Mt Tamalpais from Public Transit

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.

Mount Tamalpais and Alcatraz across the San Francisco Bay not  far walking

Mount Tamalpais and Alcatraz across the San Francisco Bay

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.

Wildflowers at Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Bridge

Wildflowers at Crissy Field and the Golden Gate Bridge

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.

Bobcat in Marin Headlands

Much less interesting than a picture of a Bobcat. At least you can see it’s fresh.


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.

Columbine in Steep Ravine

Columbines were all along the route. Pretty good for low light and using my trekking pole as a monopod (Ultrapod)

Stinson Beach time to go up Mt Tam

Stinson Beach time to go up Mt Tam

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.

Hiking on Coastal Trail for the north approach to Mt Tam

Hiking on Coastal Trail for the northern approach to Mt Tam

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.

View from Mt Tamalpais

View from Mt Tamalpais

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).

Mountain Lion Kill

As a result of this mistake, I got to see fresh Mountain lion kill where I was less than 24 hours ago!

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.

Slacker Ridge: I'm surprised no one has mentioned it to me

Slacker Ridge: I’m surprised no one has mentioned it to me

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.

Henry Coe State Park Shakedown Hike

We left late (around 9:30) Saturday morning after a long work week at our desk jobs.

After an hour our of driving we reached the exit off Highway 101 for the park.  It took about 30 minutes to go 8 miles, this is to get to the Headquarters entrance.  The road was very windy and narrow, but the scenery was beautiful already.  We knew we would be in for a treat.
We went to the park with no plan so we were happy to talk to the rangers at the headquarters.  The rangers were very knowledgeable and seemed to know most of the park like the back of their hand.  They seemed to know much more than the average ranger at other parks we’ve been to.  I definitely plan on picking their brain some more the next time we go.
The park is really a gem.  Its like a time capsule.  I feel the park is like hiking in Bay Area like it was before all the roads and people moved in.   Henry Coe State Park is made up of a network of old ranch roads and trails covering 87,000 acres.  It is a great place to have close by because it is the 2nd largest state park in California.
Classic Diablo range oak grassland savannah

Classic Diablo range oak grassland savanna

Our first day we did 13 miles of mellow hiking to Coit Lake.  It was mellow because it was mostly an elevation loss from ranger station.  Large oak trees roamed on large grassy hills.  Blades of grass were dancing in the wind, and the sun was warm on our faces.
Coe doesn't have many sweeping views due to moderately high hills and steep valleys.

Coe doesn’t have many sweeping views due to moderately high hills and steep valleys.  This is great if you are looking for solitude because there is no grand attraction/feature.  We saw 3 people after the first couple hours of hiking in.

An acorn woodpecker is busy with storing acorns in his granary tree.

An acorn woodpecker is busy with storing acorns in his granary tree.

Shooting stars were one of the few types of flowers that were out.  They were out in full display.

Shooting stars were one of the few types of flowers that were out. They were out in full display.

As we arrived at Coit Lake, Dormouse set up tent on her own to gain experience.  Setting the tent up together isn’t a great plan until we both know how to set it up on our own.  We found that our polycro ground sheet already had a tear in it, and we are really bummed about that.  How do people exactly use it for a full thru-hike with one sheet?
We tried one of our go-to cookless meals, good old instant mashed potatoes and stuffing mix, mixed together.  We found it overly salty because potatoes were flavored.  I think in the future we are going to mix stuffing with unflavored potatoes.  We hit the hay shortly after deciding our route for the next day to Mississippi Lake.  We closed our eyes and listened to the sound of croaking frogs and chirping waterfowl.
That night was the night daylights savings changed over.  We set our alarm to wake us up at the crack of dawn.  This was not a good idea.  FYI, Phones even on airplane mode auto reset time set time during the daylight savings change over.  The alarm ended up going off at 4:00 AM.  Not fun waking up two hours before you wanted to.  Somethings you just have to learn the hard way.  We got up early, and started our hike.
A gnarly old sycamore in one of Coe's many valleys.

A gnarly old sycamore in one of Coe’s many valleys.

The hike back was a really difficult roughly 19 miles.  We decided to take old ranch roads back because the trails in the park all go up and down 1000′ between hills.  The old ranch roads reminded us of the “roller coaster” on the Appalachian Trail.  Up and down, up and down, and never flat.  Dormouse’s feet really hurt by the end.  She is experimenting with different ways of changing her gait to hopefully help with this reoccurring problem.  By the time we got back to the car, we were exhausted.
Mistletoe sprouting on dormant oaks

Mistletoe sprouting on dormant oaks.

Dormouse was bummed after this hike and wondered how on earth she was going to average over 20 miles a day if less than 20 miles destroys her feet.  The GPS claimed that the second day was closer to 17 miles, and we wonder if the GPS accounts for vertical gain as well as map miles.  This made Dormouse even more upset.  What if it was only 17 miles, and her feet were dead..?

Super Bowl Hike 2014

I wake up slightly before our alarm goes off to the sound of rain hitting the window.  The excitement and confusion were overwhelming for me.  California in the middle of the greatest drought in recorded history was getting rain?  Then, I thought about all of the slightly damp laundry I had carefully hung outside the day before to dry.  They weren’t slightly damp anymore. I guess it was for a good cause.  I’m glad something finally worked.

Groggy, I lay there waiting for the alarm to go off excited for the hike that we had planned to do in spite of Super Bowl Sunday.  We were going to head to a local open space preserve Purisima Creek Redwoods.   The 20+ mile day hike was scheduled to get into better shape and test our gear for our Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike starting in June.

I was a little nervous about waking up Dormouse, thinking she would want to skip the days hike because of the steady rain outside. I definitely wanted to still go.  If we were going to have an amazing hike on any day it would be on a rainy day with a major television event.  The alarm went off and I let it go for 30 seconds.  Dormouse was still sound asleep despite the beeping.  I woke her up and told her the news.  She was as excited as me because of the cool air, lack of people, and a whole day outside.  We both were especially excited for seeing the creatures that come out of hiding during rain.  Some of our favorite days hiking have been in the rain.

After gobbling up some breakfast and scrounging around for the rain gear we weren’t expecting to use.  We were off for a walk in the park.

Starting out we parked outside the gate we worried that we wouldn’t be back before the gate closed at sunset.  We were happy to see that we were the first and only people there.  It was still coming down pretty hard and in the 40s.  Getting ready for the cold rain another car showed up.  It was a lady with shorts, a thin rain jacket, and an umbrella.  I was happy to see someone use an umbrella for hiking because I am a recent convert to using an umbrella as a way of hiking in the rain.  I didn’t really think she would be comfortable in her shorts though.  I was content that Dormouse and I were properly outfitted for the situation with multiple layers and our wonderful trekking umbrellas.  It wasn’t long before the woman turned around looking cold and defeated.  We knew we had at least 20 more miles to go.  We were headed to the farthest part of the park to see what was there.  We knew a trail went there and roughly how far it was.  That was enough for us.

Something I forgot about walking under an umbrella before adopting one for hiking is that umbrellas are really great for keeping you dry.  Not only that they keep the sun off you when there is no shade.  We walked comfortably, dry, and warm.  Ok, we weren’t completely dry our feet got wet.  There is definitely great benefit to having a dry face and head for moral.  In warmer temperatures you can even keep cool while staying dry not having to wear a restrictive jacket to keep the rain from hitting you, while you sweat inside.

Dormouse use an umbrella to keep warm and dry

Dormouse demonstrates that hiking in the rain all day can be enjoyable with proper gear.

Along the way we saw hundreds of banana slugs.  We were in Purisima the week before and had not seen a single one.  If you know the area, that is a big deal.  Although, given the record drought it is not surprising.  We were glad that they were out in such great numbers.  They bring a certain flare to hiking in the Santa Cruz Mountains that we have grown accustom to.

Banana Slugs a pleasent side affect of hiking in the rain

Hiking in the rain lets you discover animals and plants you didn’t know were there all along, like this banana slug.

We even saw California newts.  A few here and there along some streams.  When we finally got to near the end of the trail at Lobitos Creek Trail we stopped for a second to look at the map and found ourselves completely surrounded by newts.  We counted 20 newts while we stood in one spot.  It was unreal the ground was basically moving.  We were careful to move them aside off the trail before we moved on because we were going to come back the same way.  We had to look really closely at each step because of their camouflage.   After reaching the end of the trail we turned back and found that the area full of newts now had none.  We happened to catch a mass migration of newts!

A animal you don't see too often unless you hike during the rain

California Newts and other amphibians are a great example of animals you will see large numbers of if you hike in the rain in their habitat.  Amphibians like newts, salamanders, and frogs can migrate by the 100s or 1000s to breed in the spring during the first rains of spring.  They often migrate to water bodies to mate from their upland home.  Many mushrooms and flowers will also make a great appearance right after a rain.

It reminded me of a day hiking on the Appalachian Trail hiking into Rockfish Gap in Virginia.  On that day, we saw 280 red-spotted newts.  Thru-hiking can be boring at times, so when something like this comes up we actually counted every single newt.  We would never had seen so many newts if we waited to hike on a sunny day.

We would have never seen so many newts if we decided to not hike in the rain. Seeing 280 creatures of any sort is really an exhilarating experience.

Besides happening into a great migration of California newts there also happens to be an impressive redwood tree at the end of Lobitos Creek Trail.


A lone old growth redwood tree near the end of Lobitos Creek Trail in Purisima. A rewarding surprise near the end of a trail that seems to go to nowhere.

Towards the end of our hike back to the car the sky started to clear up and we saw great views of the evolving clouds.

The clouds begin to clear to show the trees breathing out

The clouds begin to clear to show the trees breathing out. The redwood trees have opened their stomata to let out excess water vapor.

Thanks to our umbrellas and warm clothes, we finished up our hike well before sunset in good spirits having spent the whole day in the rain happy to see the world that lives on wet days.  If you haven’t tried hiking in the rain I would highly suggest it.  Try it out in warmer weather first.  Hiking with temperatures in the 40s – 50s can be dangerous due to hypothermia unless you know what you are doing.  This doesn’t mean that hiking in the rain during warm weather is safe.  Be prepared:

1. Be sure to wear and bring synthetic or wool clothing which dries much faster than cotton and is able to insulate while wet.,

2. Put on a layer before you take a break to keep warm.  Keeping warm is easier than warming up.

3. Have a waterproof/windproof layer to keep the rain from cooling you off too much.  An umbrella can help a great deal with keeping your dry and can be used with a lightweight wind breaker to save on weight and allow for greater breathability while active.

When you are all done with your rainy adventure let us know how it goes,

Dirt Stew

Day’s Stats:

Mileage: 21.8 Miles

Time: 8.5 hours