Hiking in Marin
For many of us in Marin, hiking is more than a way to burn calories and get some fresh air. It’s a way of life. It’s a chance to spend time with loved ones, see friends, or steal moments alone. Marin and the Bay Area in general boast dozens of clubs for every type of hiker. Looking to make your walk of faith more rigorous? The Bay Area Jewish Singles Hiking Club and the North Bay Christian Hikers group are always open to newcomers. New moms can mingle during a baby boot camp outing. John Benus of Marin Moonshiners leads moonlit hikes, always ending with a pint at the Pelican Inn. And the Mount Tamalpais State Park offers organized hikes, including educational treks led by the Mount Tamalpais Interpretive Association. With hundreds of miles of trails crisscrossing our open space and public parklands, choosing your ideal route can be a challenge. The following are some of our favorites.
Go for a hike! Detailed information below about each area to hike:
In Fort Cronkhite
Starting from the southernmost part of the county, the Marin Headlands offers countless long and short loops and trails. These two dog-on-leash-friendly routes both start from the Rodeo Beach parking lot at Fort Cronkhite.
Old Bunker Road Loop (1.5 miles)
This is a scenic, mostly paved road that circles the Rodeo Beach area. Start at the Coastal Trail trailhead at the north end of the Rodeo Beach parking lot. Wind up the fairly steep fire road, staying to your right. The trail flattens out and intersects with Old Bunker Road. Keep right on Old Bunker as it circles back toward the buildings via a metal gate. Continue on the paved road to Kirkpatrick Road, which leads back to the parking lot. The road has been damaged by erosion and earthquakes but can still be navigated by a “sport utility” (jogging) stroller, though not by a wheelchair.
Hill 88 Loop—Coastal Trail to Wolf Ridge to Miwok Fire Road (5.1 miles)
This longer, more strenuous hike circumnavigates Hill 88 above Rodeo Beach. Start at the Coastal Trail trailhead at the north end of the Rodeo Beach parking lot. Wind up the fairly steep fire road, staying to your right. Where the trail intersects with Old Bunker Road, veer to the left and look for the continuation of the trail on the right, in the middle of a small grove of cypress trees. The ascent is steep, with a rocky staircase. Veer right at the top and continue on the paved road to your left.
Just before the summit, go right onto the Wolf Ridge trail, which continues across the back side of Hill 88, and right again on Miwok Fire Road. Head down to the floor of Gerbode Valley, and keep to the right. Miwok eventually hits Bunker Road. Cross the road, and walk along Rodeo Lagoon back to the parking lot.
South on Hwy 101 to the Sausalito exit. Left onto Lateral Rd, right on Conzelman Rd, right at McCullough Rd, left on Bunker Rd. Veer left toward Fort Cronkhite. Park at the Rodeo Beach parking lot; trailhead is at the north end.
In Tennessee Valley
Known for the easy and gentle two-mile jaunt (popular with the stroller set) to the sandy shore of Tennessee Cove, this trailhead provides access to many scenic loops for hikers of all ages. Most trails are not dog friendly. This hike is rigorous and rewarded with city and ocean views:
Marincello Loop (6.5 miles)
The Marincello trailhead is at the southeast corner of the parking lot located just to the right of the Miwok Stables sign. There’s a steady grade (often shared with bikes and horses) 1.2 miles up to the peak. At the top of the trail, take a sharp right onto Bobcat Trail, which quickly runs into the Miwok Trail. Continue on the Miwok Trail and take a right onto Old Springs Trail, which starts off by crossing a wooden bridge and continues as a narrow and scenic return to the stables and parking lot.
Hwy 101 exit at Hwy 1 in Mill Valley. Left onto Tennessee Valley Rd to parking lot.
On Mount Tamalpais
Within a couple hours, most hikers can reach the 2,571-foot summit of the east peak from the valley floor. If you’re planning to bring your pup, check ahead; dogs are not allowed on the trails within the Mount Tam State Park system (except aid dogs), while on fire roads such as Old Railroad Grade or Eldridge Grade, which fall under the Marin Municipal Water District purview, dogs are allowed on leash.
The following two hikes take off from the Pantoll Ranger Station.
Coastal Trail to Cataract to Old Mine Trail Loop (5.8 miles)
From the Pantoll Ranger Station, cross the Panoramic Highway and head west on the Coastal Trail (also the Matt Davis Trail), just below the Pantoll (Southside) Road. Follow the trail through the forest and out onto Bolinas Ridge for dramatic coastal views. At the fork, continue on the narrow Coastal Trail, until you reach Willow Camp Fire Road; take a right, and prepare for a steep ascent. Cross the paved Ridgecrest Road and continue until the path intersects with Cataract Trail, turn right and follow the trail along the creek. The trail ends at the Rock Spring parking lot. Head south across Ridgecrest Boulevard to Old Mine Trail, which will end up back at Pantoll Ranger Station.
Steep Ravine Loop (3.5 miles)
From the Pantoll Ranger Station, head south on the Old Mine Trail (southern edge of parking lot). After about half a mile, turn right onto the Dipsea Trail, where you will have fantastic coastal views on a clear day. This is the downhill portion of your loop; enjoy it, because you’ll be heading up a steady incline when you connect with the Steep Ravine Trail, where the Dipsea Trail bridges Webb Creek. Turn right on Steep Ravine and begin a scenic climb along a mystical creekbed. (A small ladder must be climbed on this portion of the trail.)
Pantoll Ranger Station: From Mill Valley Miller Ave to Montford; follow this road (which turns into Molino, then Edgewood, then Sequoia Valley) and turn right onto Panoramic Hwy. Continue to intersection with Pantoll Rd. Parking lot is on the left.
From Fairfax: East on Sir Francis Drake Blvd to Pacheco Ave; turn right. Right onto Broadway Blvd. Left on Bolinas Rd, which becomes Fairfax-Bolinas Rd; turn right on West Ridgecrest, Blvd and right again on Pantoll Rd. Parking lot at intersection with Panoramic Hwy.
Verna Dunshee Trail (1.2 miles)
Circumnavigating Mount Tam’s east peak, this walk is ideal for those who want to get a little exercise along with stunning 360-degree vistas of the entire Bay Area. The paved path is wheelchair accessible, making it easy for everyone—including those with limited mobility or strollers—to enjoy the sweeping views. At a leisurely pace, the trip takes about 20 minutes. For more of a challenge, summit Mount Tam, trailhead takes off from the same parking lot.
From Pantoll Ranger Station, right onto Pantoll Rd, right on Ridgecrest Blvd; follow to the parking lot.
Rock Spring Loop (1.5 miles)
This is a relatively flat and generally shaded hike. The Cataract Trail begins from the gate at the Rock Spring parking lot. The trail parallels Cataract Creek, emerging briefly from the foliage into the Laurel Dell meadow, where you go right onto the Mickey O’Brien Trail to Barth’s Retreat. Take the connector fire road to the Laurel Dell Fire Road, then go right onto the Ben Stein Trail. From here it’s another mile back to Rock Spring.
From Pantoll Ranger Station, take Pantoll Rd to the first intersection. Pull into parking lot. Trailhead is along the eastern edge.
Old Gravity Car to Railroad Grade Loop (3.1 miles)
A great loop with a slight incline, steep downhill and south-facing views. Head out on Gravity Car Grade, just beyond the dirt overflow parking lot to the right of the Throckmorton Ridge Fire Station. Redwood groves open up to chaparral shrubs and vistas and, in time, a fork in the road marked by a stately madrone tree. Veer left onto Old Railroad Grade and continue uphill. The slope is gradual but noticeable. Look for Hogback Trail to the left, and take it for a steep descent back to the parking lot. Dogs OK on leash.
From Pantoll Ranger station, head east on Panoramic Hwy. The Mountain Home Inn will be on the left.
From Miller Ave in Mill Valley, take Montford to Panoramic Hwy. Park in the lot across from the Mountain Home Inn, or find a spot on the dirt road, just past the inn.
In Mill Valley
Dipsea Steps to Sun Trail, Tenderfoot Loop (6.5 miles)
Start at the base of the Dipsea Steps. Pace yourself as you climb—there are three sets of stairs, totaling over 670 steps. At the top of the first set, turn right and then left, and reconnect with the stairs on the right side of the road. At the top of the second set, turn left; the stairs will continue a few yards later on the right side of the road.
At the top of the third set, cross Edgewood Avenue and take the trail across the street that goes along the road leading to Walsh Drive. Continue past the houses on Walsh Drive and through the trail at the end of the paved road to Bay View. At the top of Bay View, turn right along Panoramic Highway and the trail will pick up across the street. Head down the steps, and keep to the right to merge onto the Sun Trail.
The trail continues until you cross a paved road, which connects to the German Tourist Club (a spot to stop for a drink or picnic if you like). Continue across the bridge, where the route becomes the Redwood Trail. Great views of the Pacific abound. As you head north the trail becomes the Panoramic Trail.
When you reach the Panoramic Highway, cross at Mountain Home Inn and veer down Edgewood Avenue until it dead-ends. Tenderfoot Trailhead is a small, unmarked path off to the left at a fire hydrant just before one of the last homes on the road. Zigzag your way back down the mountain until you reach Cascade Avenue. Keep right along the residential street to Old Mill Park. Dogs OK on leash.
From downtown Mill Valley, head west on Throckmorton Ave to Old Mill Park on the left (park on street). Turn left on Cascade. Stairs are alongside a driveway, at the intersection of Cascade Ave, Molino Ave and Cascade Way.
Blithedale Ridge Fire Road (2.3 miles one way)
Although a bit tricky to access, the Blithedale Ridge Fire Road is a great trail, with many options for offshoots and other trails. The fire road itself runs along the two-mile Blithedale Ridge with dramatic views. From the gate at the base of Via Vandyke, veer right, up and around the water tank at the end of the paved road. From here the path is a veritable roller coaster of ups and downs. At just under one mile there is a wide clearing (known as Judy’s Corners) where the Corte Madera Fire Road merges from the right; continue straight on the fire road to begin a major descent down the ridge. The fire road technically ends at the junction with the Indian Tree Fire Road (although you can continue up to the Eldridge Grade to the left, or down to Kent Woodlands on the right). Dogs OK on leash.
From Mill Valley, take East Blithedale Ave to West Blithedale Ave. Go right on Oakdale Ave and left on Elinor Ave to Via Vandyke.
Dias Ridge Trial (3.1 mile loop)
This new trail, reconstructed to protect the area’s ecosystem, offers breathtaking coastal views for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. Connecting State Route 1 to the Panoramic Highway, the 3.1-mile loop curves through rock gardens and connects to the ridge. Scale Mount Tamalpais, descend to Muir Beach and reward yourself after with sustenance at the Pelican Inn restaurant and pub. Or if you’re feeling ambitious, increase the distance by continuing on the Miwok or the Coastal Trail.
As part of an effort to restore the ecosystem at the 8.9-square-mile Redwood Creek watershed and improve its sustainability, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy has repaired approximately 500 linear feet of erosion on the Coastal Trail, which lines the Pacific Ocean west of Muir Woods.
Ladybug Loop in Baltimore Canyon (3.2 miles)
From the trailhead, cross the bridge over Larkspur Creek and head up the Dawn Falls Trail. The Ladybug Trail begins on the right
bank of the creek, across the second bridge on the trail.
Zigzag up the valley to the King Mountain Loop Trail. As the narrow trail intersects with a wider road, turn left onto Ridgecrest Road, just beyond the chain-link gate. Follow Ridgecrest to Evergreen, turn left, and then take another left onto Crown Road, which becomes the Southern Marin Line Fire Road. Dawn Falls Trail is .3 mile on the left. There’s a steep descent along the banks of the Larkspur Creek, where Dawn Falls will be flowing after a good rain. Dogs OK on leash.
Hwy 101 to Tamalpais Dr exit (west). Right on Corte Madera Ave, which becomes Magnolia Ave. Go left on Madrone Ave, which will veer to the right and become Valley Way. Trailhead is at the end of Valley Way. Parking is limited.
Bald Hill Loop (4.9 miles)
Start at the trailhead off the parking lot and take the Phoenix Lake Fire Road counterclockwise to the Worn Springs Fire Road. The climb to the top of Bald Hill is unrelenting, a great workout, and it’s well worth exerting all that energy for the views! The Yolanda Trail spur is two miles up on the left. It is a beautiful climb back down to Phoenix Lake, especially in spring when the wildflowers are in full bloom. Dogs OK on leash.
Hwy 101 to Sir Francis Drake Blvd exit (west). Left on Lagunitas Rd to Phoenix Lake. Parking is limited, so be prepared to walk in from the surrounding neighborhood.
In San Rafael
China Camp Loop (3.4 miles)
Cross North San Pedro Road and walk up the paved service road to the signed Shoreline Trail. Turn right toward the Miwok Meadows. The trail winds through the woods and wanders back through small grassy meadows. Turn left onto the Miwok Fire Trail, where, with a bit of a climb, you’ll find the Oak Ridge Trail, and veer left. A portion of the trail will cross with the McNears Fire Trail. Stay on Oak Ridge Trail to complete the loop back to the ranger station. No dogs.
Hwy 101 to Sir Francis Drake Blvd. Head west. Go east approximately 5 miles to the Bullhead Flat trailhead. Park on the road.
680 Trail (2.8 miles)
The new 2.8-mile “680 Trail” connects Loma Alta and Terra Linda Open Space Preserve lands. After years of construction, a wide, multiuse trail cuts runs through the hillside, bridges and decorative rockwork. It also allows access to the top of Loma Alta — one of Marin’s highest points, boasting an impressive 360-degree view of Marin — from both Sleepy Hollow and Terra Linda. There are three points of entry for the trail: in Fairfax near White Hill at Brown Bridge (2.3 miles, 1,100-foot ascent plus another 1.6 miles and 800-foot ascent); at Terra Linda Open Space Preserve (1.4 miles, 600-foot ascent); and on Lucas Valley Road, across from Big Rock Trail (2.2 miles, 900-foot ascent). Dogs are permitted.
Old Quarry Loop to the top of Mount Burdell (5.5 miles)
Go through the gate and take the trail right for .4 mile; then go left at Michako Trail. Take the San Carlos Fire Road left to the Old Quarry Trail; here, veer left and up the hill. Head right on the Burdell Mountain Ridge Road to enjoy the well-earned view. Take the Rocky Cobblestone Fire Road downhill to the Middle Burdell Fire Road; turn right. Take the Sand Andreas Fire Road and head left, back to the parking area. Dogs OK on leash.
Hwy 101 to San Marin Dr (west). Right on San Andreas Dr. Park at the end of the road.
In West Marin
Point Reyes Lighthouse (1.2 miles)
Start at the lighthouse parking lot and head uphill past the gate. The visitor center is half a mile in (open Thursday–Monday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.). If you can, climb the 308 stairs at the lighthouse. The viewing platform is one of the best places in Marin to see the gray whale migration in early January.
Hwy 101 to Sir Francis Drake Blvd exit. West on Sir Francis Drake to Olema. Right on Hwy 1 for 200 yards. Left on Bear Valley Rd. Left on Sir Francis Drake past Inverness to the headlands.
Bolinas Ridge (11.5 miles one way)
What many of us know as a picturesque undulating ridge above our beloved Stinson Beach is the consequence of millions of years of plate tectonics on the northern section of the San Andreas fault. The Bolinas Ridge Trail rises from Olema and continues through cow pastures and redwood forests as it runs parallel to Shoreline Highway and ends at Ridgecrest Boulevard on Mount Tamalpais. Vistas include Bolinas Lagoon, Inverness Ridge, Tomales Bay, and Black Mountain. The wide path is shared by bike riders, horses and hikers. Dogs on leash OK.
Hwy 101 to Sir Francis Drake Blvd exit. Head west on Sir Francis Drake Blvd toward Olema. The trailhead is about three miles past the entrance to Samuel P. Taylor Park.
Coast Trail to Alamere (8.2 miles)
This out-and-back hike is more about the destination than the journey, but the journey is pretty darn good. Start at the southern entrance to Point Reyes National Seashore at the Palomarin trailhead. Travel north along the gradually sloped and well- maintained Coast Trail. Admire the beautiful Pacific views before turning inland, where the journey continues past two scenic lakes, the first being Bass. Just past the second, Pelican Lake, look for the small path that veers left toward the bluffs
and eventually to Alamere Falls. Watch for poison oak on this part of the trail, as the path is not maintained. Hike down to the upper portion of the falls to get a memorable view of the falls dropping off the bluffs.
If you are feeling surefooted, scramble down the cliff to the beach to get the full magnitude of the falls as it takes its last drop of 40 feet onto the beach sand. Rain and tides can make access tricky, so plan accordingly. Dogs OK on leash.
North on Shoreline Hwy past Stinson Beach and left on the unmarked Bolinas-Olema Rd. Continue left at the Horseshoe Hill Rd intersection. Right on Mesa and continue several miles to the Palomarin trailhead parking lot (the last mile on dirt road).
The restoration of the Rodeo Valley Trail will be almost complete when work that began in 2011 is finished this fall. The riparian habitat has been restored, trail flooding has been reduced and pedestrian, bicycle and equestrian access from Fort Baker and Sausalito has been improved. This new alternative to Bunker Road is now safer and more picturesque.
Bay Trail at Fort Baker
In 2009, improvements were made along the East Road Bay Trail near Sausalito. In the near future, other changes to the Bay Trail alignment on the Fort Baker waterfront will allow easier access to the historic army post and Marin coast.