John Muir Quotes: Lessons on Life and Nature from the ‘Father of National Parks’

by Jon D. B.
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“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness,” and other directly-sourced John Muir quotes for the Outsider in all of us.

No soul understood the wilds of this world such as John Muir (1838-1914). Known today as ‘The Father of National Parks,’ Scottish-born Muir paved the way for much of our cherished National Park Service with his staunch commitment to preserving the American wilds – an extension of his own American dream after immigrating at the age of 11.

Thanks to the historic Sierra Club, all Outsiders have access to accurate, sourced quotes from the life and works of John of the Mountains. Below, you’ll find our top selection of Muir’s true words, all of which delve deep into the meaning of the life of man and our most precious treasure: nature. As he said himself:

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

John Muir, Our National ParksChapter 7 (1917)
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John Muir. Photo by: Universal History Archive/Getty Images

It is worth noting, however, that one the most oft-quotes John Muir quotes isn’t his at all. The misquote is: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

But as Sierra Club cites, Muir never said or printed this. Instead, the correct quote is:

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra (1911), page 110

John Muir Quotes That Speak To the Meaning of Life

Many of Muir’s most famous quotes come from his prolific work as an author. With some 20 books published in various forms, countless articles, essays, journals, scientific and religious musings, Muir became one of the most influential spiritual guides of his time.

I’m losing the precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I’m learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.

John Muir as quoted by Samuel Hall Young, Alaska Days with John Muir (1915), chapter 4, pg. 216

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean…

John Muir as quoted by Samuel Hall Young, Alaska Days with John Muir (1915) chapter 7, pg. 204

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”

John Muir, The Yosemite (1912), page 256

But perhaps Muir’s most poignant quote on the meaning of life is this lesser-known excerpt from his journals, published in 1938:

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.

John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 438.

‘The Father of National Parks’ Quotes on the Ultimate Treasure: Nature

Chiefly, John Muir remains one of the most influential conservationists in American history. A true ‘jack of all trades,’ Muir produced prolific biological, ecological, and philosophical works, with the common thread always being our existence’s most precious thing: nature.

John Muir. (Photo by: HUM Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“None of Nature’s landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild.”

John Muir, Our National Parks (1901), Chapter 1, page 4

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 313.

The wrongs done to trees, wrongs of every sort, are done in the darkness of ignorance and unbelief, for when the light comes, the heart of the people is always right.

John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 429

Nature is always lovely, invincible, glad, whatever is done and suffered by her creatures. All scars she heals, whether in rocks or water or sky or hearts.

– John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), p. 337

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

John Muir, Our National Parks (1901), page 56

Other John Muir Quotes to Live By

A devoutly religious man, John Muir saw the divinity of existence personified by nature itself. Much of his musings teach us that we are not separate from nature. Rather, man must acknowledge our wholeness with the wild from whence we came.

Fellow author Linnie Marsh Wolfe sums this up perfectly as she translates Muir’s “remedy for human misery” in her book, Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir:

Man must be made conscious of his origin as a child of Nature. Brought into right relationship with the wilderness he would see that he was not a separate entity endowed with a divine right to subdue his fellow creatures and destroy the common heritage, but rather an integral part of a harmonious whole. He would see that his appropriation of earth’s resources beyond his personal needs would only bring imbalance and beget ultimate loss and poverty for all.

Linnie Marsh Wolfe on Muir’s remedy for human misery in her book, Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir (1945), page 188.
Portraits of John Muir his daughters Wanda and Helen and his wife Louisa at the John Muir National Historic site in Martinez, CA. (Photo By Michael Macor/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

The natural and common is more truly marvelous and mysterious than the so-called supernatural. Indeed most of the miracles we hear of are infinitely less wonderful than the commonest of natural phenomena, when fairly seen.

John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierrachapter 7 (1911), page 133.

Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.

John Muir’s letter to wife Louie, July 1888, Life and Letters of John Muir (1924), chapter 15.

And Finally, The Life of an Outsider as Told By John Muir:

As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.

John Muir’s journal,  Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir (1945) page 144
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