Travel & Day Trips

Can You Drive to Muir Woods? Advice and Alternatives From a Local

If you’re planning to visit San Francisco and stay in the city, you might be wondering if you can drive to Muir Woods.

The answer is that you can drive to Muir Woods, but you probably shouldn’t.

Why? As a 10 year resident of the Bay Area who has been to Muir Woods at least a dozen times, let me fill you in on why you shouldn’t drive to Muir Woods.

Spoiler alert: taking a bus or private tour is the better bet. Here are the three best options.

Why You Shouldn’t Drive to Muir Woods

Muir Woods is located about 20 miles North of San Francisco on the Marin coast. It’s in a beautiful and rugged location.

And that means it’s hard to drive to! Here are several reasons you shouldn’t drive to Muir Woods.

The Traffic

If you’re visiting San Francisco from a smaller town, you might think 20 miles doesn’t sound that bad. That’s because you haven’t experienced San Francisco’s legendary traffic!

Driving to Muir Woods requires driving through the surface streets of San Francisco, and then crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ll then need to drive up 101, and then on a two lane road to Muir Woods itself.

Every part of that is a recipe for a traffic nightmare. If you’re visiting Muir Woods during rush hour, you’re all but guaranteed to get stuck on the bridge. And even if you’re visiting on a weekend, the road through the Marin Headlands to Muir Woods can get congested.

That 20 mile drive can easily take 45 minutes to 90 minutes or more each way with traffic. Not fun to drive in!

A Tough Drive In

Speaking of driving challenges, the drive in to Muir Woods can be terrifying for drivers from outside the Bay Area. 

That’s because the final approach to Muir Woods requires driving down a winding road in the Marin Headlands. The road often borders cliffs with no guard rails. It’s fine for California natives, but can be a nerve racking experience for visitors.

And because the road is one way in each direction, you’ll have to go at a decent speed, or risk getting tailgated by the drivers behind you.

Parking Reservations Are Hard to Get

It used to be that you could drive right up to Muir Woods and get a parking spot after a short wait.

Not any more! With the popularity of national parks increasing each year, and more people getting outdoors post pandemic, hundreds of thousands of people now visit Muir Woods every Summer.

That means parking is challenging, and is now available only with a reservation. If you forget to make a reservation in advance, you’ll be out of luck. And if reservations fill up on your target visit day, you’re out of luck, too.

Parking is a Nightmare

Even once you have a reservation, parking at Muir Woods in its remote location is challenging. Most people probably picture a gleaming parking structure awaiting them on their arrival.

But remember, Muir Woods is in the wilderness. The parking facilities are limited, small, and very spread out. Even if you do get a parking reservation, you might find yourself walking a mile or more from the lot to the entrance of the monument.

I’ve seen altercations break out between drivers over the prime spots closest to the Muir Woods entrance. It’s not pretty!

No Cell Reception

Another challenge with driving to Muir Woods is dealing with the lack of cell reception. Again, Muir Woods is…in the woods. You won’t be able to use your phone there.

That means no GPS, no pulling up your parking reservation on your phone, and no ability to call roadside assistance if you get stuck.

No Gas or Services

In addition to the lack of cell reception, Muir Woods has no gas nearby and no other services.

The nearest gas station is in Larkspur. If you miscalculate how much fuel you need, there’s no easy place to stop.

The Better Way to Get to Muir Woods

If driving to Muir Woods is a bad idea, what’s the alternative. You can take a ferry and the Muir Woods shuttle, as I cover in this post.

But the best and easiest way to get to Muir Woods is to take a private tour bus. You get the convenience of someone else driving (even if you get stuck in traffic,) drop off right at the entrance, an admission ticket included on many tours, and a guaranteed ride back.

You can cruise over the Golden Gate in style, and actually get to enjoy seeing it and snapping some photos. And you can let a professional who does it every day handle the tricky road down to the woods.

I usually don’t love group travel.  But in this case, getting a tour bus really is the best option.

The Top Muir Woods Tour Bus Options

Here are some of the top options for private tour buses and other private transportation to Muir Woods. 

Best Combo Tour: Gray Line Tour with Sausalito Stop

This is one of the most popular tour options for visiting Muir Woods. After a pickup from two locations in San Francisco, an air conditioned bus will take you over the Golden Gate Bridge.

You’ll then get 90 minutes in Muir Woods, the max amount allowed on any tour. The tour price includes admission to Muir Woods.

You’ll then get 60 minutes in Sausalito, a beautiful Mediterranean style town on the Marin coast. When you’re done, you can opt to ride the bus back to San Francisco, or to take a ferry for a boat journey across the bay. Book the tour here.

Best Muir Woods Only: Tour From Fisherman’s Wharf to Muir Woods

This tour is the perfect way to get from Fisherman’s Wharf to Muir Woods. After pickup by the Hotel Zephyr, a local guide will drive you over the Golden Gate Bridge in an air-conditioned coach. 

You’ll get to spend 90 minutes in Muir Woods (the entrance fee is included) and then drive back to San Francisco by way of Sausalito, a lovely town just over the Golden Gate Bridge.

This tour is a great option if you want a lower-budget pick and you want to see Muir Woods itself, without the additional stop in Sausalito.

Accessible Option: Big Bus Muir Woods Tour

Need a wheelchair accessible ride to Muir Woods? Big Bus has an inexpensive tour on vehicles with lifts that can accommodate wheelchairs up to 650 pounds.

You can book their tour and then note in the special accommodations section that you need a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

Other Tours to Consider

We took a look at some of the top Muir Woods tours and did a full writeup, along with some great traveler photos. Check it out for the full summary.

Is Muir Woods Worth It?

Yes, Muir Woods is absolutely worth visiting. You might worry that it will be a crowded nightmare, or a tourist trap.

If you’re traveling all the way there, or spending hundreds of dollars on a tour for your family, it would be terrible to arrive and find that Muir Woods is boring or tacky.

Thankfully, that’s definitely not the case. Even after living in the Bay Area for a decade, I still try to go to Muir Woods at least once a year. 

It’s an indescribable feeling to stand on a silent, cool, quiet forest floor and look up at a tree that’s been around since time was measured in BC. And it’s humbling to see the classic slice of a fallen tree with historical events marked in the tree’s rings. 

Visiting Muir Woods is not an experience you can have anywhere else in the world. It doesn’t matter if you need to spend a bit of money or time to get there; if you’re visiting the Bay Area, you should absolutely go.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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