Tag Archives: National park

Three ways to beat the crowds at Muir Woods

One of the Bay Areas top visitor spots is Muir Woods. It was beautiful when I was there yesterday. I’ll never tire of the walk to Cathedral Grove along the banks of Redwood Creek. But it can get a little crowded. In fact this year, visitation is up 10 per cent  — or about 1 million people a year. I was surprised to learn that the days after Christmas can be as busy as any summer weekend!  Unfortunately the shuttle bus service is suspended due to the slide on Highway 1 and that the County is blocking parking along the county road. It had me thinking, if you want to visit the redwoods but want to avoid the Muir Woods crush, where should you go?

I have three suggestions for other spots to try.  They are all close by and have the added advantage of being kid friendly!

Live in the South Bay? Head down the coast and turn inland at Pescadero to find Butano Redwoods State Park. Much like Muir Woods, the highlight is a beautiful trail that follows Little Butano Creek with redwoods cloaking both sides.  Head up to the campground to see some of the largest trees in the park. And on your way out, stop at Bean Hollow State Beach and watch the breakers roll in.  It’s a grand day out!

Headed North across the Golden Gate Bridge? Instead of getting off at Muir Woods, head out on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard as it winds out to West Marin and stop at Samuel P. Taylor State Park. You could start our at the picnic area and admire the classic CCC hearths — you could even throw on a log and heat up your tea. Kids, young and old alike, will enjoy playing on the old stumps.  Then take a walk over the bridge to the Cross Marin Trail. It’s a great place to ride your bike, or just enjoy a walk along the creek.  Then hike up Wildcat Canyon to see some of the tallest trees in the Bay Area. If you’re feeling ambitious, follow the Pioneer trail up the the hill to an unusual grove at the top.

Want to stay in the East Bay?   It may lack the grandeur of the ancient forest, but my kids love to go to Roberts Regional Recreation Area.  It’s got a great playground and a beautiful redwood grove where they can play to their hearts content.  You can follow the short trail and see the site of the “landmark trees” — redwood beacons used by the early sailors on the bay.

Do you have other places to recommend? Let me know!

National parks shut down — where should I go?

NPS closed for business
NPS closed for business

So the Federal Government has shut down as the lawmakers continue their spat.  And with it the doors have been shut on your National Parks. By some estimates, 715,000 people would have visited the parks every day during October. If you live here, you can always wait it out. But if you’re here on vacation, what should you do?

Fortunately here in California we have a wonderful state park system and if you’re here to see the redwoods and giant sequoia in the National Parks you have some great options.

Muir Woods National Monument is closed — consider heading a little further north to Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Or for a real treat, head south to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. It’s the oldest park in the state park system and home to the tallest tree south of Humboldt County!

Yosemite National Park is closed — it’s tough to find a stand-in for the valley or the vast backcountry wilderness, but if you came to see the Giant Sequoia groves you are in luck.  A little further north is Calaveras Big Trees State Park. This jewell of a park has two incredible sequoia groves. Not only will you see some amazing forest giants, but you’ll get to stand on the Discovery stump and learn how the destruction of the tree spurred the movement to save the redwoods.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is closed — while nothing compares to walking the trails in Giant Forest, you could always head north to Calaveras Big Trees. Closer to the park is Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest with ancient sequoia, rock art, and a host of other significant cultural resources it’s well worth a visit.

Redwood National Park is closed — this one is complex. Given it’s partnership with the state park system, although the National Park is closed,  many of the best trails are actually in the state park much of it is likely still open. And fall is a wonderful time of year to get into Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. For me, nothing beats Prairie Creek Redwoods — a rich, verdant forest, wild coast and of course the iconic elk.

Towering Redwoods in Redwood National and State Parks
Towering Redwoods in Redwood National and State Parks

Time to get Mobile…..in the Park

And I am not talking about cell phones. I am talking about a growing trend among mobile visitor centers.  This goes way beyond capitalizing on the trendiness of mobile everything — think food trucks, espresso carts, etc. It’s really about meeting the changing needs of the park visitor. The mobile center can move around a park based upon where the people are at any particular time of year — and of course, being mobile they can also take the park to the visitor.  I even saw the East Bay Regional Park District’s mobile center taking part in the annual Fourth of July Parade on Alameda Island.

East Bay Park District on the move
East Bay Park District on the move

I can also imagine that its cost and time efficient. A 2001 report from the GAO summarized construction costs for 80 visitor centers underway in National Parks at that time. They ranged from $500,000 to $39 million — averaging at a little over $6 million. That’s a lot of money, leave aside the time it takes to obtain the permits, bid the job, construct the building and commission the exhibits. Its likely that by the time its completed, its already out of date!

Contrast that to a mobile center that can be designed, fabricated and deployed much more rapidly. I don’t have cost estimates, but believe food trucks can start at around $50,000 fully kitted out.  That leaves a lot of change — even from the cheapest traditional visitor center.  I would love to see these become common-place: spending there weekends and summers in the parks, and there weekdays visiting schools, city parks and more.

It’s time parks got out of the mindset of the traditional visitor center and started thinking about creative new ways of delivering services to the people in cost-effective ways. The mobile visitor center is a great start!