Pared-down Muir Woods experience means less visitors
MILL VALLEY, Calif. - America's 62 prominent national parks are re-opening but the pandemic is making it a changed experience.
Visitors may not have camping available or amenities such as tours or gift shops.
Muir Woods, the National Monument in Marin County, has created a pared-down experience to keep staff and visitors safe.
After being closed for almost four months, the grove re-opened on June 29, with multiple precautions in place.
"We're welcoming folks from all over the Bay Area, we don't have a lot of international tourists yet," said Charlie Strickfaden of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The forest of old-growth coast redwoods gets nearly 1 million visitors a year.
"We are providing a great experience where folks get to hear the quiet and solitude of the largest trees on earth," said Strickfaden
And it's rarely as quiet as it is now.
Crowds often overwhelm the relatively small site.
But the pandemic means instead of admitting as many as 5,000 visitors daily, Muir Woods is letting in about 1,800.
"It is definitely different from when it's usually open, and how packed that is," said visitor Isabel Luna.
The park, under COVID-19, is noticeably more peaceful.
"The silence, and we could hear all of nature, the birds, the creek, the waterfall," said Luna.
Shuttle buses, with their own crowds and lines, are not running because they cannot create social distance.
Visitors must make a parking reservation online, and the spaces are timed to regulate turnover.
"I think it's beautiful as always and less crowded, and not having to stress about parking is a big plus," said visitor Qi Qi Wu.
Beyond their initial greeting, rangers keep their distance, with no tours or programs offered.
A one-way trail loop has been devised to keep everyone walking the same direction and avoid contact with others.
Face coverings are not mandatory but recommended.
"We highly encourage visitors to wear a mask, our staff and rangers will be wearing masks and we hope others will too," said Muir Woods Ranger Cassie Anderson.
Amid troubled times, the ancient grove sits unaffected.
Those who visited Tuesday were gratified by the fresh air, exercise, and sense of tranquility.
"Being cooped up in the house so much it's great to be outdoors," said visitor Gustavo Romero.
"Take the time, make the reservation, and come up here and enjoy the nature and the beauty of what we have here in California," Romero urged.
With international tourism almost nonexistent, Muir Woods is suddenly a refuge for Bay Area locals, and many intend to take full advantage.
"I saw a butterfly in the stream and it was so close to me, and really beautiful and cool," said youngster Camilla Larson, part of a multi-family group visiting the park.
"Bring your family to Muir Woods and get some fresh air!" enthused her mom Nancy Larson.
Park hours are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
The park entrance fee is $15 for anyone 16 years and older, free for those younger.
The parking fee ranges from $8.50 to $45, depending on the size of the vehicle.
Reservations can be made at GoMuirWoods.com