From Verna Dunshee to the Dipsea: The Ultimate Guide to Summer Hikes in Marin


This year, summer just might feel a bit more sunny and the air might smell just a bit more sweet. People are traveling, they are mingling, and more than ever, are vaccinated.  To celebrate our new freedom in a county known for its hiking, here are six trails to try out, guaranteed not to disappoint.  


Verna Dunshee 

Circumventing the top of Mount Tamalpais, this paved path is ideal for people who want to combine a little exercise with stunning 360-degree views of the entire Bay Area. Great for strollers or wheelchairs, this trail offers those with limited mobility the chance to enjoy sweeping views of the Pacific, San Francisco’s skyline, the East Bay and Mount St. Helena to the north. At a leisurely pace, hiking the entire trail takes about 20 minutes. If it has reopened, check out the Gravity Car Barn Museum, open noon to four Saturday and Sunday.

Length: 1.3-mile loop

Amenities: Restrooms, water fountains, picnic tables, gift store and Gravity Car Barn Museum

Parking: $8, cash only

Known for: Panoramic views of the entire Bay Area

Dogs: No

Watch for: Rattlesnakes are very unlikely but possible.

Directions: From Pantoll Station on Mount Tam, turn right on Ridgecrest Boulevard and take it all the way to the top.

Point Reyes Lighthouse

Point Reyes

Step back in history and visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse, built in 1870, just above the fog line on the rugged coast. The lighthouse was operational until 1975. Today it is a popular yet remote destination, generally attracting small crowds. Start at the parking lot and head uphill past the gate. The visitor center is half a mile away (center hours Thursday–Monday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.). If you’re so inclined, climb the 308 stairs at the lighthouse.

Length: ~1.2 miles

Amenities: Restrooms, gift shop

Parking: Free lot

Known for: The walk to the lighthouse can be windy, but is always scenic.

Dogs: Allowed on leash

Watch for: Foggy days; it’s best to do this hike in the sunshine.

Directions: Take Highway 101 to the Sir Francis Drake exit. Go west on Sir Francis Drake to Olema. Turn right on Highway 1 and go 200 yards. Go left on Bear Valley Road, and left again on Sir Francis Drake past Inverness to the Headlands.


Fort Cronkhite Loop 

Fort Cronkhite Loop 

This partially paved coastal loop in the Marin Headlands is great for the whole family. After you park at Rodeo Beach, the trail starts off with a steep incline, but hikers are soon rewarded with sweeping views of the Pacific. About halfway you’ll come across a 68-foot naval gun marking the entrance to the once top-secret military post. If you stay on the path, it is a 2.7-mile loop back to the parking lot, or veer to the left and add 1,100 feet of climbing to reach the top of Hill 88.

Length: ~2.7 miles

Amenities: Restrooms, picnic tables

Parking: Free lot 

Known for: Battery Townsley is now open to the public the first Sunday of the month from noon to 4 p.m.

Dogs: Allowed on leash

Watch for: Keep to the path. As tempting as it is to get to the edge, the cliffs are known to crumble.

Directions: Take Highway 101 to Conzelman Road, then take Bunker Road to Mitchell Road to the parking lot.

Phoenix Lake/Bald Hill Loop 

Pheonix Lake

The first part of this hike is pretty easy: a kid-friendly, 2.5-mile mostly rolling fire road/trail that meanders along the perimeter of the lake, with a couple sets of stairs. Start at the Natalie Coffin parking lot and hike up the dirt road toward the lake, approximately 200 yards. Stay right along the lake and look for the Worn Springs Fire Road after about another 150 yards (just past the water fountain). Next is a strenuous 45-minute hike up to the top of Bald Hill, with great views. Continue over the top, stay left, pick up the Yolanda Trail halfway down the backside, and follow it left all the way back to Phoenix Lake, a journey of about 3 miles.

Length: ~5.5 miles

Amenities: Restrooms

Parking: Free lot at Natalie Coffin Greene Park in Ross (very limited, so get there early)

Known for: Great views at the top and fun picnic stops along the lake

Dogs: Allowed on leash

Watch for: The incline is steep and there is not much shade at the top, so bring water and wear a hat.

Directions: Take Highway 101 to the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard exit and go west, then take a left on Lagunitas Road toward Phoenix Lake. Parking is limited, so be prepared to walk in from the surrounding neighborhood.


Palomarin to Alamere Falls 

Photo by Jack Wolford.

This there-and-back trail begins at the Palomarin trailhead parking lot. Head up the stairs and take a left. The mostly rolling, smooth trail goes in and out of the shade; make sure to follow signs to the Coast Trail. Once the trail meanders through a grove of alder trees, you are close to Bass Lake. Take a dip here if you like, or continue to the cliff and Alamere Falls, a 30-foot-tall waterfall that empties onto the south end of Wildcat Beach. The trail to the beach is doable but can be slippery. Enjoy, and return the way you came.

Length: ~7.5 miles 

Amenities: None 

Parking: Free lot 

Known for: Waterfall views and swimming in the cold waters of Bass Lake 

Dogs: No

Watch for: Poison oak, ticks and the eroding cliffs to the beach 

Directions: At the Highway 1 and Olema-Bolinas Road intersection, turn right and follow the Olema-Bolinas Road 1.3 miles south to the junction with Horseshoe Hill Road. Turn left and follow the Olema-Bolinas Road half a mile south to Mesa Road. Turn right and follow Mesa Road as it winds northwest 4.8 miles to the Palomarin trailhead. The last 1.5 mile of this route is on an unpaved road.

The Dipsea Trail 

The Dipsea Trail 

Unless you want to make it a 14-mile, four-peak hike, this adventure takes a bit of planning, but it’s well worth it. If you can’t leave a car at the trail’s Stinson Beach terminus, then plan on using the West Marin Stagecoach, which will bring you back to Mill Valley (check times). Once you’ve arranged your pickup, start your journey on this historic one-way, 7-mile hike in Mill Valley at Old Mill Park. Head up the three flights of stairs and follow the mile markers through Muir Woods, up and down two peaks and through a redwood forest, over a bridge and on to your destination at Stinson Beach. Expect to be on the trail for about two hours.

Length: ~7 miles

Amenities: Restrooms, picnic tables, water fountains

Parking: Street parking near Old Mill Park 

Known for: The oldest footrace this side of the Mississippi

Dogs: No

Watch for: Bring a trail guide; many trails crisscross the Dipsea Trail and it’s easy to get lost. 

Directions: Take Highway 101, head toward downtown Mill Valley, turn onto Throckmorton Avenue and find a place to park once you pass Cascade Drive.

Looking for some gear to get out on the trail? Here’s some ideas:

How to help:

Consider supporting one of these local nonprofits that urgently need support during the pandemic.

More from Marin:

Stephanie Martin

Stephanie Martin is the co-founder and managing director of BrandForward, which helps current and retired athletes build strong personal brands. She is also the author of Big Game Bigger Impact, a chronicle of how San Francisco not only hosted Super Bowl 50, but redefined the big game experience in the process. An active member of Women in Sports and Events, she loves to help people discover their strengths and passions through mentorship. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.