Cascade Canyon Open Space Preserve,
Marin County Open Space District,
Marin County
In brief:
1.2 mile out and back hike to a waterfall in the backyard of Fairfax.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
Preserve elevation ranges from about 200 feet to a high point of 1042 feet. Once you climb away from Cascade Creek, nearly all the fire roads and trails are steep, but this 1.2 mile out and back hike only gains about 150 feet, and is easy.

Exposure:
Some shade, some full sun.

Trail traffic
:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt fire roads and trails.

Hiking time
:
Less than 1 hour.

Season
:
Best in late winter for waterfall.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Marin County, exit Sir Francis Drake/San Anselmo. Drive west on Sir Francis Drake about 5 miles to Fairfax. Turn left at a traffic light onto Pastori, drive one block, then turn right onto Broadway. Drive 0.3 mile on Broadway, then turn left at a stop sign onto Bolinas Road. Drive 0.4 mile on Bolinas, and at a stop sign, make a soft right onto Cascade. Proceed 0.5 mile on Cascade Drive to roadside parking before the street dead ends at the preserve gate.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://transitandtrails.org/trailheads/85

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3758'41.79"N
Longitude
12236'48.33"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phones, stores, and restaurants back in downtown Fairfax. No camping in the immediate area.

Trailhead details:
Very limited side of street parking in a residential neighborhood. The last stretch of road before the dead end is signed "no parking on pavement," so make sure to find a spot well off the roadway, and respect any and all private parking spots. No entrance or parking fees, drinking water, paper maps, or toilet facilities. There are no designated handicapped parking spots, and trails are very poorly suited to wheelchairs and/or strollers. There is no public transit to the preserve, although Golden Gate Transit runs buses run along Sir Francis Drake, and it's a reasonable, mostly level bike ride to the trailhead. Visit 511.org for more info.

Rules:
Most preserve trails are multi-use, but a few exclude bicycles. Dogs are allowed in the preserve, on leash only.

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

Map Choices:
• Download the Cascade Canyon pdf map from MCOSD.
• Trails of Mt. Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands, by Gerald Olmsted (order this map from Amazon.com) is a useful map for Cascade Canyon and the surrounding parklands.
Trails of Northeast Marin County (map), published by Pease Press is a great guide to Cascade Canyon, but the map ends just to the west of the preserve.
• 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.
• Hiking Marin by Don and Kay Martin (order this book from Amazon.com) has good maps of Cascade Canyon and several suggested hikes.

Cascade Canyon in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike



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Cascade Canyon is bordered to the north by White Hill Open Space Preserve, and to the west by Marin Municipal Water District lands (Pine Mountain), and these three properties blend into a large, but still little-known parcel of recreation land laced with trails and fire roads just north of the Mount Tamalpais watershed. Preserve gateLess than 1 mile from downtown Fairfax, Cascade Canyon's trailhead at the end of Cascade Drive is a logical staging area from which to begin a hike, but the preserve is plagued by a shortage of parking. Arrive early to find a spot, and be sure to obey all posted parking regulations along narrow, winding Cascade Drive. And bring at least one good trail map, since the preserve is minimally signed.
     If you'd like to explore Cascade Canyon Open Space Preserve from bottom to top, make the 3.6 mile round trip to a viewpoint at the end of Burnt Tree Fire Road, a hike which gains over 800 feet in elevation on the the way to the preserve's highest point. Another option is a long trek combining Cascade Canyon, MMWD, Giacomini OSP, and White Hill OSP trails, stringing together High Water Trail, Cascade Fire Road, Pine Mountain Road, White Hill Fire Road, Blue Ridge Fire Road, Wagon Wheel Trail, and Middle Fire Road. High Water TrailThis 9 mile loop is a demanding climb, but these fire roads and trails can be lonely and quiet, especially on winter weekdays. Cascade Canyon and adjacent parklands are popular with mountain bikers, so be alert for bicycle traffic, and if you explore the upper reaches of the preserve, respect the signed boundary with Tamarancho Scout Camp, where access is permitted by advance permit only.
      The easiest hike at Cascade Canyon is an out and back trip to Cascade Falls, a hike I love in late winter, when the falls are full and wildflowers are abundant. Start at the open space gate at the end of Cascade Drive, and walk on the wide trail, Cascade Fire Road, toward the information kiosk. Coast live oak and California bay trees cover an ascending hillside on the right, while San Anselmo Creek (also known as Cascade Creek) runs just off to the left. Here on a March hike I watched a half dozen tiny spring azure butterflies fluttering and landing in a trailside patch of grass, and two California tortoiseshell butterflies scattering off the trail to more a private destination -- spring was definitely in the air! Cascade Fire RoadAfter about 140 feet of level walking, you'll pass a cypress huddled together with a huge cercocarpus, then reach an unsigned fork. Cascade Fire Road plunges straight ahead through Cascade Creek on the first of 4 fords, and High Water Trail offers a dry route when the creek is full. Bear right on High Water Trail.
     The path, closed to cyclists, lingers near the creek's shoreline. Coast live oak, California bay, madrone, and buckeye are the dominant trees, and the grassy slope on the right of the trail hosts a reliable show of wildflowers in late winter, including milkmaids, hound's tongue, bluedicks, shooting stars, mission bells, and buttercups. Narrow High Water Trail clambers up and down a bit, nears the creek again, then plunges back into woods where maidenhair fern and gooseberry thrive. Not long after crossing a little bridge, the trail wanders into a lightly forested clearing (this description will make sense when you see it). Cascade Falls TrailCascade Fire Road enters from the left after fording the creek. At 0.28 miles from the trailhead, this is the end of High Water Trail. Bear right onto Cascade Fire Road.
     The wide multi-use trail begins an easy climb, through California bay and buckeye woods where toyon, monkeyflower, and poison oak comprise the understory. Look for Indian warrior, milkmaids, hound's tongue, and mission bells along the trail in March. At 0.34 miles the fire road crests at a junction. Generically signed Cut Trail rises steeply toward Middle Fire Road on the right. Continue straight on Cascade Fire Road, which begins a descent. Black oaks are prominent, particularly on the left. In March, creambush, a deciduous native, begins to leaf out -- in summer look for frothy white blossoms on these wispy shrubs. At 0.41 miles, Middle Fire Road departs unannounced on the right. Continue straight/left on Cascade Fire Road, crossing the creek on a bridge, then reaching an unsigned T junction. Cascade Falls Cascade Fire Road continues to the left, heading out of the preserve and into MMWD lands. Turn right onto Cascade Falls Trail.
      Initially the trail, open to hikers and equestrians only, keeps a level course right along the creek, well shaded by California bays, with some coast live oak and buckeye. Good wildflower displays in late winter include hound's tongue, milkmaids, shooting stars, and mission bells. Later in spring, look for fairy bells, trilliums, and iris. Cascade Falls Trail rises easily, only to drop and end at 0.60 miles, at the base of Cascade Falls. The falls shoot down a single 15 foot drop, pool in a basin, then continue downstream. Rough steps lead to the top of the falls, but the official trail ends there. When ready, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 1.20 miles
Last hiked: Wednesday, March 3, 2004