Parking a Tree Park to Death

Parking a Tree Park to Death

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(Updated January 14, 2018)

Muir Wood National Monument, a 17 mile drive north from San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge is in danger of being “loved to death.”

The monument’s giant coast redwoods aren’t being crushed by “tree huggers.” But its parking lots are becoming so choked by visitors’ vehicles that a “Take-A-Number-Next-Customer-Please!” entrance scheme is being considered.

No one really wants that to happen at one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most popular tourist attractions. But safety concerns may demand it.

The problem is that the canyon and its redwood trees, donated to the U.S. government in 1907 by William Kent, and at his request named after the famed naturalist, John Muir, sits at the bottom of a narrow canyon with access only by trail or often twisting two-lane roads. If visitors can’t find a spot in one of the two monument lots, they leave their cars on the all-too-skinny shoulders of the those narrow roadways.

Eight years ago, the National Park Service began a shuttle service to take visitors to the monument from a large “park and ride” lot off Highway 101 just north of Sausalito. And a fair number who come to Muir Woods do so in tour buses and vans.

But as the numbers of Bay Area residents and out-of-town tourist wanting to see the magnificent trees increased, so have the Muir Woods parking woes.

If implemented, the parking reservations system might cost $10 or more. The idea is to reduce visitor impacts on both the monument and Redwood Creek which flows through it.

But the wheels of the federal government grind slow and fine, so don’t expect any change to the current scheme for handling vehicles any time soon.

(Update, November 18, 2017: Beginning January 16, 2018, anyone driving a car into Muir Woods won’t be able to park it there without having made advance reservations online or by phone to do so. If you show up with a reservation, you’ll have to drive off and cellphone service is either bad or non-existent in the area, so you won’t be able to use your smartphone to reserve a spot. You’ll be given a timed arrival, but you will be able to stay until the park closes regardless of your arrival time. Reservations, up to 90 days in advance, will be taken beginning January 1st and will cost $8, plus the $10 park entrance fee. The existing summer shuttle bus service will now run year round, but only on weekends year-round, but only on some weekdays during summer months, and will cost $3 to ride. It will be interesting to see whether people who don’t have a parking reservation will continue to park on the narrow roads leading to the park, and whether those unaware of the parking reservation requirement will cause a traffic backup on those roads when they are stopped at the parking lot entrance only to be told they can’t enter. Visit the Muir Woods National Monument Website for more information.)

(Update, January 14, 2018: As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, on Tuesday, January 16th, the reservation system goes into effect. Visitors will no longer be able to “drop in” unless they arrive on foot (such as hiking down from Mount Tamalpais State Park) or on a bike.)

I usually hike in Muir Woods twice a year, once from a road high above the monument, down into the groves, and back up again. Tourists I pass on the trail tend to do that hike in reverse, parking near the monument entrance, and then huffing and puffing about 600’ uphill, often in footwear like sequined flats, open-toed sandals, or flip-flops, totally inappropriate for hiking on the sometimes dusty and rocky route.

My other trek begins after a mid-morning weekday arrival in the monument’s overflow lot, where three is usually no problem finding a spot for my car. When I finish my hike four hours later, all of parking spaces have been taken.

The Muir Woods National Monument Website calls the place “A Tree Lover’s Monument.” But like Yosemite, John Muir’s favorite place in the Sierra Nevada “Range of Light,” we’re loving it a little too much for its comfort or ours.

(Most Tuesdays you’ll find Dick Jordan hiking with a naturalist-led group in Marin County where his home and Muir Woods National Monument are located. Ironically, like all other national parks and monuments, Muir Woods was closed yesterday due to the shutdown of federal government operations. Update, November 18, 2017: Dick Jordan now lives in Eugene, Oregon where he hikes with a group on most Wednesday and Fridays.)


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