How to Get Tickets or Reservations When Muir Woods Sold Out
Note: Muir Woods is open, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic all Muir Woods shuttle service has been shut down to prevent infection in the buses. You may still get a parking reservation for your visit.
The National Park Service has introduced a shuttle and parking reservation system at Muir Woods (like the one used for the ferries at Alcatraz, another National Park). Their objective was to relieve the chronic overcrowding of the narrow roads near the park.
You can buy Muir Woods tickets up to 90 days (about 3 months) in advance. Since park attendance has been reduced by hundreds of thousands of visitors from 2017 levels, in recent years springtime and summer reservations to Muir Woods sold out well in advance (in non- pandemic years!).
So, how can you get tickets when Muir Woods sold out all the spots on their website? We have four suggestions, but each of them comes with one or more downsides.
Option 1: Go online as early as possible to buy one of the “held in reserve” reservations 5 days in advance of your visit. The Park Service releases 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.
Option 2: Buy a Combined Muir Woods and San Francisco Tour. Registered tour companies can buy blocks of Muir Woods tickets 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 like a great end-run when Muir Woods sold out, but there are three catches:
- It’s 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. Broken ankles happen here each year.
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.
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 National Park Service systems when Muir Woods sold out we’ll occasionally 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 reservations or tickets at inflated prices when Muir Woods sold out 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 shuttle bus stop and offers to sell you shuttle passes on a day when Muir Woods 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.