Rodeo Beach Trailhead,
Golden Gate National Recreation Area/Marin Headlands,
National Park Service, Marin County
In brief:
5.1 mile loop on breezy slopes above Rodeo Lagoon, in the Marin Headlands.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 5.1 mile loop hike is moderately easy, with a few short steep stretches. Total elevation change is about 850 feet.

Exposure:
Full sun.

Trail traffic
:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt fire roads and trails.

Hiking time
:
2 hours.

Season
:
Nice any time.

Getting there:
• From northbound US 101 in San Francisco County, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and exit at Alexander (the first exit past the view point turnoff). After about 0.3 mile, 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 3 miles on Bunker Drive to the trailhead at the end of the road.
• From southbound US 101 in Marin County, exit Sausalito (the last exit before the bridge). Drive uphill on Conzelman Road, then turn right onto McCullough Road. Descend on McCullough to a junction with Bunker Road, and turn left. Drive west on Bunker to the trailhead at the end of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/301

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3749'56.31"N
Longitude
12232'19.83"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Trailhead details:
Plenty of parking in lots and on the side of the road. No entrance or parking fees. Wheelchair-accessible restrooms at edge of parking lot. There are handicapped-designated parking spots, but the trails are not wheelchair accessible. No maps available at trailhead. There is a map at the start of the Miwok Trail, about 1 mile from the trailhead. If you want to pick up a map before you start hiking, stop at the Visitor Center on the way to the trailhead: 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 services this trailhead via Bunker Road (Sundays and major holidays only): visit the Transit Info website for details.

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, restaurants, and stores about 6 miles north in Marin City. There are a few camping options in the Headlands, including small camps at Kirby Cove and Bicentennial.

Rules:
Most trails are multi use. Some trails are open to horses and hikers only, and a few are designated hiking only. Dogs are permitted on some Headlands trails (they are 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 Options:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Map from GGNRA (download Marin Headlands Trail Map)
• Tom Harrison Maps' Southern Marin Trail Map (order this map from Amazon.com) is a good guide to the area.
A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of Mt. Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands, map from Olmsted and Bros (order this map from Amazon.com).
Hiking Marin, by Don and Kay Martin, contains a decent map and brief trail descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).

View photos from this hike.




Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page





Rodeo Beach is a constant whirlwind of activity. In summer, the place is often overrun by tourists. TrailheadWhen local schools are in session, groups of students visit for educational tours. If the surf is pounding, surfers are riding the waves, even in the rain. And any time the sun is shining folks can be found walking on the lovely beach. With easy parking, restrooms with flush toilets and sinks, picnic tables, and even a bus stop, Rodeo Beach is a convenient, accessible, family-oriented trailhead.
     The hardy hiker can walk from Rodeo Beach to Tennessee Valley and back, combining the Coastal Trail, Tennessee Valley Trail, Old Springs Trail, Miwok Trail, and an unnamed roadside path back to Rodeo Beach. This loop is a little more than 7 miles, and the only substantially steep portion is a downhill segment of the Coastal Trail. For an 8 mile hike, walk east along Bunker Road to Miwok Trail, then pick up Bobcat Trail and walk uphill until Bobcat meets Miwok, turn left onto Miwok Trail, then take Wolf Ridge Trail to Coastal Trail back to the trailhead. Rodeo Lagoon
        For this moderate featured hike, stand in the parking lot facing the beach. Cross the street, turn left and walk back along the side of Bunker Road (there's a path along the lagoon). If you love to birdwatch, you may want to spend some time with your binoculars here, observing among others, egrets, ducks, and pelicans. This north side of the lagoon is lined with willow, fennel, blackberry brambles, poison oak, and coyote brush. Stay on the path until Bunker Road curves to the right, at 1 mile, then carefully cross the street and look for the gated start of the Miwok Trail near the east edge of the building.
      A broad, dirt fire road, Miwok is heavily used by cyclists. I prefer to hike this section uphill to have a better view of bicycles descending. A map signboard stands a few feet from the start of the trail, giving you one last chance to check your route. In winter, you may see carpets of milkmaids, as well as California buttercups, and suncups. Soon Miwok leaves the damp area near the lagoon and enters Gerbode Valley. Two spur trails set off to the right at about 1.3 miles. The first heads to Bunker Road, and the second connects Miwok Trail with Rodeo Valley Trail and Bobcat Trail. Stay to the left past these spursMiwok Trail
      Abruptly, Miwok begins a climb to the north. The trail edges up along the side of the hill, providing views across Gerbode Valley to Bobcat Trail, and Wolfback Ridge. In autumn dead fennel plants rub together in the breeze, making a rushing noise like running water. Coyote brush is the dominant plant on the east-facing slope, but you may also see lupines, monkeyflower, and paintbrush blooming in spring. I've seen vultures, red tail hawks, ravens, and ferruginous hawks soaring above Gerbode Valley. You may even spot golden eagles and peregrine falcons, especially in the fall. Deer, coyotes, and bobcats wander the valleys and hills. At 2.5 miles, Miwok Trail crests. From here you can see north to Mount Tam on a clear day. Look for a trail to the left at a broad flat spot. Turn left onto Wolf Ridge Trail, a hiking-only path. Gerbode Valley
     Wolf Ridge Trail starts near 600 feet, then angles along the north slope of the hill, climbing, steeply in short segments, even descending a bit at one spot, until it reaches about 900 feet. It's my favorite trail in the Headlands, because it boasts a variety of plants. In winter, look for flowering currant, cow parsnip, hound's tongue, shooting stars, and milkmaids. You also might see ceanothus, coyote brush, monkeyflower, creambush, California coffeeberry, lizardtail, huckleberry, Oregon grape, and a few oaks. The trails of Tennessee Valley are visible to the north. Along the left side of this narrow path, look for interesting rock formations. At 3.3 miles, Wolf Ridge Trail ends at a signed junction. I like to eat my lunch at this spot, looking north to Mount Tam, Tennessee Valley, and the ocean. When it's clear, the view of the Golden Gate Bridge, to the south, is dramatic. From this junction (kind of two junctions side by side, or a stretched out X) Coastal Trail descends steeply north to Tennessee Valley. To the southeast Coastal Trail climbs about 0.2 mile to Hill 88 (topping out at 960'). To the southwest Coastal Trail drops back down to Rodeo Beach.Wolf Ridge Trail
        Although the section of Coastal Trail from Rodeo Beach to the top of Hill 88 was a prime cycling trail, a landslide a few years ago changed all that. Coastal used to wind its way uphill, a nicely-graded paved road with broad curves. Now the trail has been rerouted around massive segments of fallen concrete road, replaced with, in part, steep, narrow rock and log stairs. These sections are signed as "carry zones" for bicyclists, and the physical effort required to carry a bike up the rerouted sections has cut bicycle usage down to nearly zero. Compounding this is the fact that Wolf Ridge Trail and the part of Coastal Trail from the junction of Wolf Ridge Trail to Tennessee Valley are hiking-only trails. Once cyclists reach the top of Hill 88, the only way to go is back down the same way they came up. For hikers, the newly-cut section of Coastal Trail is quiet and peaceful, with the ocean sparkling to the west, and often the sounds of the wind, buoys, and birds the only noises. I love to watch pelicans closely flying over the ocean looking for their next meals. Coastal Trail
     From the junction with Wolf Ridge Trail, turn south and head downhill on paved Coastal Trail. Coyote brush and sagebrush dominate the landscape, but beware of poison oak. Soon the pavement ends at a fence. Follow the signs as the trail is rerouted to the right, and then back toward some old bunkers. Bear left at a junction with a sign reading Pacific Coast Trail, with a hand-drawn arrow pointing to the left. You'll descend log stairs. At the base, go right, then left down through an unpromising-looking rocky shoot (this may not be signed). Descend the rock and wood stairs, then continue to follow the trail downhill. Look for clarkia, California poppy, and checker-blooms in late winter. The trail meets up with the paved road again. Turn left and descend. Coastal Trail descends some stepsA few steps further, at about 4 miles, Coastal reaches a T junction. The trail to the left, Old Bunker Road, is an option for returning to the trailhead, however, it ends on Bunker Road, necessitating a return to the parking lot via the roadside trail. So turn right and follow Coastal Trail toward the ocean, descending past Battery Townsley and remaining on the paved road (or the hiking only path hugging the coastline) back to the parking lot.

Total distance:  about 5.1 miles
Last hiked: July 2, 2014
Previous visit: February 21, 2001