Muir Beach Trailhead,
Golden Gate National Recreation Area/Marin Headlands,
National Park Service,
Marin County
In brief:
4.3 mile loop through coastal scrub and Green Gulch Farm.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 4.3 mile loop hike is mostly easy, although there are a few short, moderately steep stretches. Trailhead elevation is about 10 feet. This hike climbs to about 900 feet, then descends back to the trailhead. Total elevation change is about 900 feet.

Exposure:
Mostly exposed.

Trail traffic
:
Moderate-heavy.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt fire roads and trails.

Hiking time
:
2 hours.

Season
:
Good anytime.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Marin County, exit Mill Valley/Stinson Beach. Drive north about 1 mile, then turn left at the light (at the junction with Almonte) to stay on Shoreline. Drive about 4.8 miles to the junction with Pacific Way and turn left. Continue to the signed trailhead at the end of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/436

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3751'38.57"N
Longitude
12234'29.41"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, restaurants, stores a few miles north in Stinson Beach, or back east in Mill Valley. No camping, but the Pelican Inn is a nice choice for lunch and/or an overnight stay.

Trailhead details:
Large dirt parking lot. Show up early on hot weekends to ensure a spot. No entrance or parking fees. Portable toilets and pay phone at edge of lot. There's a map under glass at the information signboard, but none to take with you. Unfortunately there is no direct public transportation to this trailhead. There are several designated handicapped parking spots and wheelchair users may be able to navigate a short distance from the trailhead.

Rules:
Parking lot closes at dusk. Many trails are multi-use, but some are signed as closed to cyclists. 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

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
• Map from GGNRA (download Marin Headlands Trail Map pdf).
A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of Mt. Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands, by the Olmsted & Bros. Map Co., is the best map option (order this map from Amazon.com).
• Don and Kay Martin's Hiking Marin has a good map of the area and trail descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).


View 67 photos from the featured hike

(some aspects of the hike differ from what is shown in the photos -- read the description on the right for accurate info)



Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Finding a cool hiking trail on a hot day can be a challenge in the bay area. Muir Beach TrailheadMost folks head for forested parks, and that's fine, but when I crave sunshine and ocean breezes, I drive to the coast. If you get an early start, Muir Beach Trailhead can be a perfect destination. Unlike the Tennessee Valley Trailhead, you probably won't have a lot of company, since at Muir Beach most visitors head straight for the beach, and the trails are empty.
      From this trailhead you can hike south into Tennessee Valley, or north into Muir Woods or Mount Tam. The trailhead's low elevation means a bit of climbing no matter which direction you choose, but then you get to walk downhill to finish your hike. One great long (over 6.5 miles) but pretty easy loop strings together Redwood Trail, Miwok Trail, Coyote Ridge Trail, and Coastal Fire Road. bridgeTo shorten it a bit, substitute Dias Ridge Fire Road for Redwood and the first stretch of Miwok Trail. You can extend the featured hike by adding Fox Trail, Tennessee Valley and Coastal/Pirate's Cove Trails, for a trek with plenty of elevation change.
     For the featured hike, start at the south end of the parking lot (near the picnic area and portable toilets). Follow the sign for Muir Beach and walk across the bridge. At the end of the bridge, turn left (the trail to the right leads to the beach), following the sign for Kaasi Road.
     The nearly flat trail runs between a damp area with willow and dogwood on the left, and a sloping hillside of coastal scrub to the right. After about 0.1 mile, you'll reach a signed junction with your return route, Coastal Fire Road. Continue straight/left on Kaasi Road.Green Gulch Trail
     Poison hemlock, horsetail, thimbleberry, sticky monkeyflower, coyote brush, bush lupines, blackberry, poison oak, and wild radish line the wide multi-use trail as it winds east into Green Gulch. You may see Ithuriel's spear, yarrow, and poppies blooming in spring. The trail bends left and skirts a horse corral, then meets a gate for Green Gulch Farm at 0.40 mile. Turn right and go through the gate. Close the gate behind you.
     You'll be walking through Green Gulch Farms, a nonprofit enterprise supplying vegetables to many San Francisco restaurants, such as Greens. Workers tend the crops and lovely flower gardens (you can even buy plants here, if you've got any room to carry them!). Green Gulch FarmAt 0.75 mile, Middle Green Gulch Trail sets out uphill at a signed junction to the right. Continue straight on the wide farm road.
     The trail exits the farm and reaches some Zen Center buildings. Follow the road as it sweeps to the right and seems to end at a paved parking lot. Walk straight through the lot and then to the left along the paved road, which is lined with tall eucalyptus trees. At 1.08 miles, Green Gulch Trail leaves the road behind, doubling back to the right from a signed junction. Turn right.
   
  The broad trail is open to hikers and equestrians only. Blackberry, poison oak, creambush, and thimbleberry choke the hillside on the left. At 1.13 miles, stay to the left at a junction with a private road.Green Gulch Trail
     Another small trail sign is easy to miss as the trail climbs steeply through a few redwood and Douglas fir. You'll pass a house, and then a water tank. The grades eases as Green Gulch Trail ascends through a mixture of coyote brush, poison oak, poison hemlock, cow parsnip, and California sagebrush. You may also see red elderberry, ceanothus, and twinberry. Traffic noise filters across the valley from Shoreline Highway as you ascend, and views north to Mount Tamalpais increasingly unfold. In spring look for California poppy, chickweed, birdsfoot lotus, sunflowers, bindweed, Indian paintbrush, and columbine along the trail. Late May and early June bring an explosion of California delphinium on both sides of the trail -- some of these plants reach heights of about 4 feet. Green Gulch TrailGreen Gulch Trail curves to the right as it continues to climb, passing a rundown shack that has been aggressively occupied by poison oak and poison hemlock. With the increase in elevation comes outstanding views of Green Gulch, Dias Ridge, Mount Tam, and the ocean. The path, by now somewhat diminished in stature and quality, sweeps uphill to the left, revealing a small building on a bluff off the right side of the trail. This is Hope Cottage, owned by Green Gulch Farms/Zen Center, and retreats are often held here. Shortly after passing Hope Cottage, an unmarked and overgrown trail departs off the left side of the trail, at 1.81 miles. This path, which appears on the Olmsted map, is apparently no longer maintained by the GGNRA, and is not shown on their maps (in 2012, I didn't even notice the junction). Continue uphill on Green Gulch Trail, which continues to climb until it ends at a signed junction at 2.42 miles.  Turn right onto Coyote Ridge Trail.View from the ascent on Green Gulch Trail
     Tennessee Valley sprawls to the south, and beyond the rolling hills of the Headlands a piece of the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown San Francisco are visible on clear days. Mount Diablo can be glimpsed to the east. On a late May hike I enjoyed watching a bank of fog roll up to the top of Angel Island, and then drop into the bay. Heading west, at 2.46 miles Middle Green Gulch Trail breaks off on the right side of the trail from a signed junction. Continue straight on Coyote Ridge Trail.
     The multi-use trail is heavily-traveled by hikers, cyclists, and equestrians. With only a few diminutive shrubs of coyote brush to block breezes, it's often windy up along the ridge. At 2.61 miles, Coyote Ridge Trail ends at a signed T junction. View from Coastal TrailCoastal Fire Road sets out downhill to the left, on the way to Tennessee Valley. To the right, Coastal Fire Road heads towards our trailhead, Muir Beach. (If you'd like to extend your hike, turn left here, go 0.1 mile, stay on Coyote Ridge Trail at the junction with Fox, then take Coastal Trail back to Coastal Fire Road.) Turn right onto Coastal Fire Road.
     Thistles and coyote brush dominate the landscape. The fire road, open to cyclists, equestrians, and hikers, starts a long steep descent almost right away. Sharp dramatic rocky cliffs on the coastline are often visible to the left. Quaking grass, which you may have seen in dried floral arrangements, lines the trail in sections. You also may see blue-eyed grass, yarrow, and checkerbloom in the spring. Coastal Fire Road is sometimes rutted, and a few stretches are pretty steep. At 3.57 miles, Coastal Fire Road meets Coastal Trail at a signed junction (this trail is known by some as Pirate's Cove Trail). Continue downhill to the right on Coastal Fire Road.Descending with a view of Muir Beach
     An unmarked out and back path visits a viewpoint off the left side of the trail, an optional add on to your hike. You may see (and/or hear) quail and redwing blackbirds as you descend toward Muir Beach. Along one last sharp grade, beeplant, manroot, poison hemlock, cow parsnip, and thimbleberry tangle together on the right side of the trail, but poison oak dominates. Coastal Fire Road meets Kaasi Road at a previously encountered junction at 4.11 miles. Turn left and retrace your steps back to the trailhead (although you may want to visit the beach on the way back!).

Total distance : 4.25 miles
Last hiked : August 23, 2012
Previous visit: May 30, 2002