4.3 mile loop to West Point Inn and back, with fantastic views south.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 4.3 mile loop hike is easy, with about 600 feet in elevation
change. Trailhead elevation is around 1500 feet. This hike climbs to about
2000 feet, and spends plenty of time on a mostly level course. It's an easy
hike, but you can extend it, or choose a more difficult loop or out-and-back
hike; from Pantoll there's miles of parkland in every direction.
A mixture of shade and full sun.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
2 1/2 hours.
Nice all year, although hot in summer.
From US 101 in Marin County, exit CA 1/Mill Valley/Stinson Beach and drive
on Shoreline Highway to the junction with Almonte, about 1 mile. Turn
left, remaining on Shoreline, and drive about 2.5 miles to the junction
with Panoramic Highway. Turn right on Panoramic and drive about 1 mile
to the junction with Muir Woods Road; stay straight on Panoramic (right
lane). Continue about 4.5 miles to the junction with Pantoll Road. Turn
right onto Pantoll, and immediately look for the small (6-8 car) pullout
on the right side of the road. If this area is full, carefully turn
around and park at the official Pantoll lot (parking fee of $6 charged)
which is across Panoramic from the Pantoll/Panoramic junction.
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, and stores in Stinson Beach, about 4 miles west, or in
Mill Valley, about 6 miles east. You can camp at the Pantoll walk-in campground,
or hike to West Point Inn.
No entrance fee charged if you park in the pullout ($8 to park in the Pantoll
lot). There are designated handicapped parking spots at the Pantoll parking
lot, but trails on the north side of Panoramic are not wheelchair accessible
(unless you have a brigade to help you cross Panoramic). Maps available
(for a fee) at the Pantoll Ranger Station. Restrooms, water, and pay
phone next to ranger station. More water and restrooms at West Point Inn.
West Marin Stagecoach
offers public transportation to this trailhead.
Park is open from 7 a.m. to sunset (except for overnight campers, who must
park in the official park lots). Bikes and horses are permitted on some
trails. Dogs are not allowed on this hike: they are not permitted in the
state park, but are permitted on leash on water district trails.
The Official Story:
Mount Tam page.
Pantoll Ranger Station 415-388-2070
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Download the park
map pdf from CSP's website.
Barry Spitz's Tamalpais Trails (order
this book from Amazon.com), a book with a pullout map of Tam,
is a great guide.
Olmsted Brothers' map, A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of Mt.
Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands (order
this map from Amazon.com) is useful.
Mount Tam Trail Map, published by Tom Harrison Maps (order
from Tom Harrison Maps). Comparable to the Olmsted map.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a southside
North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub (order
this book from Amazon.com), has a detailed map and descriptions of
some southside Tam trails.
Hiking Marin by Don and Kay Martin (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and descriptions of most
trails departing Pantoll.
The official State Park map is available (for a fee) at the ranger
View photos from this
Tamalpais sometimes feels like the bay area's Yosemite
National Park. Awe inspiring, beautiful and all that, but most of all,
crowded! I prefer to hike Mount Tam when it's relatively quiet, so
in the summer I stay away from the heart of Tam, and hike around the edges,
selecting trails on the north slope near the lakes, and the harder-to-get-to
neighborhood trailheads in Mill Valley. Most visitors seem to focus
on the trails right off Panoramic, near Pantoll, and around the summit. When
autumn rolls around, I itch for the south slopes of Tam, and it's a wonderful
time of year to hike here. Golden light filters through the trees onto
fallen pine needles, the breeze is soft, and views are often clear.
The only difficulty you may have is choosing
a hike; there are so many loop options it can be mind boggling. My
Olmsted Brothers' map, with
the trails I've hiked highlighted, looks like a flower in bloom, with
Pantoll at the center, and loop hikes radiating in every direction. If
you don't mind an "upside down hike," (downhill first; return trip uphill)
a loop combining Old Mine Trail, Lone Tree Fire Road, Rocky Point Trail,
and Steep Ravine Trail is a winner. It takes you through grassland, near
the ocean, and along a stream. It's not for the out-of-shape, though,
as the hike is about 6 miles long and has several steep sections. You
can shorten the loop by using Dipsea Trail as a connector between Lone
Tree Fire Road and Steep Ravine Trail. Another dramatic loop takes
you from Pantoll up to Rock Spring via Old Mine Trail, then follows a
creekbed on Cataract Trail, and brings you back on Coastal Trail, which
views of the ocean as you hike across grassy slopes. The trails around
Pantoll can be rocky, so make sure you have sturdy hiking boots.
Except for the crowds (on the roads to the
park and on the trails), Tam is generally pleasant in summer, cooled by
ocean breezes. Spring is a good time to hunt for wildflowers, both in
the woods and grasslands. A winter hike is best if you're a waterfall
fanatic; there are lots of small falls all over the mountain, including
the south slope trails accessed by Pantoll Trailhead.
This featured hike starts at the parking
pullout on Pantoll Road. Matt Davis Trail sets out on the north side
of the hill. Walk up the steps and then to the right. This
narrow path, crowded with coyote brush, crosses the hillside under a few
Douglas fir and meets Old Stage Road at about 250 feet from the trailhead. Turn
left. (If you've parked at the Pantoll lot, carefully cross Panoramic
and look for a paved fire road to the right of Pantoll Road; this is the
start of Old
You may feel you headed the wrong way,
for although a sign proclaims this a trail, it's a wide, paved road here. This
fire road provides access to the West Point Inn, so heads up for cars. It
is a bit noisy, as it parallels Panoramic Highway for the first stretch,
but at least Old Stage Road is well-shaded from tanoak, California bay,
and coast live oak trees. At 0.11 mile, Old Mine Trail begins on the left
side of the road at a signed junction. Turn left onto Old Mine
Old Mine Trail, initially a hiking only
path, begins an easy ascent through tanoak, madrone, and Douglas fir.
Squirrels are common. At 0.23 mile, Old Mine Trail meets Riding and Hiking
Trail at a signed junction. Bear right onto Riding and Hiking Trail.
The equestrian and hiking trail adopts
a gentle uphill pace as it leaves the woods. Look to the south for great
views of the Headlands and San Francisco. With grassland on the left
and a row of coast live oaks on the right, the narrow path shows off a
view to Tam's summit. Riding and Hiking Trail curves to the left, bisects
a grassy slope, and then heads back under tree cover. At 0.36 mile, the
trail reaches an unsigned junction. Bear left, and at 0.38 mile, you'll
reach a signed junction with Easy Grade Trail. Bear left on Easy Grade.
Hiking only Easy Grade becomes more rocky;
large boulders creep up the crest of a hill on the left side of the trail.
The slopes on both sides of Easy Grade Trail are choked with downed
tree branches and dead vegetation, and tall Douglas fir and tanoaks block
the sun, permitting no undergrowth. The grade, as promised, is reasonable
as the trail climbs. At 0.80 mile, Easy Grade Trail ends near the Mountain
Theater, just steps beyond a signed junction with Bootjack Trail.
This next section can be tricky. Walk
to the right towards the Theater, and then straight across the "stage"
area, aiming for the walkway at edge of the seats. Walk halfway
up the stairs and then turn right onto a spur trail near the 2 water fountains.
After a few feet, at a signed junction at 0.85 mile, head to the right
on the Rock Spring Trail.
The hiking only trail immediately steps
out from tree cover and reaches a clearing surrounded by chamise, toyon,
and buckbrush. The trail widens and it's tough to follow. Stay
to the left, then skirt the large boulder to the right. Soon the
trail wanders back into the woods, and a sign marks your entrance into
Marin Municipal Water District land. Rock Spring Trail has some ups and
downs, but is mostly level, and narrow, as it passes under California
bay, Douglas fir, tanoak, and a variety of evergreen oaks. The trail emerges
into chaparral from time to time, where you can admire the views. Several
small bridges ford seasonal streams where you might see elk clover in
summer. When the trail cuts through sunny chaparral, lovely chamise,
and toyon bushes emit a wonderful spicy aroma. Serpentine, a striking
green-blue rock, is common along this side of Tam, and the trail crosses
through an open slope of it before rejoining the chaparral. One day on
an autumn hike I witnessed a dog fight between two vultures in the skies
over the trail; they swooped and soared in a remarkable recreation
of a Blue Angels' practice I'd seen the day before in the skies above
San Francisco. As the trail progresses east, chaparral begins to dominate,
with fewer Douglas fir and more interior live oak at the creek crossings.
Rock Spring Trail clings to a slim contour on some stretches, where a
drop off to the right and short shrubby manzanita and chamise offer no
resistance to long views past San Francisco all the way to Montara Mountain.
At the 1.90 mile mark, a signpost records the mileage
to West Point Inn. You may notice, on further inspection of the post,
that the front face has been covered over with a board. Look past
the post through the manzanita to get a peek of the (no-longer maintained)
Alice Eastwood Trail, which cuts straight up the hill to Ridgecrest Boulevard.
Only about 0.5 mile long, it makes up in drama for what it lacks in length. It
is a narrow channel, seemingly chiseled from the rock, steep and rutted,
and thickly lined with manzanita. I hiked down the trail once, and
may never do it again (escpecially now that it is returning to the wild),
but it was definitely unforgettable. Back on the Rock Spring Trail, continue
through the chaparral, enjoying sweeping views south and east that include
the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge and Mount Diablo. The trail
ends at West Point Inn at 2.20 miles. Turn left if you
want to use the restrooms, otherwise, turn right.
Walk downhill to the right, circumventing
the Inn, to a flat spot with shaded picnic tables, a great location for
a break with unobstructed views. To the left you can see Old Railroad
Grade and the fire lookout on Tam's summit. After climbing from Mill Valley,
Old Railroad Grade makes a long turn around the Inn and then continues
uphill to Ridgecrest Boulevard, ending between the middle and east peaks
(continuing uphill on Old Railroad Grade is an option to extend this hike). Nora
Trail heads downhill from the picnic area to connect with the Matt
Davis Trail (an option for returning to Pantoll: take Nora to the
junction with Matt Davis, turn right to return to Pantoll). Look for the
signed start of the broad Old Stage Road (it's dirt here) to the west
you're standing facing south). Head out on the mostly unshaded
Old Stage Road.
You will notice more blue-green serpentine
on the surrounding hillsides in spots, as the fire road crosses over swales
previously bisected on Rock Spring Trail. Multi-use Old Stage Road affords
views to the south, and also to the forested slopes to the west. Trailside
vegetation is much the same as on Rock Spring Trail, with Douglas fir
and California bay lingering near creek crossings, and coyote brush, monkeyflower,
California coffeeberry, ceanothus, manzanita, chamise, goldenfleece, and
toyon occupying the sunnier regions. A few cypress and pine line the fire
road on one stretch. At 3.81 miles you'll reach a signed junction with
the Bootjack Trail. Continue straight.
The trail becomes pavement, marking the
transition from Water District lands back into the State Park. The
paved road to the left is an access road, so stay straight on Old Stage
Road, past a little building on
the left side of the trail, and a junction with Riding and Hiking Trail
to the right. Fully under tanoak, coast live oak, and Douglas fir
canopy again, Old Stage Road meets a spur to Easy Grade Spur Trail on
the right at 4.00 miles. Continue straight. Traffic noises get
louder as you draw near the end of the Old Stage Road. At 4.19 miles,
Easy Grade Trail sets out on the right. Continue straight. A few
steps further, at 4.22 miles, you'll reach a previously encountered junction
with Old Mine Trail. Continue straight. Then finally, at 4.26 miles,
look for Matt Davis Trail on the right before Old Stage Road meets Panoramic
Highway. Turn right on Matt Davis, or if you parked in the parking
lot, carefully cross Panoramic to the lot. Retrace your steps back
to the trailhead.
Total distance: 4.31 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, August
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