Baltimore Canyon Open Space Preserve,
Marin County Open Space District,
Marin County
In brief:
2.2 mile out and back hike departs from the edge of a residential Larkspur neighborhood and leads to Dawn Falls.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.2 mile out and back hike is easy, with about 300 feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is about 160 feet, and the featured hike climbs to about 400 feet. There is a short moderately-steep stretch. Other hikes departing from this trailhead range from the easy end of moderate to tough, depending on far you trek.

Exposure:
Mostly shaded.

Trail traffic:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails.

Hiking time:
1 hour or so.

Season:
Late winter and/or early spring are ideal for flowers and the waterfall.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Marin County, exit Paradise/Tamalpais Drive. Drive west on Tamalpais about 0.8 mile, then turn right at the stop sign onto Corte Madera. Drive about 0.6 mile (Corte Madera becomes Magnolia), then turn left onto Madrone Avenue (across from the Lark Creek Inn). Drive on narrow Madrone about 0.8 mile, to a small turnaround at the end of the road. If you're nervous about narrow roads or worried about getting lost, you may want to check out Google streetview before you head out -- but note that you won't have a cell signal on the road near the trailhead.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/411

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3755'52.15"N
Longitude
12233'2.99"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Pay phone, gas, stores, and restaurants in downtown Larkspur, or back in Corte Madera. No camping in the immediate area.

Trailhead details:
Parking is only permitted in the white-outlined roadside spaces. There are 5 spots about 30 feet from the trailhead, and a handful more back down the road. No parking or entrance fees. No drinking water, restrooms, or maps. No designated handicapped parking, and trails are not suitable to wheelchairs. There is no direct public transit to the preserve, but Golden Gate Transit buses run along Corte Madera Avenue past Madrone, and you could walk just under 1 mile to the trailhead.

Rules:
Bikes are not allowed on the single trail departing from this trailhead. Some trails are signed hiking only, while others are open to hikers and equestrians. Dogs are permitted on this page's featured hike: in the open space preserve dogs are permitted on leash on trails; off leash under voice command on fire roads. Dog owners must have a leash for each dog. Dogs are not permitted on trails in Mount Tamalpais State Park.

The Official Story:
MCOSD's Baltimore Canyon page
MCOSD 415-499-6387

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
• Download the Baltimore Canyon pdf map from the MCOSD website.
• Trails of Mt. Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands, by Gerald Olmsted is a good map for exploring Baltimore Canyon and the surrounding parklands (order this map from Amazon.com).
Mount Tam Trail Map, published by Tom Harrison Maps (order from Tom Harrison Maps). Comparable to the Olmsted map.
• Open Spaces:  Lands of the Marin County Open Space District, by Barry Spitz (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and trail descriptions, and is very good guide to the smaller trails around Baltimore Canyon.
• Hiking Marin by Don and Kay Martin (order this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and several suggested hikes.
• Tamalpais Trails, by Barry Spitz (order this book from Amazon.com), is a good guide to the trails, and has a simple map (much of this information is also duplicated in Open Spaces).

View photos from this hike.




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Baltimore Canyon is one the prettiest places imaginable for a winter hike, wTrailheadhen Larkspur Creek is engorged with storm runoff and the trees are coated with lush moss. The preserve also provides cool shade in summer, wildflowers in spring, and autumn color, courtesy of many big-leaf maples.
     The trailhead consists of a few parking spaces squeezed onto the roadside at the edge of a residential neighborhood. Like all the similar trailheads in nearby Corte Madera and Mill Valley, parking at this Larkspur staging area is always tough. Dawn Falls Trail
     The adjacent parklands of King Mountain, Blithedale Summit, and Mount Tamalpais provide opportunity for long hikes, but most visitors to Baltimore Canyon are content with an out-and-back trek to Dawn Falls. A few easy loops and partial loops are possible, such as the route consisting of Dawn Falls Trail, Ladybug Trail, and King Mountain Loop. You can combine Dawn Falls Trail, Southern Marin Line, and Barbara Springs Trail for a 3 mile loop, but Barbara Springs Trail is tiny and steep. Hikes extending past this handful of trails are more difficult; you'll face dramatic elevation changes as you climb west to Blithedale Ridge.Dawn Falls Trail
      Start at the trailhead and walk down the generically-signed MCOSD path toward Larkspur Creek. The narrow path, closed to cyclists, drifts downhill through redwoods, then crosses the creek on a pretty bridge and reaches an unsigned junction at about 300 feet. Turn right onto Dawn Falls Trail.
      The trail is initially wide and level, but bicycles are prohibited on this hiking and equestrian path. Barbara Springs Trail departs on the left, heading steeply uphill, an option for a loop. Redwoods are prominent, but you might also see California bay, madrone, big-leaf maple, and tanoak. Larkspur Creek follows along the trail, which can get muddy in winter and early spring. Dawn FallsDawn Falls Trail passes through an old fence line and shrinks in size to a footpath. Although there are some slight variations in elevation, the trail maintains an easy pace. Two wooden segments of fence keep visitors on a rerouted course. The trail drops down to creek level, and at about 0.50 mile, you'll reach a bridge and the signed junction with Ladybug Trail on the right. Continue straight on Dawn Falls Trail.
     In the dark heart of Baltimore Canyon you might see mushrooms in winter, and moss covering just about every tree trunk and rock. Madrone, California bay, redwood, and big-leaf maple stretch toward the sky, and in some cases the trees are so tall that you might have to look for leaves on the ground nearby to distinguish between madrone and maple. In February look for fetid adder's tongue, milkmaids, and trillium.
     The trail cuts through an unusual break in tree cover, where huckleberry, blackberry, hazelnut, and California coffeeberry make the most of their time in the sun. Returning downhill from the fallsWhen I hiked here in January 2002 on an overcast day, I could hear a foghorn, repeatedly bleating a mournful call, like a lost sheep on a Scottish moor. Dawn Falls Trail darts back into the woods, and near a large gray boulder you'll soon reach a series of tight switchbacks. The trail grade picks up considerably, as does the flow of adjacent Larkspur Creek. Ascending along the slope of the canyon, in winter the sound of rushing water is pleasantly loud. At 1.12 miles, you'll reach Dawn Falls and the turnaround point of the hike. Dawn Falls has a short initial cascade (mostly screened by tanoak branches), and then a sharp drop of about 25 feet. There are nice unobstructed views from the side of the trail, but unfortunately, there isn't much room to sit. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total mileage: 2.24 miles
Last hiked: February 11, 2014
Previous visit: January 7, 2002