New system to visit scenic Muir Woods
Public access via car or bus will require reservations, fees
Starting Tuesday, for the first time in its 110 years as a national monument, reservations will be required for nearly all public access to Muir Woods.
This means visitors arriving by private car or public shuttle bus will need to have made a reservation in advance. The new system will affect more than 95 percent of the 1.1 million people who visit Muir Woods every year. Only those who hike or bike into the park will not need a reservation.
The reservation system has been in the works for a while, since the number of visitors to Muir Woods jumped by more than 30 percent in the past 10 years.
On the summer’s three major holidays — Memorial, Independence and Labor days — in 2017, more than 6,000 people crammed into the forest, which contains 240 acres of old-growth redwoods. Muir Woods has only 232 parking spaces set
aside for cars and 12 for buses. The result: Cars end up being strung out for miles along access roads, creating a traffic nightmare.
“We had to do something,” said Mia Monroe, the National Park Service public liaison for Muir Woods.
The system that goes into effect Tuesday will operate every day of the year. A reservation costs $8 per car, and a seat on the shuttle bus will cost $3 for everyone older than 16. Children younger than 16 will be free, but they will still need a seat reservation. There is also a $10 fee to enter the park. Roadside parking will be restricted.
Shuttle buses, which run from Sausalito, Marin City and a park-and-ride lot near Tamalpais Valley, operate on weekends most of the year and every day during the summer. There are no immediate plans to expand weekday service.
Reservations can be made online at www.gomuirwoods.com or by calling (800) 4102419 Reservations can be made 90 days in advance, but a limited number will be held back for visits five days in advance.
Reservations won’t be accepted at the park entrance, so the days of showing up at Muir Woods on the spur of the moment and hoping for a parking spot are over.
“You just can’t drop in anymore,” Monroe said.
She thinks the public will take to the system easily. “It’s like getting a restaurant reservation, or getting a reservation for a campsite,” she said.
To make sure motorists use the reservation system, there will be new parking restrictions on the roads leading to Muir Woods, particularly on Frank Valley road that runs to the park from Muir Beach.
Huge traffic messes on that road contributed to the need for the reservation system. On summer days, cars parked all over the shoulders of the road, and visitors had to walk for miles up the roadside.
“It was very dangerous,” Monroe said.
The solution, however, stirred up a storm, particularly from Marin residents who opposed Park Service proposals for satellite parking lots on park land on the Panoramic Highway or along Frank Valley road. Plans for increased shuttle bus service also met with vehement opposition.
The final deal was worked out with the intervention of Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and is a bit of a compromise.
Among other things, the reservation system is anticipated to cause a drop in the number of visitors from 1.1 million to about 900,000 a year. But even with the lower numbers, Muir Woods will draw more people every year than the entire population of San Francisco — about 865,000 — or the number of fans at Golden State Warriors games annually — just over 803,000.
“We want to be sure that the public can enjoy and be inspired by this redwood forest,” Monroe said, “At the same time, we have to preserve and protect it. That is what the National Park Service is all about.”
Monroe has worked in Muir Woods as a ranger and supervisor for nearly 40 years and is passionate about the place. She talks about the tranquillity of the forest, where the trees are hundreds of years old, as well as Redwood Creek, which runs through it.
“Muir Woods is one of the natural wonders of the world,” she said.
The only other park in the region that requires advance reservations is Alcatraz Island, like Muir Woods, a unit of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
But the Muir Woods reservation system might be an example of things to come in other popular national parks — Yosemite, for instance.
“Everyone is watching us,” Monroe said.
“You just can’t drop in anymore. It’s like getting a restaurant reservation, or getting a reservation for a campsite.” Mia Monroe, National Park Service public liaison for Muir Woods
Visitors will pay to park at Muir Woods starting Tuesday, when the National Park Service begins requiring reservations at lots and on shuttle buses.
Visitors will start paying to park at Muir Woods, and there will be restrictions on roadside parking, which is limited.