End of an Era
The combination of neighbor complaints over traffic in Mill Valley, pressure from Marin County to curb visitors, and the Park Service’s need for additional funding are bringing an end to the era of “go when you want to go” for going to Muir Woods.
In its place will be an Alcatraz-style reservations system where private vehicles will need a time-based reservation for one of the very few legal parking spots, and all other vehicle access comes from reservations that limit the number of people who visit Muir Woods on any given day. There will be no required departure time for visitors, so all reservations are good until the end of the selected day.
The net effect of the plan will be to push visitors out of private vehicles (since parking will be severely limited) and onto shuttles, tour buses etc. Shuttle riders will still need a reservation to board the shuttle and enter the park, but the number of reservations for visitors will far exceed the number of available reservations for cars.
The catch: You’ll still need to book ahead much of the year if you’re taking the shuttle, since they are forecasting that the number of reservations for 2018 will be significantly lower than the number of visitors in 2017.
It is not yet clear how the schedule for the Marin Transit Muir Woods Shuttle will be affected. This public bus service to Muir Woods currently runs from May through October, with daily service in the busiest months and weekend shuttles at other times. There is no current shuttle service from November through April.
Disabled parking spots will be reserved in advance in the same way as regular spots, but have their own waiting list so presumably they will have a shorter required lead time during the summer high season compared to regular parking spots. Seats on the Alcatraz ferries routinely sell out four to six weeks in advance over the summer under a similar system.
The National Park Service says that they will implement the new reservations system in early 2018, and that they are looking for a private company (called a concessionaire) to operate it for them. This comes as the concessionaire contract for ferry service to Alcatraz is under review and may be awarded to a different company than Alcatraz Cruises, the current operator.
Update: The Park Service has now announced that it has selected Ace Parking Inc. to manage the reservations system.
Some Walk-Ins Welcome
Unlike Alcatraz, the new Muir Woods reservation system will have some notable exceptions:
- Visitors who come up the mountain on commercial bus tours will not need individual reservations. The Park Service will, however, limit the size and number of tour buses that arrive each day and those visitors will count towards the maximum quota of people who can visit the park. Tour operators will pay for the tickets and coordinate the reservations of their riders.
- If you hike into the park you won’t need a reservation. This is one of the two real loopholes, the second of which is…
- If you ride your bike to Muir Woods you won’t need a reservation.
Planned Muir Woods Fees and Ticket Prices
Parking will cost $8 per for each vehicle, and they have pre-announced that the fee will increase by 50 cents every two years. Only a tiny minority of the current vehicles that visit Muir Woods fit into its parking lots (everyone else parks illegally along the road) so if you want to drive to the park be ready for long lead times. They will sell advance reservations up to 90 days from the day that you log onto the system.
Shuttle reservations will cost $3 per person for anyone aged 16 and up, and they have pre-announced that it will go up by a quarter (25 cents) every two years. Visitors under age 16 still need a reservation (which is free), and the shuttle ride is also free. There will also be a $10 Muir Woods entrance fee for everyone 16 and up on top of the other charges.