which are fairly short) until the park closes (around 5pm).

Overall, this was one of our top five day hikes that we have ever done. There’s a lot to see and experience, and the terrain had a good mixture of everything. Now that we’ve walked Muir Woods though, I would skip the entrance fees and the parking fees next time and start on the trails elsewhere. I feel like everything in the park can be seen in one day. There are many other trailheads that have free parking and that land you in similar areas. Just make sure to arrive early enough to snag a parking spot along scenic highway!

If you liked this post, you may like the other hikes I’ve written about.

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