Tucked inside Marin County and sharing space with Stinson Beach and the Muirwoods, Mount Tamalpais has been a popular hiking destination for both locals and hiking enthusiasts who are around the San Francisco area. It spans 25,000 acres and provides over 60 miles of hiking trails, leading to a vast array of landscapes that exist within the state park, from jungles to hillsides and mountain tops.
- Date visited/Time of Day: May 15, 2016/8AM-2PM
- Trail name(s): Palomarin Trailhead
- Weather conditions: clear; windy
- Length: 2 hours (one way)
- Difficulty: moderate
For Mount. Tamalpais, we split up the hike into two different sections: one that is a scenic view of the Mt. Tamalpais at East Peak; the hiking portion consists of three interconnected trails: the Matt Davis Trail, the Steep Ravine Trail, and the Dipsea Trail; all of which are popular trails that hikers take when they visit Mount. Tamalpais, and they are usually taken in tandem so the hike becomes one big circle.
Before setting off for the hike, be sure to keep these things in mind:
- Be sure to take off as early as you can; the park opens at 7am, and the number of people will start to skyrocket as the afternoon approaches (We left Davis, CA at around 6am, and got to the park at around 8:20am). That means minimal parking places, a huge crowd of people at certain picture-worthy spots, and just a whole bunch of people noises (if that is something you are picky about)
- Plan out your trip, and bring maps/screen shot GPS directions, etc. As with any hiking trail, there won’t be much service available on your smartphones, so plan accordingly and bring physical maps to help you navigate. Even better, look up directions from one location to the next, print out or screenshot your directions and the map on your phone so you don’t feel lost if you lost phone service.
- Check up on the weather at that time. There are sections on the Matt Davis Trail and the Dipsea Trail that leave you exposed to the sun if there is a clear forecast. Be sure to bring sunscreen or a hat to protect you from the sun, or if its a cool and somewhat cloudy day, then you may not have to bring those but its better to be safe then sorry if the clouds somehow clear up for no apparent reason.
- Have enough gas and drive safely. Highway 1 in the Stinson Beach/Tamalpais area is no fun: narrow and SUPER windy roads off the side of the mountain can be really intimidating, and even more so when it takes around 30-40 minutes depending on traffic on the highway. Be extra cautious when driving and with a full tank of gas there will be no problem navigating throughout the park and when you’re leaving.
- Stretch and bring plenty of water. Common standard protocol when going on extensive and moderately difficult hikes, but they are important for a reason. Best to enjoy hikes without sustaining any injuries from tight muscles nor becoming dehydrated along the way.
With that, remember to HAVE FUN! And now we go into the hikes themselves.
Our first destination was the East Peak, so that we can get a nice panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean as well as parts of the Bay and the Mt. Tamalpais region while the sun is still rising and not alot of people are there to clutter up the place. The entrance to East Peak is not difficult, as you can easily GPS to the spot. From the parking lot, you will have to pay $8 to park, which you take a small envelope slip, insert $8 while filling out the necessary information on that slip and deposit it into a labeled box. The hike begins at a wooden pathway upward, and it takes roughly half an hour to reach the top of the peak, which has a firewatch station on it. At 9am, the morning clouds still loomed around the mountain range and forests, and thus at the peak, we saw a huge ocean of clouds below where we were, which was a super fascinating sight to see. There are various peaks in the area where you can see different views of the area, all of which are phenomenal in their own right.
Afterwards, we began our long hike with Matt Davis Trail, which the entrance is located behind the fire station down over at Stinson. Immediately at the beginning, you face a long, steep and windy uphill through a thick forestry. Luckily there are no poison oak, but you do need to watch your step, so that you don’t fall down. Despite the super difficult hike upward, the view of green plants and trees make you feel like you’re in a jungle, rather then up a mountain. Eventually, you reach the top of the trail, which leads you to an open area through small hills. With our luck, we went when there was still fog on the mountain, and so the hills were covered in a thick fog that gave a gloomy but fascinating view; otherwise, this part of the trail leaves you exposed to the sun on a clear day, so be prepared to have sun protection there.
The trail eventually takes you to the Pantoll Campgrounds, from there you follow the signs that point you towards Steep Ravine Trail. This trail is where you truly feel like you are in a jungle: Jurassic plants cover a vast amount of the forest; huge redwood trees tower over the entire area; and a creek travels down throughout the trail. One of the state park’s touristy spots is located on this trail, which is a wooden ladder that is next to a small waterfall. If you want a picture there, being there early is best, otherwise there will be lots of people trying to take pictures and even more people going up and down the ladder as the crowd of people start to proliferate around the afternoon time. Since we were going downhill towards Stinson Beach, the trail wasn’t difficult, however if we were to go uphill on this trail, this trail would be a difficult trail to traverse due to the steepness of some parts of Steep Ravine.
To get back to Stinson Beach, you need to take the path towards Dipsea Trail at the crossroad between Steep Ravine and Dipsea, otherwise if you keep taking Steep Ravine, then you may end up going deeper into the state park. This portion of Dipsea Trail takes you to a wide and vast pasture that is very much exposed to the open sky. Additionally, this area is also very hilly, with steep inclines and declines. Eventually, the trail will leave you at a side parking area, from which you go downhill and end up back at the small town from which you started your hike.
If you make the most of your trip by going to the state park in the morning, then you may be able to experience the serenity and calmness that Mt. Tamalpais provides with huge panoramic views of the state park as well as flooding the landscape with vibrant plants, tall and healthy trees. I highly recommend this area to those who wish to step in deep towards a jungle and want a challenge in hiking; it is not an easy area for beginners, but you do feel a sense of accomplishment upon completion and also awe of what Mother Nature has brought forth in the Mt. Tamalpais area.