How to Get Muir Woods Reservations When They’re Sold Out
On January 1, 2018 the National Park Service introduced a shuttle and parking reservation system at Muir Woods (like the one used for the ferries at Alcatraz, another National Park).
Since park attendance will be reduced by hundreds of thousands of visitors from last year’s levels, we expect that from spring through early fall reservations to Muir Woods will be sold out well in advance.
So, how can you get Muir Woods reservations when they’re sold out? We have four suggestions, but each of them comes with one or more downsides.
Option 1: Be waiting first thing in the morning to buy one of the “held in reserve” reservations for visiting 5 days in advance. The Park Service is going to release a few parking and shuttle reservations each day that are dated 5 days in advance, in an effort to help visitors who arrived in town on short notice and could not book ahead. We do not yet know if these tickets will be released online at midnight each day or at some other time, and once this becomes clear we’ll publish the information.
Option 2: Buy a Combined Muir Woods and San Francisco Tour. Registered tour companies can buy blocks of Muir Woods tickets (starting in spring, 2018, once the system is fully up and running) and then offer “All in One Tours” that include Muir Woods and other locations at a combined price. The tickets are more expensive (sometimes a lot more than just coming to Muir Woods) and they also can sell out, but you’ll get two or more tours for your money.
Insiders Tip: The Google search “Muir Woods sold out” will often put ads at the top of the search listings from companies with these tickets saying, “We’re not sold out!” Make sure that these are legitimate companies registered in the State of California, as is required of all Muir Woods tour operators.
Insiders Tip: If you are staying at a major San Francisco hotel their concierge desk may have relationships with different tour companies. Anyone they recommend will have been vetted by the hotel so you’ll be able to proceed more confidently.
Option 3: Take a rideshare like Lyft or Uber or a taxi from a parking area up the mountain to Muir Woods. This will allow you to buy a ticket at the front gate. The new system was imposed to stop hundreds or even thousands of cars from jamming traffic and being parked all over the mountain each day during the summer, so they don’t mind a few extra visitors from rideshare or taxi visits since the driver does not park and immediately leaves the area.
This sounds great, but there are three catches:
- It’s very expensive to take the relatively long ride up the mountain from Mill Valley or Sausalito
- There is no wi-fi or cell service at Muir Woods, so you have no way of calling a taxi or rideshare to get back down the mountain and will have to pre-arrange (and trust the driver for) a pick-up time when they drop you off — on Uber or Lyft this will have to be done while you still have cell service at the start of your trip
Option 4: Hike into Muir Woods from the western side of the park, where open trails grant free access. Note: bikes are not allowed in Muir Woods, and there are no bike lanes on the narrow roads on Mt. Tamalpais.
The catch: the nearest parking areas with parking lots are at the bottom of the mountain ridge near the town of Stinson Beach, and a climb of over 1,000 feet in altitude on steep trails is required. We recommend this only for visitors who regularly make such hikes, and who have the right kinds of boots, packs etc. More information can be found here.
If you are not in excellent health or if you do not routinely go on long, strenuous hikes in steep terrain, please do not consider this option. I’ve hiked these trails and they are often rutted, sometimes narrow and it’s easy to fall.
There are other, shorter hiking routes into the park, but they all have very limited parking at the trailheads and if you park illegally you’re likely to get an expensive ticket. We will be researching these options to see if there are any other viable choices.
Option 5: Keep re-checking the Muir Woods reservations page, even if you missed the ‘5 days in advance” last minute reservations that are released each day. It’s rare, but on similar National Park Service systems once in a while we’ll see a case where everything is sold out for a month but a few reservations pop up as available a few days in advance. These go fast so you’ll need to scoop them up if they fit your schedule.
Beware of Scalpers! Re-selling Muir Woods reservations or tickets at inflated prices is against the law. The Park Service says you cannot sell your reservation or ticket to someone else at any price. If someone walks up to you at a Muir Woods bus stop and offers to sell you shuttle passes on a day when the reservations are sold out, we strongly recommend you do not buy from them. (The old rule is true: “Anything too good to be true probably isn’t!”) If the tickets are real you’ll still over-pay to get them.