4.3 mile loop on breezy slopes above Rodeo Lagoon, in the Marin Headlands.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 4.3 mile loop hike is moderately easy, with a few short steep
stretches. Total elevation change is about 850 feet.
Dirt fire roads and trails.
Nice any time.
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:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
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 0.6 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
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
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
from GGNRA (download Marin Headlands Trail Map)
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
Beach is a constant whirlwind of activity.
In the summer, the place is often overrun by tourists. When 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. Hikers can trek from the trailhead to Point Bonita, but it's
not much of a hike; paths are close to the roads and heavily used. 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 a nearly
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.
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 0.6 mile, then carefully
cross the street and
look for the gated start of the Miwok Trail near the east edge of the
This is the origin of a trail that runs
all the way to Muir Woods. A broad, dirt fire road, Miwok is heavily
used by cyclists. I prefer to hike this section uphill, so as 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 and 1.1 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 spurs.
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 the 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, and monkeyflower, and paintbrush in the spring. I've
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 1.9 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.
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 2.5 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.
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
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 winter. The trail meets up with the paved road again.
left and descend. A few steps further, at about 3.4 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 back to the parking lot. (Option: descending
on Coastal, at a curve, bear right onto an unsigned, broad dirt trail.
After a few feet, bear left, toward Rodeo Beach. The trail to the
right ends at a fence. Explore the coastline here if you wish, but
stay a safe distance back from the cliffs. In the fall, admire the
reddish ground-covering plant, sea fig. The trail draws close to
the fenced edge of a cliff, revealing a tiny cove accessible only from
the sea. Soon the trail descends to meet the paved portion of Coastal
Trail. Turn right at this junction and walk the remaining
short distance to the parking lot.)
Total distance: about 4.3 miles
Last hiked: Wednesday, February 21, 2001
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page