Hiking in Central Marin
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.
Mount Tamalpais; 2,751 feet; (5 or 10 miles, one-way)
Whether you park halfway up or start from the bottom, you’ll be grateful for the 360-degree Bay Are perspective from the top of Mount Tam.
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.