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.
Dirt fire roads and trails.
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:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* 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.
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.
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
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
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
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).
101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area, by
Ann Marie Brown (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and descriptions of a featured
View 67 photos from the
(some aspects of the hike differ from what is shown in the photos -- read the description on the right for accurate info)
a cool hiking trail on a hot day can be a challenge in
the bay area. Most 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. To 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.
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!). At 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.
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 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
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. Coastal 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.
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!).
: 4.25 miles
: Wednesday August 23, 2012
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