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Urban Hike: Mt. Tamalpais

My friend Fennel has been following my Urban Hike posts, and after my Point Bonita Lighthouse one said he could show me the bus route to the top of Mt. Tamalpais, north of SF in Marin County, and take me on a favorite hike of his around the top of the mountain. Yesterday was the perfect day for it!

It’s amazing that, here in the middle of winter, we’ve been having shorts weather. Serious shorts weather. Fennel and I caught a morning Golden Gate Transit bus downtown to take us to Marin City (it was the number 70, but the 10 and the 80 will also get you there). In Marin City, we transferred to the “Marin Stagecoach”, which is a short bus (it’s a narrow and winding road ahead). The Stagecoach goes all the way out to Stinson Beach and, being a Saturday, it filled up with loud high-schoolers on their way to the beach. So many that they were sitting on each others’ laps. And chattering. Ugh. 🙂 Fennel says the ride is usually almost solitary if you go on a weekday.

Trail map of Mt. Tam.

Trail map of Mt. Tam.

Mt. Tamalpais (locally known as simply “Tam”) is a huge mountain that dominates the Bay Area skyline. It’s mostly a State Park, and tops out at 2571 feet high, just a couple of miles from the ocean. It has popular hiking and biking trails, horseback riding, camping, and even an outdoor amphitheater that hosts all sorts of plays and musicals, including “Hairspray” in recent years. We passed many a hiker and bicyclist on our several-hour hike.

We started at the Pantoll Ranger Station (a popular bus stop for getting off, with a nice campground) and hiked west along the Matt Davis trail, which goes through oak, pine, and redwood forests before coming out to grassy near-vertical hillsides. We turned northward onto the Coastal Trail, whose path dips in and out of shaded forest ravines along the way. After crossing a fire road and the ridge we came down the other side to the Cataract Trail. That led us to a surprisingly popular picnic area, Laurel Dell, which was scented by the flowers of the fabulously-named Foetid Adder’s Tongue. It’s a fly-pollinated lily, and smells like dead meat. Great spot for a picnic. Just a titch down the path is Cataract Falls, deep in the Bay Laurel forests.

On the trip back out, we parallelled the Cataract Trail along the Old Stove Trail before turning southward on Simmons Trail. Eventually we reached Old Mine Trail, traversed to Easy Grade Trail, and ended up on the Old Stagecoach Road back into Pantoll for the bus home. The whole loop took us about four hours, with some intense uphills and some phenomenal views. SO worth the effort!

We passed so many beautiful native trees and plants, crossed streams, saw some amazing geology (the San Andreas Fault is at the western base of the mountain, passing directly under the beach at Stinson Beach), gorgeous ocean views… At one point, we could turn from views of the entire East Bay to San Francisco to the Pacific. Simply stunning.

Below is a gallery of the pix I took. I don’t know the names of all the plants, so not every shot is labelled… I took plenty, though! 🙂

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