Experience Nature's Cathedral in Muir Woods

Visit historic northern California forest on 100th anniversary of John Muir's death

San Francisco Local Expert

Scotland, the birthplace of iconic environmentalist John Muir, is celebrating the hundredth anniversary of his death with a new coast to coast trail. If you can't make it to Scotland, come visit his namesake woods near San Francisco. California's majestic coastal redwoods, as well as Yosemite's granite valleys, inspired Muir to commit his life to preserving the earth's natural beauty. And only the earth was big enough to contain this Scot's overwhelming passion. Muir Woods — Photo courtesy of Choudhury Nanda/iStock

Most of us who visit National Parks can easily take them for granted. But the current "green" movement had little or no standing in John Muir's time. In the early part of the 20th century, America was bursting with global ambitions - and needing all the resources it would take to feed those ambitions. Trees were for ships and houses; lakes were asking to be dammed for power; and any animals needed to get out of the way of this "progress."

It took a wily, relentless, Nature-loving maniac like Muir to get us to stop and think about preserving our greatest asset: the natural beauty of America itself. John Muir bends the ear of Teddy Roosevelt — Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

If you want to feel the deep spirituality and sense of peace that Muir spent his life trying to save, there's no better place than Muir Woods. Tucked into a small valley and stocked full of the coastal redwoods that made Muir's poetic, Scottish heart sing, Muir Woods is an easy drive north over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.

Even if the weekend traffic has you bumper to bumper (and possibly using the shuttle system if the parking lot is overflowing), there's no better cure for residual road rage than a quiet walk through this magnificent forest.The towering coastal redwoods of Muir Woods — Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

If you think we're exaggerating, consider Muir's own description of these woods when he learned that William and Elizabeth Kent were naming a redwood forest near San Francisco in his honor:

"This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world." 

Considering how many forests Muir saw in his life, it's no small compliment. (In 1867, when Muir was 29, he walked a thousand miles from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico.)  John Muir resting during a hike in his beloved Yosemite — Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Don't worry - no thousand mile treks are necessary at Muir Woods. This National Monument is easily accessible for visitors of all ages and abilities. A one and half mile path alternates between pavement and boardwalk, and it takes you on a lovely tour of the park's big (and we mean big) star: the Coastal Redwood, sequoia sempervirens, the tallest trees on earth, towering up to almost 400 feet. Coastal redwoods will tower over your every move in Muir Woods. — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

Wildlife in the park includes stellar jays, black-tailed deer, and banana slugs. But if you're here to honor John Muir, sit on one of the many benches and let the forest speak to you.

Who knows? Maybe you'll be inspired to help save something beautiful in your own part of the world.

The thought alone could make a certain Scottish Nature-lover weep for joy.The next generation in the shadows of Muir Woods — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

About Tom Molanphy

Tom Molanphy has lived in the Bay Area since 2000. He's enjoyed many a peach from John Muir's farm in Martinez, and he'll backpack the "Range of Light" this August.

Read more about Tom Molanphy here.

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