“You can smell the forest from here.”

My younger brother Chad, who was visiting me in San Francisco from San Diego, and I were were still winding along California Highway 1 about a mile or so from the entrance to Muir Woods National Monument when I commented on the fragrance wafting around the natural treasure we were about to see.

Despite being in the forestry field for more than five years, never in my handful of trips to San Francisco have I visited Muir Woods. So, when I was in the Bay Area in November for work, I made sure to set aside a day to visit the park and take as many photos as I could.

Christopher Horn at entrance to Muir Woods National Monument.
At the entrance to Muir Woods, rocking my American Forests t-shirt!

Upon walking through the entrance sign, the dramatic hues of green and crisp coastal air enveloped us. Though there were quite a few other people at the park that day, the trails were serene, and we rarely crossed paths with other visitors. Muir Woods seemed like our own arboreal playground.

Chad and I hardly spoke to each other as we walked. I was focused on simply observing the park’s natural wonders — from the surprisingly tiny cones of the coast redwood to the color of the bark that is the species’ namesake. It brought back fond memories of my childhood science classes, while the impressive height of the trees made my neck ache from looking up so much, a feeling I had on my first visit to Midtown Manhattan.

Pathway in Muir Woods showing the human-to-tree scale in the forest.
The groves of coast redwoods dwarfed my brother Chad as we walked along the Muir Woods trails.
Christopher Horn's National Parks Passport stamps from Muir Woods National Monument.
The first stamps in my National Parks Passport. Here’s to finding my park in 2016!

It’s astonishing that old-growth redwood forests, like those in Muir Woods, constitute only a fraction — less than 200,000 acres — of what was once vast coast redwood forestland along the coast of California and southern Oregon, a native range that could sustain 1.6 million acres of redwoods.

I am also happy to say that I finally got my National Parks Passport on this trip — my good friend Liz will be pleased to hear! — and with this year being the National Park Service’s centennial, I’m going to make an effort in 2016 to visit as many national parks, monuments, historic sites, etc., as I possibly can. You should #FindYourPark, too!

See all the photos from my trip below, including a lovely sunset I documented near the Golden Gate Bridge!