This post is from 2014 and I never published it. Someone asked about Public Transit backpacking in the Bay Area so I thought I would finally publish it. Here it is. This trip would be incredibly easy to travel with the map at this link to Marin Mountain Bike Map. Another good map to have is one of Point Reyes National Seashore as it can easily be added on if you have more time. DISCLAIMER: Always check for trail closures. While publishing this BLOG I found that there were a few trails that I mention that are currently closed. Maps are essential for dealing with closures on the fly.
Away we go!
A long time ago, on a BART car far far away…
I was not in the mood for hanging around the apartment twiddling my thumbs waiting for my lovely Dormouse to return from her trip visiting family, so I decided to walk out my front door and go for a little 3-day backpacking trip to one of the Bay Area’s most prominent mountains, Mt. Tamalpais.
Located in Marin County, Mt. Tamalpais is surrounded by a plethora of public wild lands. The Marin Headlands, Mt Tamalpais State Park, Muir Woods, Point Reyes National Seashore, and Mt. Tamalpais Watershed all are within less than one day’s walk of the summit. Mt. Tam as it is known to Bay Area locals, is within view of much of San Francisco and is a fixture of the skyline. Many people look at the the mountain and think it is far across the bay and requires a painful drive through traffic on the Golden Gate via 19th Ave if you are on the Peninsula or something far worse if you are in the East Bay. If you live in these areas there is a solution! Make your trip to the mountain a part of your hike. It is kind of funny how easy it is to get to by transit then walk on foot. On this and other trips I have made to Mt Tam, I have utilized BART to get to the Embarcadero or Montgomery St stop and then walked from there.
I started the day with another Town Start (the opposite of an alpine start, at 11:30AM) even later than our trip to Henry Coe. I really had to rush because I knew I had 22 miles to cover to get to Pantoll Ranger Station, where I planned to camp the night (because it is one of the few legal places to camp). Pantoll is nice because it doesn’t require any reservations and is a purely walk-up campground.
STEP 1: Scenic City Walk to Golden Gate Bridge from Emarcadero or Montgomery St BART Stop (Unlimited Options: Red Inland Option through North Beach, Black Emarcadero Option)
I made my way to BART and got off at the Montgomery St BART station. I decided to head down Montgomery St to Columbus St because I could get some much needed shade during the rare 80F “heat wave” that we were experiencing in SF that weekend. I enjoyed my choice because I got to walk past the Pan America Pyramid and through North Beach, skirting Chinatown. It is easy to see the walk along Embarcadero as welcoming with its wide sidewalks and views of the waterfront, but this way is enjoyable for people-watching and seeing the interesting neighborhoods.
After reaching the end of Columbus I made my way to the In-N-Out on Jefferson St. I ordered a milkshake so I didn’t have to wait for the delicious made to order burger and so I could walk and consume calories most easily. I had that shake polished off before going over the hill to Fort Mason. Now that’s efficiency! From Fort Mason I past through Marina Green and Crissy Field. At Crissy Field I saw many wild flowers in bloom. If you are going through this area make sure you stay closest to the water, as it is much more scenic. I’ve been doing this wrong for years.
From Crissy Field the signs were easy to follow to the Golden Gate Bridge.
STEP 2: Walk through Marin Headlands (Options Unlimited) No water after water fountain immediately after Golden Gate Bridge
After crossing the bridge I picked up water from the water fountain at the overlook parking lot. This was my last water source until Redwood Creek just short of 11 miles from there. After downing some water and filling my bottles to the brim I walked down the the catwalk underneath the bridge to the Coastal Trail. Now I was in the Marin Headlands (map). The Coastal Trail switchbacks up until you reach a junction with the SCA Trail. From there I took the straightest path to Pantoll passing by Morning Glory Trail (a great trail to Sausalito giving you a bail option on the way back), to Alta Trail, Bobcat, Marincello into Tennessee Valley. I’m unsure if Tennessee Valley has drinking water, but you probably could find a spigot if you ask nicely at the horse stables there. This would make the stretch of 11 miles much more tolerable. Hiking out of Tennessee Valley on the Miwok Trail is quite busy with mountain bikers. I really don’t like this part of the area, but it is Marin County, where Mountain biking started, so I put up with it. As it approached 6:30pm, close to Route 1, I came out of a grove of coast live oaks into some scrub and to my surprise I saw the stubby tail of a bobcat before it bolted. This was only the second bobcat I’d seen while hiking hundreds of miles in the Bay Area. I was elated. Here I was a few miles from home seeing cool wildlife. I walked up to where the cat was and found that I had literally scarred the crap out of it. I’m guessing this is much more common then I had previously thought when watching this video.
After crossing Route 1 I was in Mt Tamalpais State Park. I would continue on Miwok Trail climbing up to Pantoll Ranger Station. After crossing Muir Woods road I went up a combination of Deer Park Fire Road and the Dipsea Trail. After going up Dipsea, I went over to Stapleveldt Trail to dip down into the upper part of Muir Woods then up to Pantoll (walking through Muir Woods main entrance/redwood grove on the way back helps avoid the crowds if you leave early). The other longer way on TCC Trail has less elevation loss and gain if you are feeling tired at the end of the day. I made it to Pantoll at 7:00pm and was pleased to sit down and relax. I paid for a spot in the hike/bike-in site ($5/person 2014) and was surprised to see another tent there. In the past Dormouse and I have been the only ones at that site. I set up my tent and hunkered down in the tent away from the wind and ate some cold rehydrated chili. I was satisfied with the spicy, delicious, and quickly prepared meal. I spent the rest of the night hanging out with my campsite mates.
Step 3: Mount Tam Walk from Stinson
I woke up around 6:15am. I got my gear together, ate a granola bar and walked down Steep Ravine Trail. I found the trail nice with plentiful vegetation, including wonderful California bay trees which provided shade. A nice change from the long shade-less stretches of the Headlands.
From Stinson Beach I climbed up Matt Davis Trail (at end of the street with the fire house on the corner.) It’s a reasonably steep climb up the trail to the Coastal Trail which takes you out of the Douglas Fir/ Oak forest of Matt Davis to coastal grassland.
At Camp Fire Road I took a turn north to cross the road so I could make my way to Cataract Falls. Having such a dry couple of years, the falls were unfortunately a dud. But in the wet season the falls are a great site.
Instead of turning back like many do when they reach the falls, I headed east on High Marsh Trail. High Marsh Trail is great because it crosses a bunch of headwaters for streams going into Alpine Lake. My enjoyment was multiplied by not seeing one person for several hours until I got on International Trail to Eastcrest Blvd and the Peak. The north side of Mt Tam is really secluded if you like getting away from the crowds.
Heading down from the top I went down Fern Creek Trail to towards Throckmorton Fire Station. A brief road walk on Panoramic Highway got me to Panoramic Trail which is just a path next to the road. From there I could take the Ocean View and Lost Trail back down into Muir Woods. While in Muir Woods I decided to go up Fern Creek Trail (yes the same creek, different trail.) I was very surprised by how scenic and tranquil it was (and I was there on a free weekend!). Definitely, make the extra effort to go up it if you have the time. All my pictures really do not capture the scene, unfortunately. Racing through the crowds I made my way to Muir Woods Road to catch the Miwok Trail back out to the Headlands. I actually misread the map thinking that there was no coastal escape from Mt Tamalpais State Park to the Headlands (this can be done by taking Redwood Creek Trail to Muir Beach and road walking to Green Gulch Trail).
As a result of this mistake, I got to see fresh Mountain lion kill where I was less than 24 hours ago! I nervously walked away from the kill thinking at least the cat probably isn’t hungry anymore. After that scare I made a bee-line for the coast to hike a different trail from the way in and enjoyed the clear views.
In the morning after another windy night, I went into the Tennessee Valley to get some much needed freshwater. From there I continued down the Coastal Trail past old army batteries through Rodeo Beach on my way back to the Golden Gate.
Along the way I passed a sign for Slacker Ridge a trail so small it is barely noticeable on the map.
After Slacker Ridge, the Golden Gate and BART were my destination. I crossed the bridge, taking time to look out for sea life in the cold waters below. I spotted a few sea lions here and there. In the past we have seen porpoises and diving pelicans. Walking down the Embarcadero was an excellent conclusion to my trip through the Marin Wilderness.
Other Extension Options:
Marin Municipal Water District Land has tons of trails that can link Mt Tam to Point Reyes
Point Reyes is huge and you don’t have to use your imagination to hike here.
Other transit Options:
Marin Stagecoach from Tam Junction to Stinson Beach (Base of
Golden Gate Transit can significantly reduce your San Francisco Hiking
The Historic F Line can drop you off at Fisherman’s Wharf from Embarcadero BART
The Ferry to Sausalito can drop you off at BART after a walk down Morning Sun Trail into town
Do you have any Bay Area backpacking trips using public transit? Let me know in the comments.