Phoenix Lake Trailhead,
Mount Tamalpais/Marin Municipal Water District,
Marin County
In brief:
4.4 mile loop in the hills around Phoenix Lake, on the outskirts of Kentfield.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 4.4 mile loop hike is easy, with about 600 feet in elevation change.

Exposure:
Mostly exposed.

Trail traffic
:
Moderate-heavy.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt fire roads and trails.

Hiking time
:
2 hours.

Season
:
Good anytime, best in late winter.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Marin County, exit San Anselmo/Sir Francis Drake. Drive west on Sir Francis Drake about 3.5 miles to the intersection with Lagunitas Road (by the Marin Art and Garden Center), turn left onto Lagunitas and drive about 1 mile to the parking lot at the end of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/410

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3757'28.12"N
Longitude
12234'19.98"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phones, stores, and restaurants about 2 miles away, near the junction of College and Sir Francis Drake in Ross. No camping.

Trailhead details:
Parking for about 24 vehicles, with a few designated handicapped spot -- parking spaces get snatched up fast so arrive early or be prepared to wait. No parking or entrance fees. No maps available. Two portable toilets in lot (one wheelchair accessible), and two more pit toilets near Phoenix Lake. Drinking water on Phoenix Lake Trail, near the junction with Worn Springs Trail. Lot is open from sunrise to sunset. There is parking for about 10 cars on Lagunitas Road just before you get to the gate, on the left side of the road. There is no direct public transportation to the park, but Golden Gate Transit's #20 bus services Sir Francis Drake, and you could walk about 2 miles to the trailhead.

Rules:
Most trails are multi-use. Some restrict bikes, and a few are hiking only. Dogs are permitted on leash in water district lands, but not in the state park.

The Official Story
:
MMWD's Sky Oaks Ranger Station at 415-945-1181.
MMWD recreation page

Map/book choices:
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). Order this book from Amazon.com.
Trail map from MMWD (pdf)
A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of Mt. Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands, by the Olmsted & Bros. Map Co., is my first choice (order this map from Amazon.com).
Mount Tam Trail Map, published by Tom Harrison Maps (order from Tom Harrison Maps). Comparable to the Olmsted map.
Trails of Northeast Marin County is outstanding, but Phoenix Lake is the western edge of this map (available from Pease Press).
• The map (with accompanying text) in Barry Spitz's Tamalpais Trails (order this book from Amazon.com) is helpful.
Hiking Marin, by Don and Kay Martin has good maps and area descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).

View 68 photos from this hike.




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The Marin Municipal Water District manages all the land on the northeastern slope of Mount Tamalpais. Parking lotThey created 5 reservoirs in this area (Phoenix Lake was built in 1905) to supply water to the people of Marin County, and at the same time preserved a large hunk of land for rugged recreation use.
     Unlike the State Park portion of Tam, the trailheads near the lakes are easy to get to. Phoenix Lake, which is close to Ross, provides convenient access and an abundance of hike possibilities. For a short and easy walk around Phoenix Lake, hike uphill to the lake and then combine Bill Williams Trail, Gertrude Orr Trail, and Phoenix Lake Trail, a stroll of about 2.7 miles. If you've got energy to burn and strong legs, you can impress your friends by hiking all the way to the top of Tam, via Eldridge Grade. It's an over 12.5 miles round trip, and an elevation gain (and than loss) of 2,114 feet (more if you continue to the East Peak). Most visitors seem to use the trails near Phoenix Lake for exercise and relaxing walking with kids and/or dogs. Arm yourself with a map or two, and explore the tremendous variety of trails.Phoenix Lake Trail
     For the featured hike, walk through the gate and uphill on the wide fire road. In the winter, the water rushing down from the spillway, and then in the creek, is a torrential accompaniment. Look downslope to the left for a quaint stone shelter -- with moss and ferns growing on the roof, it's straight out of a fairy tale (the building, and surrounding small park, as well as the parking lot, are managed by the town of Ross). California bays, oaks, buckeyes, and madrones line the sides of the gently graded road. At 0.19 mile, the road passes by the spillway (a great artificial waterfall in the winter) and then crests near the shores of Phoenix Lake. There are a couple benches on the shore here, but if you want quiet contemplation, there are additional benches further up the trail that are more remote.
     Continue walking straight, on the right (north) shore of the lake, on the Phoenix Lake Trail (signed to Lake Lagunitas). To the right of the trail there's a lovely house with a killer view. A dock in the middle of the lake is usually populated with ducks, grebes, turtles, and an occasional heron. Yolanda TrailAs the trail winds levelly around the lake, at 0.29 mile, Worn Springs Trail sets out on the right side of the trail at a signed junction. (For a longer, more strenuous hike than this featured walk, head uphill on Worn Springs, enjoy the view, at about 1,141 feet, from Bald Hill, then descend to the junction with Yolanda, turn left and pick up the featured hike at the Six Points Junction.) Continue straight on Phoenix Lake Trail. At 0.55 mile, just before the trail winds around the log cabin (the Olmsted map calls this the Hyppolyte Site), Yolanda Trail begins on the right side of the trail at a signed junction.
      Turn right onto the Yolanda Trail, which is open to hikers and equestrians only. Yolanda initially climbs through California bay, coast live oak, and madrone, alongside a creekbed. As early as January, look for some wildflowers in the grassy understory, including white milkmaids and purple hound's tongue. Invasive broom has established a stronghold along the trail. Yolanda takes a sharp turn and climbs to the north. Yolanda TrailThe trees thin slightly and a look back over your shoulder showcases a view up to the summit of Mount Tam. The trail maneuvers around a tangle of tree roots beneath some madrones, where a spur trail heads back south to the right; continue straight on Yolanda.
      Yolanda enters the shade of some California bays and madrones, then crests at a saddle and emerges into chaparral. Views open up to Bald Hill. The path is narrow and edges across the hillside, through chamise, toyon, sticky monkeyflower, and California sagebrush. After heavy rains, Yolanda Trail crosses over (and through) many seasonal streams headed downhill. The sound of water rushing, and the sight of the many waterfalls, makes for a soothing walk. The trail is often damp in spots, and you may get your feet wet walking through the streams that cross the trail. Yolanda is a perennial favorite for wildflowers; in late winter you might see the last of the shooting stars, plus bluedicks, larkspurs, popcorn flowers, and California poppies. In spring and summer delightful green knolls on the side of the trail are perfect for a sunny snooze, bird watching, or gazing to the profile of Mt. Tam. View from Yolanda TrailLook for the formation known as "Lion Rock" looming off the right side of the hillside. The trail gets heavy use from joggers, so try to keep out of their way. As Yolanda Trail wanders from chaparral into damp mini-canyons, California bays, oaks, and madrones create some shade. A spur path to the west, on the left side of the trail, visits a grassy plateau studded with oak trees, a great picnic spot. Yolanda Trail enters a shaded stretch, where two waterfalls join together on the right side of the trail and cross over the path. Soon after, at 2.17 miles, you enter the junction known as Six Points.
     The first trail to the right (counterclockwise) is a continuation of the Yolanda Trail. The next trail counterclockwise is Six Points Trail (it's unsigned in the middle of the junction; if you're walking into the junction on Hidden Meadow Trail it's signed to "Oak Tree Junction"), then comes Bald Hill Trail, and finally Hidden Meadow Trail. Hidden Meadow Trail Turn left onto Hidden Meadow Trail, a path open to hikers and equestrians only (sometimes seasonally closed to horses), that angles downslope from a ridge through lumpy grassland. On the other side of the valley forested steep slopes block a view of Bon Tempe Lake. Some small streams cascade downhill over the trail, and then through the meadow. Much too soon for me, Hidden Meadow Trail struggles through an invasive patch of broom and leaves the grassland behind. After trailing beneath some California bays, the path reemerges into the grassland to offer great views back uphill toward Bald Hill. Then it's another portion of trail choked with broom, and a fence-protected series of switchbacks down to a creek crossing. Finally, you reach Hidden Meadow itself, an unexpected gorgeous lowland grassy area dotted with oaks and moss-covered buckeyes. In spring, clouds of butterflies drift through the meadow; look for swallowtails and checkerspots. Hidden Meadow TrailThe stream keeps you company on the left side of the trail. In 2000, the water district installed two bridges (one at the base of the switchbacks and the other at a second creek crossing) and rerouted Hidden Meadow near the junction with Shaver Grade. You may hear voices drifting down from the nearby and popular fire road as you pass through some young redwoods and draw closer to a junction at 3.04 miles. Hidden Meadow ends at Shaver Grade Trail. Turn left (the signpost points toward Ross).
      Expect heavy bicycle traffic on Shaver Grade, as it's a well-graded (hence the name) fire road that climbs from Phoenix Lake towards Bon Tempe Lake. The path is shaded by a few redwoods and oaks, with California bays dominant, and a stream following along to the left. At 3.44 miles, Shaver Grade ends at Phoenix Junction, another multi-trail extravaganza. Counterclockwise, the first trail to your right is Fish Gulch Trail, then there's the wide Fish Grade, followed by Eldridge Grade, and then Phoenix Lake Trail. Eldridge, another popular cycling route, climbs all the way to 2,244 feet, ending between Tam's Middle and East Peaks. Continue on the first trail to your left, Phoenix Lake Trail, and continue a level walk through the trees.Phoenix Creek
      Just a few steps past the junction, at 3.52 miles, look for a small trail on the right side, marked by a "no bicycles" sign. Turn onto this narrow trail, which some users, and the MMWD, call the Ord Trail, or Gertrude Ord Trail. Not much wider than one person, the trail pads softly over redwood needles alongside Phoenix Creek. When you get to the bridge, at 3.56 miles, stay to the left and rejoin Phoenix Lake Trail a few feet further, at 3.60 miles. (If you want to extend your hike around the other shore of Phoenix Lake, walk across the bridge and continue on the Gertrude Ord Trail around the lake.) The trail passes an old house, and the previously encountered junction with Yolanda Trail. Look down toward the shore of the lake for some benches if you'd like to hang out by the water. Continue on Phoenix Lake Trail, and retrace your steps to the trailhead.

Total distance: 4.4 miles
Last hiked : February 1, 2012
Previous visits: May 26, 2004, March 24, 2003, March 8, 2001