3.4 mile loop near Fairfax, passing through woods and grassland.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This is an easy 3.4 mile loop hike, and you can extend or
shorten it. Trailhead elevation is about 200 feet. The featured hike climbs
to about 700 feet before descending back to the trailhead; total elevation
change is about 500 feet.
Mixture of sun and shade.
Dirt fire roads and trails.
Nice any time, but probably best in spring.
From US 101 in Marin County, exit San Anselmo/Sir Francis Drake. Drive about
5 miles west on Sir Francis Drake to the town of Fairfax. Turn left on Pastori,
make the first right onto Broadway, and then turn left onto Bolinas. Drive
about 0.5 mile, then turn left onto Porteous Avenue. The road almost immediately
splits (this junction seemed to be unsigned); bear right to remain on Porteous.
Drive about 0.5 mile to the trailhead at the end of the road.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, restaurants, pay phones, and stores back in Fairfax. No camping.
No parking or entrance fees. 14 parking spots at the trailhead, with 8 more
back down the road (additional spots next to the school are up for grabs
when school is out of session). Restrooms and drinking water at the trailhead.
No maps. There's one designated handicapped parking spot right next to the
school, but the trail departing from it is not suitable for wheelchairs.
There is no direct public transportation to this trailhead.
Most trails are multi-use, but a few restrict bicycles. A handful of trails
are designated hiking only. Dogs are permitted on this hike: they are allowed
in land managed by the water district, but not on the adjacent state park
The Official Story:
Sky Oaks Ranger Station: 415-945-1181
map from MMWD (pdf)
A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of Mt. Tamalpais and the Marin
Headlands, published by the Olmsted & Bros. Map Co., is probably
the best map for this section of Tam (order
this map from Amazon.com). For small, obscure trails, use it in conjunction
with Tamalpais Trails.
Trails of Northeast Marin County is comparable to the Olmsted
Map (available from Pease
Mount Tam Trail Map, published by Tom Harrison Maps (order
from Tom Harrison Maps). Comparable to the Olmsted map.
Tamalpais Trails, by Barry Spitz (order
this book from Amazon.com), has an excellent map (unfortunately without
topography), and detailed descriptions of all Tam trails.
Hiking Marin, by Don and Kay Martin, has some terrific, but
small maps (order
this book from Amazon.com).
photos from this hike
Park trailhead is the premier Mount Tamalpais
staging area for easy loops through varied terrain. Beginning in a canyon
just south of Fairfax, Deer Park offers access to nearly a dozen short
grassy and forested trails, providing hikers with lots of variety. On
my last hike, I tried out 7 different trails, on a trek just over 3 miles.
You can easily design a half-dozen loops of various length and difficulty,
staving off the boredom of daily exercise strolls or runs. But
who could get bored on these trails? This part of Tam (managed by the
MMWD) is an outdoor treasure trove, with redwood groves, buckeye-sprinkled
grassland, and mixed woods of coast live oak, valley and black oak,
madrone, and California bay. Spring seems to get an early start here,
and wildflower enthusiasts will find blossoms to pique their interest
at around Valentine's Day. Not long after the wildflowers hit their stride,
the madrones put forth sweet-smelling white flowers. The annual wildflower
bonanza generally peaks in April, but flowers continue to unfold throughout
the summer, and buckeyes produce a frenzy of blossoms around May
and June. After that the hillsides start drying out, but things get exciting
again when the leaves on black oaks flush orange-red in autumn.
In winter the buckeyes and black oaks stand denuded, but even then you'll
find excitement, with waterfalls in the canyons, clear cool weather, and
long smog-less views.
The staging area and extensive trail network
also favor family expeditions. Deer Park features a picnic area
and restrooms, and since there are so many short and easy trails, parents
can string together a hike perfect for
little folks (but beware of poison oak).
Start at the parking lot. Walk toward
the left side of the school, and look for an unsigned but obvious path.
After skirting the school you'll arrive at a grassy field and an unsigned
junction of sorts. Bear left.
Walk across the field, and at 0.12
mile, pick up the signed Deer Park Trail. The path, open to hikers
and equestrians only, begins under the shade of California bay and coast
live oak. After just a few steps, Deer Park Trail curves right and ascends
slightly, then angles across a hillside. Right on the edge between grassland
and woods, you'll pass through open sunny stretches where you might see
early wildflowers such as filaree and bluedicks, then duck under buckeye,
bay, and coast live oak. Toyon and sagebrush are common as well. When
I hiked here on a February morning, every blade of grass held
a shimming drop of dew, and the hillsides glistened. Heading into a small
canyon, there are some views uphill to the east, but other directions
are obscured by the closely folded hills. In winter, look for a small
waterfall on the left, surrounded by lush ferns. There are a few redwoods
huddled together on the right. Deer Park Trail makes a sharp left and
climbs in broad zigzags back through grassland and woods, a pattern repeated
as the trail ascends finally to pure grassland. Buckeyes and coast
live oak are still common, and you might see bush lupine, broom, and madrone
as well. Milkmaids and hound's tongue bloom along the trail as
early as February. Views to the north continue to unfold. At 0.97
mile, Deer Park Trail ends at a signed junction with Worn Spring Fire
Road. Turn right.
Worn Spring Fire Road climbs steeply toward
the ridgetop, but almost immediately, turn right onto Buckeye Trail,
signed solely with a generic MMWD sign. The narrow path, closed to cyclists,
ascends just a bit as it crosses through
grassland and patches of buckeye. In the bay area buckeyes are generally
the first deciduous tree to "leaf out," and the sight of their
green leaves busting forth is always exciting in winter, when other deciduous
trees and annual wildflowers are still dormant. Be sure to look over your
shoulder to admire the sweeping views north. At 1.21 miles, Buckeye Trail
ends at an unsigned junction with Worn Spring Fire Road. Turn right.
Multi-use Worn Spring Fire Road sweeps
uphill, passing through a sparse wood of coast live oak and madrone. Through
breaks in the trees look back to the right for a view past the hillside
traced by Deer Park Trail, all the way to Pam's Blue Ridge and Loma Alta.
After cresting, the fire road drops down to a signed junction at 1.33
miles. Turn right onto Yolanda Trail.
Yolanda Trail, open to hikers and equestrians
only, enters the woods. The narrow path wanders at a nearly level grade
through madrone, coast live oak, buckeye, black oak, and California bay.
Poison oak, creambush, monkeyflower,
ferns, California coffeeberry, and a variety of brooms occupy the understory.
The bulk of Bald Hill, to the left, blocks most noise, although you can
hear children's voices floating uphill from Deer Park from time to time.
The trail passes a few small grassy knolls, but spends most of its time
in the woods. In winter you might see hound's tongue, milkmaids, and shooting
stars. Yolanda Trail steps out into grassland, offering a nice
view south to Mount Tam's peaks. A faint path to the right heads toward
a grove of coast live oak. From here the trail descends gradually
back into the woods, where you can expect muddy conditions during
wet months. At 2.13 miles, Yolanda Trail reaches a signed junction, at
"Six Points." Yolanda continues to the left, and three
other trails depart from here. Take the second path to the right, Bald
Hill Trail, signed "to Five Corners."
a ridge, look to the left for more sweeping views, of undulating grassland
and forested hillsides, rising uphill to the three peaks of Tam. Madrones
line the trail on the right, while erosion control netting seeks to preserve
the grassland on the left. Bald Hill Trail descends a few feet, then follows
a reroute, veering right into the woods. The grade is a very gentle downhill.
Madrones continue to dominate, but redwoods make a showing as well, on
the right side of trail as the hillside slopes into a canyon. You might
also see creambush, tanoak, and California bay. An occasional span of
fence keeps hikers and equestrians on course, although the old trail is
still visible in places. As Bald Hill Trail emerges in partial grassland
and angles downhill, look for a large madrone, standing alone on the right,
adopting the posture of a valley oak. At 2.44 miles, you'll reach a signed
junction with a spur to Deer Park Fire Road. Bear right to
remain on Bald Hill Trail.
The trail descends at a steeper pitch, through
grassland lined with coast live oak, madrone, and black oak. Broom removal
is an ongoing project here, and you might notice piles of the dead shrub
along the trail. Surveying flags hint that the path is slated for a reroute.
The last stretch of Bald Hill Trail is badly eroded and steep. At 2.66
miles, Bald Hill Trail ends at a multi-trail extravaganza called Boy Scout
Junction. Deer Park Fire Road is the first trail descending to the right,
and is an option for returning to the trailhead. For a more intimate route,
take the second path counterclockwise from Bald Hill Trail, Junction
The narrow trail, closed to cyclists, descends
via a short stretch of stairs, then mostly levels out. Initially, Junction
Trail travels through a mixed woodland of coast live oak, buckeye, and
California bay, but then, much like the early section of Deer Park Trail,
the path edges out into grassland,
traversing the lower slopes of a hill. You might see sagebrush, coyote
brush, monkeyflower, toyon, and broom. There are clear views east across
a canyon to a forested knob. Junction Trail crosses a creek on a bridge,
then at 2.89 miles, ends at a signed junction with Deer Park Fire Road
and Six Points Trail, at Oak Tree Junction. Turn left onto Deer Park
The wide multi-use trail descends at an
easy pace, following along a creek. In the protected depths of this canyon
the many trees along the trail are antiques, and you might see some large
valley oak, along with California bay, madrone, coast live oak, Douglas
fir, and buckeye. Deer Park Fire Road is a busy thoroughfare, so expect
traffic from cyclists, equestrians, runners, and dog walkers. At 3.25
miles, the trail ends at a gate, back at the edge of the school field
behind Deer Park. Note the massive California bay on the left. Cross
the field and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Last hiked: Thursday, February 14, 2002
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