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.
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.
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
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.
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