Deer Park Trailhead, Mount Tamalpais/
Marin Municipal Water District,
Marin County
In brief:
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.

Exposure:
Mixture of sun and shade.

Trail traffic
:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt fire roads and trails.

Hiking time
:
2 hours.

Season
:
Nice any time, but probably best in spring.

Getting there:
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; 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:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/409

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3758'29.35"N
Longitude
12235'21.31"W
(* 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.

Trailhead details:
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.

Rules:
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 trails.

The Official Story:
Sky Oaks Ranger Station: 415-945-1181
MMWD recreation page

Map Choices:
Trail 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 Press).
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).
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View photos from this hike




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Deer Park trailhead is a premier Mount Tamalpais staging area for easy loops through varied terrain. Parking lotBeginning 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 choices. 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 starting at around Valentine's Day. Deer Park TrailNot 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). Buckeye Trail
     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. Yolanda TrailWhen 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. View north from Yolanda Trail 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.Erosion control on Bald Hill 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."Bald Hill Trail
     Following along 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.Junction 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 Trail.
      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. Deer Park Fire RoadJunction 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 Fire Road.
     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.

Total distance: 3.39 miles
Last hiked: Thursday, February 14, 2002