. Hiking Mt Tamalpais, wrong turns, and visions of Ewoks : Budget Travel Adventures

Hiking Mt Tamalpais, wrong turns, and visions of Ewoks

hiking Mt Tamalpais Redwood trees fog

Oh give me a home, where the Ewoks roam…and the skies are quite foggy all day

Located on the California coast just north of San Francisco, Mt Tamalpais offers a secret hiking getaway for locals or tourists in the know.

Maybe you haven’t heard of Mt Tamalpais.  There may be a good reason for that.  Just down the road is one of the most popular National Parks in California – Muir Woods National Monument.  Everyone loves the Redwood trees as millions of people strain their necks looking up at these giants.

Many people love to visit National Parks here in the US.  In California, we have have more National Parks (24) than any other state in the country.

Our adopted son and the man for whom Muir Woods is named after, John Muir, is the father of our national parks.  If you’ve ever visited a US National Park, take a moment to say “Thank you, John Muir.”  After all, millions of people enjoy free admission to national parks every year thanks to the US National Parks Service.

I’ve been one of the 4 million people who have visited Muir Woods National Monument in the last few years.  For first time visitors, I shared my Muir Woods travel guide.  Thinking about it now reminds me that I need to go back.

I love sharing my tips for hiking in northern California.  This is why people need to know about the state park just a few minutes down the road so they can enjoy hiking Mt Tamalpais.

My longer than expected day hiking Mt Tamalpais

I was on the road before the sun began its ascent over the horizon.  I made the drive from Sacramento to Mill Valley so I could be one of the first people on the trails.  Winding my way along Highway 1, I entered Mt Tamalpais and headed straight to the top.

Admittedly, I missed the turn off for my hike but made it to the top of Mt Tamalpais and the Visitor Center and was rewarded with stunning views of….fog.  On a clear day, you can see the ocean and even a glimpse of the San Francisco Bay from the 2,751 foot peak of Mt Tamalpais.

hiking Mt Tamalpais peak fog

The peak of Mt Tamalpais and a view of the fog from above

However, seeing soft pillowy white clouds covering the Pacific Ocean was comforting – and enough to make me want to take a nap at 7:30 am.  However, I still had a big hike ahead of me.

Driving back down the road, I found the turn off for Pantoll.  Throughout Mt Tamalpais State Park, there are over 50 miles of trails with easy and moderate hikes.

My hike would start at the Steep Ravine Trail, meet up with the Dipsea Trail, and continue on the Coastal Fire Road and Old Mine Trail back to Pantoll.  This hike would cover 3.8 miles with 1,000 feet of elevation change.

Streams, rolling hills, fog, distant beaches, and Redwoods are just a few of the things I planned to see on my hike.  However, I ended up seeing grasslands, a fire station, shops and parking lots along Stinson Beach, and a steep ascent up the Matt Davis trail that made my tired legs want to say “I quit” after already hiking 4 miles.

At the turn off for the Dipsea Trail, I made a wrong turn, headed back, and went down the trail all the way to Stinson Beach.  My 3.8 mile loop was now nearly 4 miles and a long way from Pantoll.    A three hour hike became a 5 hour hike but with some great views along the way.

Entering the Steep Ravine Trail, I encountered moss, plants, and Douglas Fir and Redwood trees.  I entered another world.  Throw in a few Ewoks and I could have been on Endor fighting against the Empire (actually, the scenes for Return of the Jedi were filmed in a similar location a bit further north of Mt Tamalpais in Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park).

From the Steep Ravine Trail, I entered a completely different landscape.  From tall trees to grasslands and ocean waves in the distance, the hike down the Dipsea Trail led me to Stinson Beach.

hiking Mt Tamalpais Dipsea Trail fog

hiking the Dipsea Trail through the fog

On the ascent up the Matt Davis Trail, the climb was steep but I was rewarded with sweeping views of the sea, rolling hills, and trees.  As I finished the trail and walked back to Pantoll I was tired.  It was a long but rewarding hike filled with scenery, surprises, and an extreme awareness for my lack of navigation skills.

Wrong turns, Ewoks, and planning my next hike on Mt Tamalpais


(Flickr – Andres Rueda)

From sea level to Ewoks battling among the Redwood trees to sitting atop the fog as I ate lunch, my day long hike gave me a good work out and ever-changing views of California’s coast.  Blisters and sore legs were my thank you for a long day spent hiking Mt Tamalpais.

However, I was glad that I made wrong turns.  I got to see much more of Mt Tamalpais than I expected.  It gave me the chance to share a few more photos so that people can see that there is more to this area than just Muir Woods.

I’ll come back and hike here again one day to explore more of the trails.  Next time, I’ll bring a better trail map…and Chewbacca.

If you want more information, check out the Mt Tamalpais State Park page or the Mt Tamalpais Interactive Association to get some recommended hikes and other information for the area.  Please note that Mt Tamalpais is a California State Park so there is a charge for parking.

Check out more photos from my day of hiking Mt Tamalpais and my hikes in Hope Valley, Markleeville, and Horsetail Falls.

hiking Mt Tamalpais Redwood Trees

Redwood trees

hiking Mt Tamalpais Steep Ravine Trail

Steep Ravine Trail

hiking Mt Tamalpais Redwood trees fog

finding the trees through the fog


hiking Mt Tamalpais fog Redwood trees

Be on the lookout for Ewoks!

hiking Mt Tamalpais moss creek

a stream of water flows over the moss

Mt Tamalpais hiking trees fog

hiking Mt Tamalpais Redwood trees in the fog

More trees in the fog

hiking Mt Tamalpais green trees moss outdoors

My favorite Mt Tamalpais photo

Mt Tamalpais hiking Steep Ravine Trail

near the end of the Steep Ravine Trail

hiking Mt Tamalpais Dipsea Trail

the start of the Dipsea Trail


Mt Tamalpais hiking Dipsea trail trees

How about those ocean views!

Mt Tamalpais hiking Matt Davis Trail

Hiking above the fog on the Matt Davis Trail

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Filed Under: CaliforniaDestinationsHiking


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  1. With everyone heading to Muir Woods, I am sure there are less people on the trails here. Looks like a beautiful place.

    • Yep, that’s one reason I enjoyed the hike. I didn’t see many people at all that day and there was even a 50 mile trail race going on. I also went to Muir Woods as well and there were LOTS of people there.

  2. I have to visit both Muir Woods and Mt. Tamalpais. Sometimes getting lost makes an adventure better than what was initially planned.

    • Yes you do! And yes, getting lost makes for great adventures. I’ve found that to be true on all my trips. They create some pretty great stories and make you think Ewoks are lurking around the corner! :)

  3. Erika says:

    That looks gorgeous! Even though I’m a N Cal native, I’ve not heard of this park. It’s on my list the next time I’m in the area. Thanks for sharing!

    • Proof that Mt Tamalpais gets overlooked because of its neighbor Muir Woods! :)

      It is a great hike and many locals know about it. It’s amazing that you have San Francisco and then a few miles away you have this!

  4. Laurence says:

    Looks like my kind of place! I saw a documentary about John Muir not too long ago – that was a man with some serious vision. A lot of park visitors in the US owe him a great debt 😀

  5. Leah Travels says:

    I’m not sure that I’d call myself a hiking enthusiast, but I am a view enthusiast. I discovered in New Zealand that sometimes you have to work to see the best sights. They’re not always just handed to you at the end of a paved road or at the top of a gondola ride. So, I suppose I’m a quasi-hiker. I mean, I have boots, so that counts for something, right? Seriously, through your hiking posts you’ve shown me a side of California that I’d not thought much about. This really is a beautiful place.

  6. As a Northern and Central California girl this post makes me homesick! There is so much diversity and beauty in this part of the state and it’s still so easy to have a bit of it (mostly) to yourself as you just proved. Hiking boots are on!

  7. Thanks for introducing me to Mt. Tamalpais — I’d never heard of it. Looks like quite a beautiful place to hike.

  8. There’s been plenty of times I’ve been tempted to move to the West Coast, especially in northern California because of its close proximity to everything!

    The view of the fog hovering over the bay/ocean isn’t so bad though, your photo still looks pretty amazing! Your longer-than-expected hike reminds me of when I got “lost” while hiking in Australia. Being a city girl, I was paranoid as hell, especially since I was alone, but you’re right, getting lost has its perks: more stunning, unexpected views!

  9. I was not too far from there last weekend when I went to Napa & Sonoma. Great photos & story, Jeremy.

  10. We hiked the main Redwood forest tracks when we were in San Francisco. Maybe should have gone here instead. Great photos!

  11. Hi Jeremy,

    There is nothing I like more than a long hike in nature. Even though your walk turned out to be longer than expected it looks gorgeous. Hope you had water and snacks:)

    Thanks for giving me another reason to want to visit the San Fran area and showing me how to get off the main tourist track:)

    • Glad I got you off the main tourist track – I just got off a little more than expected! :)

      I love hiking in this area. I actually did a fun hike this past weekend, albeit very hot, that I will have to share. I would do a lot more hiking this Fall but I’ll be traveling a lot. I’ve put together a basic hiking guide for northern California if you’re interested.

      This is a beautiful area. I know more people know about Yosemite and Muir Woods but there are so many great places to explore and hike around here.

  12. I love it how wrong turn brings such fantastic surprises. The photo of being above the clouds is just dreamy.

  13. Taslim says:

    Any tips for hiking this alone?? Haven’t hiked in years but I grew up Trinidad and Tobago so it shouldn’t be too difficult right?? Thinking about doing this on Saturday.

    • Hi Taslim. I actually did this hike on my own so you should have no issues at all. This time of year in San Francisco, there should be plenty of people on the trails so you’re not isolated at all. My best advice for this would be the following:

      1) Carefully map your route. I missed my my turn for the original hike and ended up doing one twice as long in a loop
      2) Check out the ratings for each of the hikes and make sure it fits your hiking style, fitness level, etc.
      3) Wear layers as it can be cool this time of year. Fog often rolls into Mt Tam limiting visibility and lowering temps. It’s not dangerous but gives you some great views like the ones in my photos.

      If you want to join some others for a hike, they have both Saturday and Sunday hikes scheduled with the Mt Tam Association. Here’s a list of the scheduled hikes on Sundays (they have a link for Saturdays as well but this has better information). You can see what hikes they are doing, how long they are, and what they are rated. http://www.mttam.net/hiking/sunday-hikes.html

      If you want general information, check out Mt Tam’s State Park page – http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=471

      I hope this helps!

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