Sunday, October 19, 2008

Day Hike: Muir Woods Mt. Tam Loop


I remember seeing big leaf maple trees turning yellow in Muir Woods National Monument last year, so in my quest for Bay Area fall color, I thought this would make a nice destination for a hike. (Plus, I also remembered that my National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass would cover the admission fee. Excellent!)


  • Trailhead: Muir Woods National Monument
  • Length: 6 mile lollipop loop hike
  • Elevation change: 1500 feet gain/loss
  • Trails: Muir Woods Main Trail, Bootjack, TCC, Stapleveldt, Ben Johnson, back to Muir Woods Main.
  • Terrain: Main Trail is mostly paved and wheelchair accessible; the rest is well maintained single track with some roots and wood stairs.
  • Trip date: October 19, 2008
  • My photo album at flickr (click here).
Entrance to Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods in the Morning

I arrived at the parking lot shortly after 9 am wanting to get there early because I knew that Muir Woods can be a people zoo usually consisting of San Francisco tourists that want to whiz through to catch a quick glimpse at big redwood trees. (Personally, I prefer the redwoods of Big Basin and Henry Cowell as far as local old-growth giant specimens are concerned, but I wasn't here just for the redwoods.) Unfortunately about half a dozen cars pulled up at the same time as me. Luckily most were also the quiet types looking for peace in the woods. There was also my desire for "good" light. I wanted to try and get some decent photos of the trees, particularly the maples, with nice, canopy-filtered, morning light.

Maple leaf in Muir Woods on the main trail

The Secret Life of Ladybugs

Along the trail I saw bunches of sleeping ladybugs. (I also saw this the week before in Mt. Diablo S.P.) Ladybugs go dormant during the cold months hanging out en masse on objects such as a nice log or sometimes a house returning to the same spot yearly - bet you didn't know that! Also, when threatened, they literally bleed a toxin out of their exoskeleton joints that apparently tastes bad and smells bad too (At Henry Cowell S.P. I had to dress up in a lady bug costume and tell little kids to smell a box full of live ones. "Here, smell this. It stinks!").

Cluster of sleeping ladybugs
Thousands of ladybugs on branches

Bootjack and the Maples

Big leaf maples are deciduous and live along the Pacific West Coast mostly from the Bay Area to southwest parts of Alaska, but can be found in Southern California and the Western Slopes of the Sierras. Maple syrup can be made from its sap but has a different flavor than the sugar maple and isn't widely used. Bootjack trail out of Muir Woods is a nice place to see big leaf maples. It follows Redwood Creek, a perennial stream, up to Van Wyck Meadow and eventually to Bootjack picnic area in Mt. Tamalpais State Park. Even though it is all up hill from Muir Woods, the lightly running creek with it's trickling cascades and the yellow foliage of the maples interspersed in the mixed evergreen forest make it a really pleasant fall-season trail.

Big leaf maple on Bootjack Trail

Van Wyck Meadow

At the junction of several trails, the meadow is a fairly unspectacular small flat with a few big boulders strewn about to sit on and eat a trail snack and listen to birds. It's also a good place to listen to the huffing and puffing of passing hikers.

Van Wyck Meadow

TCC and Stapleveldt Trails

TCC is a nearly level trail that laterals the contours of several small ridges, that weave in and out of the watershed above Muir Woods on Mt. Tam S.P. property. In the shady deep folds of TCC there are some nice fern grottos, and on the dryer ridges, young oak and bay laurel trees. Eventually I came to a confusing trail junction, but after consulting my topo map, I turned southeast/left after the bridge taking the "low road" and in about 50 feet found the sign for Stapleveldt trail to Ben Johnson trail. Stapleveldt trail is a steep yet well designed and graded set of switchbacks that drop you quickly into the small canyon to eventually join Ben Johnson Trail.

Wildflower near Van Wyck Meadow (haven’t figured out what it is yet…if you know please share!) UPDATE: California Indian Pink (Silene californica)

Ben Johnson Trail

This trail a consistent decline, but not too much of a toe-jammer. It seemed to be more populated with people coming up from Muir Woods than the other trails. Ben Johnson trail descends amongst redwood forest with a couple big leaf maples here and there but in my opinion not as pretty as Bootjack. The unnamed creek that it follows was dry, but it may make this trail much prettier when it is flowing in the spring. It joins up with Muir Woods main trail and Hillside Trail at Bridge 4. Since I had taken Hillside Trail on a previous hike and found it to be crowded and no more "scenic" than the main trail, I took Muir Woods Main Trail back to the trailhead.

Burnt-out old-growth redwood (with abandoned toilet paper thrown on the ground behind it—not pictured.)

Struggling like a spawning salmon through throngs of tourists with loud children and bulky strollers on the main trail, I had to suppress the urge to lecture them about the evils of abandoning bundles of toilet paper behind rocks and trees and underneath bushes. For their part, they must have thought I was some sort of nutjob with my trekking poles, backpacking boots, nylon cargo pants, GPS, two cameras, and a nalgene hanging off of my backpack for what they assumed was just a stroll on the (mostly paved) main trail.

Eventually I made it through the hoards and back to the entrance unscathed and without screaming or lecturing anyone about the vices of tissue.

(click on the map for a larger version.)

If you'd like to go, check out these links:

1 comment:

  1. Nice story & nice photos! How strange to go to Muir Woods looking for maple trees and ladybugs. I guess I haven't yet had my fill of redwoods so they tend to be my focus of attention whenever I hike at Muir Woods National Monument.