John Muir and our National Parks

John Muir is famous for his books about nature, wilderness conservation, and helping create national parks, open to everyone.

Muir was also a devoted family man, living with his wife and two daughters on a large fruit ranch, east of San Francisco.

This April we visited John Muir National Historic Site, toured his Victorian-style home, had a picnic lunch in the grounds, and hiked on Mt. Wanda, where Muir took his daughters Wanda and Helen for nature walks.

In the 1880’s after Muir married, he took over management of his father-in-law’s ranch, 2,600 acres of fertile land. Muir planted a variety of crops – grapes, walnuts, peaches, pears, plums, oranges, lemons, cherries, apricots.

John Muir and his family lived in a large three story house, with two spacious parlors, a formal dining room, kitchen, upstairs were bedrooms and study where Muir wrote books, articles, and many letters.

After his daughters were grown, he traveled widely, but Muir was rooted to this house, his home, and spent the last years of his life here.

The day of our visit, it was a glorious warm spring day, hills covered with tall green grass, oak trees with new green leaves, fruit trees and wildflowers in bloom.

On the hike to the top of Mt. Wanda, John Muir came along too.


Tips for visiting John Muir National Historic Site

  • Where is it located?
  • John Muir NHS is located in Martinez California, east of San Francisco. You’ll need a car to visit, it’s about an hour from downtown San Francisco.
  • The site includes Muir house and surrounding orchards, nearby is Mt. Wanda hiking area.
  • Best time to visit
  • Muir house is open year round. To hike Mt. Wanda, spring is the best time, with green hills and wildflowers blooming. In summer, grasses on the hillsides are golden, but it can be hot.
  • Parking
  • In front of Muir house is a parking lot on Alhambra Ave. If the parking lot is full, go across to Walnut Ave. and try city street parking.
  • Parking for Mt. Wanda is corner of Franklin Canyon Rd. and Alhambra Ave.
  • Hiking Mt. Wanda area
  • Trail to top of Mt. Wanda is about 1 mile (2 miles round trip), on a wide sloping trail. In the John Muir NHS visitor center are maps of the trails.
  • Bring a picnic lunch, water and snacks.
  • Picnic tables and benches are available, there are no restrooms.


Books about John Muir

Read about the life and adventures of John Muir – one of the most famous people in California’s history, and his vision of nature transformed the American wilderness.

  • The Camping Trip That Changed America by Barb Rosenstock, Mordicai Gerstein .
  • Ride with President Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir through Yosemite in May 1903. Hiking on their own and sleeping outdoors, even when it snowed in May, it was simply glorious. After the camping trip, Roosevelt used his presidency to create federal protection for wilderness. (Picture book)
  • John Muir by Thomas Locker.
  • Story of John Muir, growing up in Scotland and the Midwest, coming to California. After John Muir first saw Yosemite Valley, he was so enchanted he spent years exploring the mountains, observing glaciers, wildlife, plants and trees in the Sierra Nevada. From his experiences in Yosemite, John Muir began his life’s work to preserve the wilderness. (Picture book)
  • John Muir: My Life with Nature by Joseph Cornell, Elizabeth Ann Kelley, Christopher Canyon.
  • Illustrated biography of John Muir, based on his own words, with many adventures in the wild – walking a thousand miles from the Midwest to Florida, meeting a large black bear, “swimming” down an avalanche, exploring glaciers with his dog Stickeen in Alaska. Muir wrote about nature with such joy and connectedness, he inspired wilderness conservation. (Chapter book).

    Books about America’s national parks

    John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt’s vision of national parks now includes over 400 wilderness parks, monuments, memorials, marine preserves, famous battlefields, historic forts, islands, caves, volcanoes, archaeological sites.

    Here’s a few of our favorite books about national parks to inspire your next family vacation.

    • National Parks of the U.S.A. by Kate Siber, Chris Turnham.
    • Take a coast-to-coast journey of America’s national parks, from the Everglades to fossil-filled Badlands, condors in the Grand Canyon, hot and dry Death Valley, Bryce Canyon hoodoos, Mesa Verde cliff dwellings, Olympic rain forests, Hawaii volcanoes, and more, maps and facts about each park. Lots of unusual, fun details, beautifully illustrated. (Picture book)
    • National Parks Guide USA by National Geographic Kids.
    • Planning a trip to the national parks, this is comprehensive overall guidebook to many national parks, monuments, and historic sites. Filled with activities, hiking, camping, biking in each park, ranger tips for your visit, excellent detailed maps, wildlife to look for, excursions near the park. (Guidebook)
    • Grand Canyon by Jason Chin.
    • Take a walk through the Grand Canyon, to discover its amazing geology, plants and animals, starting at the bottom with the oldest formations. Gorgeous illustrations of how it might have looked millions of years ago, oceans that covered the canyon, fossils preserved in rocks, animals of each zone, capture the wonder of the Grand Canyon. (Picture book)
    • What I saw in Grand Teton by Julie Gillum Lue, Christopher Cauble.
    • Kid’s guide to wildlife, peaks, lakes, rivers, flowers, trees in Grand Teton, and also keep track of different animals you’ll see. Info and photos about moose, bison, pronghorn, elk, mule deer, beaver, black bear, bald eagle, osprey, red squirrel, white pelican, and where to locate the wildlife – very handy! (Picture – Activity book)
    • Yellowstone Treasures by Janet Chapple.
    • Our favorite guidebook to Yellowstone National Park – detailed descriptions of the five main roads through the park, nature trails, geyser basin walking tours, driving distances, geological history, animals to look for, photos, color maps, campgrounds. (Guidebook)
    • Joshua Tree National Park by Jodie Shepherd.
    • Explore Joshua Tree with Ranger Red Fox – trees and plants that survive in the desert, strange-shaped rocks (some are 1.7 billion years old), sources of water, wildlife guide, wildflower tracker, map. Fun for younger kids. (Picture book)
    • So Big! Yosemite and So Small! Yosemite by Melissa Iwai.
    • “How big is Yosemite Falls, how small is a sequoia cone,” delightful introduction to Yosemite landscape and wildlife for toddlers, beautifully illustrated! (Board books)
    • More children’s books about individual national parks and historic sites on Travel for Kids:

      Redwood Coast
      Death Valley
      Joshua Tree
      Grand Canyon
      Grand Teton
      Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
      Valley Forge
      Golden Spike



      We love our national parks and lands owned by the public, and hope they will be preserved for our children’s children and generations beyond.

      However, for the first time in American history, existing national monuments, such as Grand Staircase Escalante and Bear Ears, have been downsized, and the federal government is offering oil, gas, mineral leases on once-protected lands.

      Bear Ears encompasses the history of Native American ancestral peoples, going back thousands of years. These cultural sites are endangered with the loss of national monument protections.

      In Chaco Canyon Culture NHP, the cultural heritage of an ancient civilization is also threatened by fracking just outside the park boundary on public lands, from leases made available from the federal Bureau of Land Management.

      Although Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park preserves the largest trees on earth, in adjacent Sequoia National Monument, proposals have been made to log redwoods in the national monument.

      As John Muir said, “Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away, and if they could, they would still be destroyed – chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got.”

      It is a disaster to allow our public lands and cultural heritage to disappear forever to make a quick buck for corporations.

      “We are not building this country of ours for a day. It is to last through the ages” – Teddy Roosevelt, 1903.

      Here’s to John Muir for a timeless legacy of conservation, and Teddy Roosevelt, who used his presidency to preserve and protect our wilderness, not destroy it.