9 mile loop to Samuel P. Taylor State Park's highest peak.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 9.3 mile loop hike is moderately tough, with about 1400 feet
in elevation change.
Some shade at the beginning and end, but mostly exposed in the middle.
Dirt trails and fire roads.
Best in late winter and early spring.
From US 101 in Marin County, exit San Anselmo/Sir Francis Drake. Drive about
15 miles west on Sir Francis Drake to the park entrance on the left side
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, pay phones, restaurants, and stores about 5 miles northwest, in Point
Reyes Station, or about 10 miles southeast, in Fairfax. Several restaurants
and stores can be reached by driving a few miles in either direction on
Sir Francis Drake (Lagunitas to the southeast or Olema to the northwest).
I recommend Two Bird Cafe on San Geronimo Valley Drive in San Geronimo (visible
from Sir Francis Drake). The park has good individual campsites.
Lots of parking inside the park; room for about 8 vehicles just before the
park entrance on the left side of Sir Francis Drake. Pay $8 entrance/parking
fee at entrance kiosk (self-register if unattended). Additional fees for
camping in the park. If the ranger station is open, you can pick up a map
there. Restrooms and drinking water available throughout the developed area
of the park. There are at least two designated handicapped parking spots
in the park, and while the trails are not technically all-access paths,
wheelchair users should be able to navigate more than a mile of Cross Marin
Trail and Riding and Hiking Trail, the first stretch of this hike. West
Marin Stagecoach offers public transportation to this trailhead.
About half the trails are multi-use. A few are designated hiking only. Dogs
are only permitted in the developed parts of the park (campground and picnic
areas) as well as on paved park roads and the dirt "bike path" from the
Redwood grove picnic area east to Shafter bridge, and always must be on
leash. Park hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The Official Story:
Samuel P. Taylor page.
Park office 415-488-9897
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Download the park
map pdf from CSP's website.
Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me,
the creator of this website) has a simple map and a featured hike. Order
this book from Amazon.com.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Barnabe
Point Reyes by Jessica Lage (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and descriptions of trails
at Samuel P. Taylor.
Trail Map of Point Reyes National Seashore, by Tom Harrison
(order from Amazon.com)
also shows the trail network of Samuel P. Taylor.
David Weintraub's North Bay Trails has a useful map and trail
this book from Amazon.com).
Don and Kay Martin's Hiking Marin has a useful map and trail
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
Go to Bay Area Hiker's Devil Gulch Trailhead page.
View 53 photos from the hike.
a surprise to find such a spectacular
viewpoint in Samuel P. Taylor State Park. When you drive past and through
the heart of the park on Sir Francis Drake, the redwood and Douglas fir
forest does not permit even a single glimpse of the surrounding countryside.
But when you take a steep hike from the valley floor to Barnabe Peak's
treeless summit you are rewarded with one the of the best panoramas in
In addition to the view from Barnabe Peak,
Samuel P. Taylor offers a variety of hiking experiences. Pioneer Tree
Trail is an easy 1.7 mile jaunt through the redwood forest near Papermill
Creek. From the park headquarters, you can join the Bay Area Ridge Trail
as it climbs to Bolinas Ridge, and then heads south toward Mount Tamalpais.
The park is named after Taylor, who made
his money in the California Gold Rush, and with those funds bought 100
acres of land around what is now called Papermill Creek. He established
a paper mill there, and later built a
resort hotel. Taylor's grave site is near the junction of Riding and Hiking
Trail and Barnabe Trail. And by the way, the peak is named for Barnabe,
Start at one of the parking areas near the
ranger station (or, if you've parked on Sir Francis Drake, walk in along
the park road). Walk toward the campground, cross Papermill Creek on
a bridge and bear left (signed "group picnics only.") Once
past the picnic area and a gate, Cross Marin Trail (sometimes just called
Bike Path) meets one end of Pioneer Tree Trail at a signed junction. Continue
on Cross Marin Trail. The wide multi-access trail runs at an almost
perfectly flat grade along the creek, and is lined with Douglas fir, redwood,
tanoak, huckleberry, ferns, and hazelnut. At about 0.5 mile, you'll approach
the bridge over Papermill Creek and Sir Francis Drake, and the signed
junction with the other end of Pioneer Tree Trail. Continue straight
across the bridge. On the other side, Riding and Hiking Trail departs
on the left at a signed junction. Keep walking straight on Cross Marin
Trail. (Some maps
refer to this next segment at Cross Marin, others call it Riding and Hiking
Trail. In fact, the next parks sign on the trail calls it Riding and Hiking
The level broad fire road passes Irving
Group Picnic Area, with Papermill Creek still audible, although not always
visible, on the right. Cars can also be heard traveling on Sir Francis
Drake. As they pass over the concrete road segments, they make a noise
very similar to a fast horse trot. Redwoods are less of a presence here,
but you may see Douglas fir, coast live oak, buckeye, tanoak, and California
bay. Trailside shrubs include creambush, hazelnut, and ceanothus. At about
1.2 miles, Barnabe Trail departs on the left side of the trail at a signed
junction. Bear left onto Barnabe, which is open to equestrians,
hikers, and cyclists.
Whatever you think about this trail at the
end of the day, it does declare its intentions immediately, with an initial
steep grade. In addition to Douglas fir, Barnabe Trail is lined with coast
live oaks, tanoaks, and a few big-leaf maples and buckeyes. Before long
you leave the forest to hike through a mixture of woods and grassland,
with two varities of broom, monkeyflower, silktassel, California coffeeberry,
sagebrush, coyote brush, Douglas fir, and coast live oak on the sides
the trail. Views unfold as you climb. Look for a faint unmarked path on
the left side of the trail. A tiny clear spot has been transformed into
the perfect rest stop/viewpoint When I hiked up Barnabe in February 2001,
there was a folding chair wrapped in plastic here, ready to cradle its
owner when he/she returns. Ignore a descending trail on the right at an
unmarked junction about half way up, and stay straight on Barnabe.
As the trail ascends, grassland begins to dominate the landscape, with
occasional forays into pockets of oaks and Douglas fir. You may notice
a faint path running parallel to the fire road on the left. This is Ridge
Trail, unmarked as far as I could tell, but an option for the journey
to the top. Finally, you reach the upper reaches of the mountain, and
complete the climb through pure grassland. At about 3.2 miles, Barnabe
Trail turns left and heads downhill, just before the actual summit. You
can continue uphill about 50 more feet, but don't stray past the lookout,
as the no trespassing signs warn. If it's not too windy, you may want
to make the rocky outcrop near the base of the lookout your lunch break.
At a relatively low elevation of 1466 feet, the views are just incredible.
On crystal clear days you should be able to see Mount St. Helena to the
north and Mount Diablo to the east. Even with moderate visibility, see
how much publicly-accessible land you can identify from here. There's
Point Reyes National Seashore to
the west, GGNRA's Bolinas Ridge southwest, Giacomini, MMWD lands (including
a glimpse of Kent Lake and its spillway), and Mount Tamalpais to the south,
Loma Alta and Big Rock Ridge to the east. When you're ready to continue,
descend to the undersigned junction where Barnabe Trail curves downhill,
and turn right.
Barnabe descends about as steeply as it
ascended, through grassland and some trees. At a corner at about 3.5 miles,
Bill's Trail begins on the right side of the fire road at a signed junction.
(You can shorten your hike by continuing to descend on Barnabe Trail.)
Turn right on Bill's Trail, which is open to equestrians and hikers
only. (By the way, the mileage on the trail sign is wrong. Stairstep
Falls is not 1.3 miles from this junction. You'll hike more than double
that to get to the falls.)
The narrow path almost immediately heads
into the woods. California bays are common, along with tanoak, Douglas
fir, and some coast live oak, madrone, California hazelnut, and California
nutmeg. In winter, look for flowering currants and gooseberry. In autumn,
red rosehips cling to the branches of wood rose. You also may see some
early milkmaids and hound's tongue nestled among the ferns. Bill's Trail
is a delight; switchbacks make the walking easy, and there are lots of
charming little bridges across seasonal creeks and
waterfalls all the way downhill. Wooden fences protect against shortcuts
in some sections. At about 6.5 miles, at a signed junction, the path to
Stairstep Falls departs on the right. (Option: hike out and back on this
path, which will add about 0.5 mile to your day.) Continue straight
on Bill's Trail.
Through the trees you can occasionally glimpse
the green, treeless rolling hills just north of Devil's Gulch. A few out-of-place
eucalpytus trees keep company with native oak and Douglas fir. Bill's
Trail winds downhill, ending at about 7.2 miles at a bridge and signed
junction. The bridge crosses the stream and meets Devil's Gulch Trail.
Continue straight on Riding and Hiking Trail.
The wide hiking, equestrian, and cycling
trail is a shock after gentle Bill's Trail. With a continual roller coaster
profile, Riding and Hiking is best suited for equestrians and cyclists.
Hikers (at least me) probably won't appreciate the short but steep ascents
and descents this trail offers toward the end of this long hike. Still
traveling through the forest, you'll be shaded by tanoaks and Douglas
fir. The trail is prone to storm damage, and may be rutted and muddy in
winter and spring. Riding and Hiking Trail steps out of the trees and
sweeps downhill through the lowest reaches of Mount Barnabe's grassland.
A look uphill to the summit reveals the fire lookout. Then it's back into
the woods, past a closed section of trail on the left, and up a hill to
a signed junction on the edge of the forest. The path to the right visits
Taylor's grave site. Bear left and descend a sharp grade to a signed
junction at about 8 miles (if you've taken the option of descending on
Barnabe Trail, this is where you rejoin the hike). Bear right to stay
on Riding and Hiking Trail.
It's a relief to descend a bit. Coyote brush
occupies the foreground, with forested hills looming west of Papermill
Creek. The trail passes a fire road leading down to Madrone Group Area,
and some hikers shorten their trek by turning right here, crossing Sir
Francis Drake, and taking a creekside trail to the left, back to the park
headquarters. Continue straight on Riding and Hiking Trail. The
trail reverts to an earlier up and down course, passing through woods
and back into chaparral. Just past a water tank, the trail descends steeply
and then turns left a few feet from a green gate on Sir Francis Drake.
(Option: if you're parked in the pullout right before the park entrance,
you can shortcut the remaining hike. Walk past the gate to Sir Francis
Drake, cross carefully, turn right and walk along the side of the road
about 0.2 mile to the park entrance and your vehicle. Obviously, this
option can be dangerous, as there is virtually no side of the road to
walk on, so exercise this option with care.) Continue on Riding and Hiking
Trail, to the previously encountered junction at about 8.8 miles. Turn
right on Cross Marin Trail and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Total distance: 9.3 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, February 6, 2001
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