Muir Woods – Bootjack/TCC/Ben Johnson Loop

IMG_1771I just wanted to share a quick post about an amazing hike I accidentally went on last week! The hike is at Muir Woods National Monument, which is an extremely popular destination in Marin county for seeing redwoods. First, I must tell you the the story of how I mistakenly went on one of the best hikes in the region, but afterwards I promise I’ll tell you about the hike itself. I even drew you a map. So bear with me.

Because I hate crowds, especially when I’m hiking, I opted to visit the park on a rainy weekday, and was intending to just amble around casually for a couple hours. I figured I’d check it out, look at the trails, bask in the redwoods, and then plan to come back for a proper hike at a later date when I was more prepared.

Well. I got a little lost. I started out on the Plevin Cut/Camp Eastwood trails, and somehow ended up walking all the way up Bootjack trail before I realized what was happening. I finally found a trail map where Bootjack intersected with TCC, Alpine, and Troop 80 (see below), and that’s when I saw just how far from the park entrance I had walked.

I must admit I got a little panicky, because I had no food or water, I was very thirsty, and my legs were strongly protesting both the substantial incline and the too-distant memory of my insubstantial breakfast. I considered going back the way I came, but even that seemed daunting, and I was (understandably) a little afraid of getting lost again. I didn’t have a map, and there was no cell phone service.

You may pause here to berate me through your computer for being so careless and unprepared when venturing out into the wilderness. Feel free. I deserve it.

Muir Woods map

The route I took is traced in green, although I didn’t add the slight detour to Pantoll where we went right instead of left from TCC onto Stapelveldt.

So there I was, standing in front of a map, in the rain, mildly panicking. I was trying to decide between going back the way I came, and hiking onward towards a road where I might be able to get an Uber (which, in hindsight, would have been very very unlikely and would probably have turned out poorly). That’s when I saw another hiker! I figured I’d see which way she was going, and she told me she was doing a loop that was recommended in a book of the best Bay Area hikes. She had come up Bootjack, like me, and was now heading to TCC and Ben Johnson to finish the loop (outlined in green above).

I meekly explained my unfortunate situation, she gave me some of her water (hallelujah!), and we became forest friends. I decided that tagging along with her wouldn’t be that much longer than going back the way I came, and had several advantages: 1) water; 2) wouldn’t have to retrace my steps; 3) less chance of getting lost again; 4) company in case we did get lost again and had to live out the rest of our lives in the wilderness.

So, we hiked the rest of the way together, did get lost again (but this time it was only a slight detour up to Pantoll ranger station and back down), and made it out alive. And that’s how I accidentally went on one of the most beautiful hikes in the Bay Area.

(Side note: the accidental detour to Pantoll station ended up being excellent, because they had water and bathrooms. Definitely a great place to stop if you need either of those things.)

Now, the hike. Being the tree-obsessed individual I am, I would have thoroughly enjoyed even the most mundane walk through a redwood forest, but this hike really had so much to offer. The trails around the park entrance are gorgeous, with several wooden bridges over a picturesque creek in addition to the towering trees, but this area is almost always crowded. Once I got on Bootjack trail, though, I didn’t see another person until I met my forest friend, and then we didn’t see another person until we got back down to Hillside trail.


Bootjack is a pretty steady climb, with stairs at some of the steeper parts, and it follows alongside a creek almost the whole way up. I don’t know if “creek” is exactly the right word; it’s not very wide, but it tumbles down the mountain in a series of rapids and small waterfalls, and is especially impressive after all the rain the area has gotten lately. There were plenty more cute wooden bridges and log crossings, and everything was lush and gorgeous and moss-covered.

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The second half of the loop was mostly downhill, and was a little hard on the knees and quads, but totally worth it. This part of the hike wasn’t near the creek, so it was quiet and peaceful, and the rain and fog gave the forest an almost mystical feel. I’d be willing to bet the forest is actually much prettier on a rainy day than it is on a sunny day, but I might be biased. I’m sure rays of sunlight filtering through the canopy of the redwoods would be stunning, too.

It’s really difficult to do justice to this hike in words or even pictures, but suffice it to say that if you’re in the area, you should do it. Even if it’s rainy. My jacket shoulders and hair were more or less soaked through by the time I got back, but again – worth it.


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