4.8 mile Marin Headlands loop, with spectacular views to San Francisco.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 4.8 mile loop hike is easy, with about 700 feet in elevation
change. Trailhead elevation is around 100 feet. Wolfback Ridge lingers at
around 800 feet. The featured hike climbs to about 760 feet, then descends
back to the trailhead. Grades are moderate.
Dirt fire roads.
2 1/2 hours.
From US 101 in Marin County, take the Alexander/Sausalito Exit (going north,
it's the first exit after you've crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, heading
north, it's the last one before you cross it). Drive east and turn
left onto Bunker Road. There is a one-way tunnel which cuts under 101,
and you may need to wait up to 5 minutes for your turn to travel through
it (this is a great opportunity to put on sunscreen). From the other side
of the tunnel, drive about 1.5 miles, then turn right onto an unmarked small road (across from the stables). Park on the side of the road near the bridge.
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, stores, and restaurants back near US 101 in Marin City. There are a
few camping options in the Headlands, including small camps at Kirby Cove
There doesn't seem to be a formal parking system; most people park on the
edge of the dirt stretch of road. No designated handicapped parking, but
trails are amenable to wheelchairs (at least in the dry parts of the year).
No entrance or parking fees. There are no toilet facilities. No
maps or drinking water available. If you want to pick up a map before you
start hiking, drive past the trailhead to the Visitor Center: from the Headlands
side of the tunnel on Bunker Drive, drive about 2 miles and bear left onto
Field (just before you get to the lagoon). Make the first right into
the Visitor Center parking lot. Muni bus line #76 runs past this trailhead
along Bunker Road.
Most trails are multi-use. Some restrict bikes, and others are hiking only.
Dogs are permitted on some Headlands trails (they are not allowed on every
trail on the hike featured on this page); ask the staff at the Visitor Center
for current information, or check the Headlands map on the link below.
The Official Story:
NPS's GGNRA page.
Marin Headlands Visitor Center 415-331-1540
from NPS (download Marin Headlands map).
of this hike is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San
Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website).
this book from Amazon.com.
A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of Mt. Tamalpais and the Marin
Headlands, by the Olmsted & Bros. Map Co. (order
this map from Amazon.com) is a great guide.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Gerbode
North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub, contains a topographic
map and detailed trail and park accounts (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Hiking Marin, by Don and Kay Marin, features a good map and
brief park description (order
this book from Amazon.com).
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order
this book from Amazon.com), has a decent map and descriptions of the
Ridge Trail segment though the Headlands.
View photos from this hike
(includes portion of Rodeo Valley Cutoff now closed).
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
the three main valleys in the Marin Headlands, Gerbode
is the only one that isn't split down the middle with a road (fire roads
don't count). This trailhead is popular
with equestrians, cyclists, and hikers, but if you go early on a weekday,
you may find you have the trails to yourself.
Any hike you start from the valley floor
will include somewhat of a climb. The shortest (and easiest) is the described
featured hike. Bobcat Trail is an easy climb to Wolfback Ridge, and from
there if you continue north on Bobcat (part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail),
then take Miwok Trail to the south, you'll create a 5 mile loop that encircles
Gerbode Valley. For a grand tour of Gerbode and Tennessee Valleys with
lots of elevation change, hike Bobcat, then descend to Tennessee Valley
on Miwok Trail, and return uphill on Old Springs Trail, then downhill
to the trailhead on Miwok. This is a loop of more than 6.5 miles. If you
enjoy hiking from this trailhead, take a look at the pages for the adjacent
Tennessee Valley Trailhead and Rodeo
Beach Trailhead for more ideas.
Spring seems to arrive ahead of schedule in the Headlands, and Gerbode Valley coddles some of the earliest bay
area wildflowers. Even when the vibrant green of winter fades to a washed-out
summer patina, you can still find some late bloomers and lingering flowers.
The Headlands is one of my favorite summer hiking destinations. Our typical
summer coastal weather pattern of morning fog keeps the hills shrouded
with cool mist, and hiking is pleasant. If you love to see leaves change
in autumn, look elsewhere. There are few trees in these hills, and virtually
no colorful leaves.
For the featured hike, start by walking across
the bridge near the Rodeo Valley Trailhead sign. In the winter after
heavy rains, the stream under the bridge rushes south, and early wildflowers
including vetch and milkmaids grow in the mist. Once over the bridge,
the trail, open to cyclists, equestrians, and hikers, emerges in Rodeo
Valley. At about 300 feet, the level connector path meets Rodeo Valley
Trail at signed junction. Turn left onto Rodeo
This trail runs parallel to Bunker Road
at the edge of Rodeo Valley, on a wide, multi-use trail. Willows
thrive on the left near the creek, and coyote brush, bush lupine, and
fennel dot the grassland. In summer many birds feast on fennel seeds,
and you might see great clouds of red-winged blackbirds and other small
birds. At 0.3 mile, stay to the right at a junction with Bobcat Trail.
This broad fire road, open to hikers, equestrians,
and cyclists, climbs over 600 feet to the top of Wolfback Ridge. The grade
is gentle at first, ascending along a willow-lined creek and through grassy
fields of fennel, then cutting a swath through a large clump of eucalyptus
trees before intensifying the climb. You might see a few old fruit
trees along the sides of the trail. As you leave the valley floor behind,
a variety of plants jumble together across the hillside to the right.
Look for California coffeeberry, poison oak, sagebrush, lizardtail, toyon,
snowberry, honeysuckle, ceanothus, and blackberry. About a mile up there
are views back to the ocean. On
the sides of the trail several rock outcrops are prominent. Vultures,
kestrels, and redtail hawks hunt in the skies above the valley, while
cottontails scurry about evading their predators. In the rainy months,
the sound of water rushing downhill into Gerbode Valley accompanies your
climb. Moisture loving plants appear, including creambush, hazelnut, and
even a single shrubby madrone. At 2.4 miles, you'll reach a junction
with now closed Rodeo Cutoff Trail. Continue straight on Bobcat
After about a minute more, you'll reach
the Five Corners junction. Turn right onto Alta Trail.
The broad fire road climbs across
the base of a hill, on the right, passing the descending Morning Sun Trail,
on the left. At 3.1 miles, turn right onto Rodeo Valley Trail.
Enjoy the views of the city and Hawk
Hill to the south as you hike downhill on this portion of trail that is
closed to cyclists. Rodeo Valley is what the GGNRA calls a wet meadow. It
a lot of wildlife, including deer, coyote, bobcat, and about a million
birds. The north slope is mostly chaparral, with interesting rock
formations (watch out for poison oak) mixed through coyote brush, fennel,
and thistles. A few giant chain ferns mark a wet seep. In summer
you might see purple and pink blossoms of sweet pea vines. The valley
floor is vibrant with small willow trees and aquatic grasses which sway
delightfully in the ocean breeze. Some small springs keep the trail damp
in the spring and almost lawn-like in the summer. As the trail flattens
out, look for an extensive display of twinberry shrubs on the left. At
4.8 miles, you'll reach a previously encountered junction. Turn left
and retrace your steps to the trailhead.
Total distance: 4.8 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday,
July 31, 2001