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San Rafael Hiking in Mt. Tamalpais State Park

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Hiking in Mt. Tamalpais State Park

San Rafael, Marin County, is set in some of the most beautiful and spectacular country in California. It is surrounded by many superb national and state parks which segue into each other  to offer some of the best hiking experiences you will have anywhere, with walks through rare and ancient redwood groves, chaparral grasslands, exciting coastal trails, past creeks, waterfalls and lakes, historical sites, and stunning views of  the mountains, headlands, coasts, and ocean. There are hiking trails to suit every taste and ability that will bring you up close to the many amazing facets of the parks around San Rafael.

Wherever you may choose to go hiking, there are some basic tips to follow for the San Rafael area. Always wear layered clothing, as temperatures change rapidly with changing terrain; bring basic essentials that will make your hike safer and easier – maps, binoculars, water, and food for longer hikes, sunscreen, and a camera to capture those wonderful sights. Some of the most popular hiking trails within easy reach of San Rafael are in Mount Tamalpais State Park.

Mount Tamalpais State Park

Mount Tamalpais State Park is the centerpiece of the San Francisco Bay Area’s outdoor extravaganza, and Mount Tam, as the locals affectionately call it, is the focal point of the exhilarating hikes in the Park. Where other parks offer redwood groves, springtime blooms, sun-drenched hills, and gorgeous vistas, Mt. Tam gives them all. Choose from the exciting variety of hiking trails traversing this Park, ranging from short, easy hikes even little children will enjoy, to more challenging and rewarding hikes that take you over interesting terrain and to stunningly beautiful sights.

Stinson Beach to Mount Tamalpais, is one of the most popular hikes in the area, rising from the waves washing Stinson Beach to sunny slopes, stands of giant redwoods, glorious springtime displays of flowers, and majestic vistas of unforgettable beauty.

The most popular hike is the Steep Ravine via Matt Davis, Mt. Tamalpais trail, which starts at Stinson Beach, 20 miles from San Rafael, and is moderately difficult (due to the many stairs in Webb Creek’s Steep Ravine), and at 6.5 miles long, takes half a day. It gets crowded on weekends, so try for a weekday hike, or start early morning to beat the crowds. Watch out for the occasional poison oak, and bikers on the Panoramic Highway and the old railroad bed.

The Stinson Beach to Tamalpais trail starts at Stinson Beach. It is a full day or overnight hike over some difficult terrain, covering 18.3 miles over landscape that will yield splendors hidden from those driving up to the peak. It’s a hike not to be missed if you enjoy a challenging hike. Be careful of your footing on the steep hillside as it can get slippery.

The Cataract Creek Loop starts at Bolinas, 26 miles from San Rafael, is of moderate difficulty, is 7.7 miles long, and takes a half day to complete. It goes along creeks and cataracts, through Mount Tamalpais Watershed.

East Peak, Mt. Tamalpais State Park is an easy trail that starts from Mill Valley. The short half-mile round trip, lasting under an hour, to the top of Mt. Tam and its spectacular panoramas is a fun getaway. You can detour for a bit of California history by visiting the Gravity Railroad Museum. Make an early start to avoid crowds.

Another easy hike is the Verna Dunshee Loop Trail around Mt. Tamalpais East Peak. Start at Marin, for this short 0.7 mile hike of less than an hour that is ideal for young children. Drive up to East Peak and then follow the trail.

Mount Tam – Southeast Trail, begins at Mill Valley and goes from Summit Avenue to East Peak. The 5.1 mile trail of moderate difficulty takes one-three hours to complete depending on your pace, and after a short, steep climb you enjoy some of the best views of the Bay Area from the Peak.

The Dipsea Trail – Mt. Tamalpais Loop is a delightful 7.44 mile hike through Mount Tamalpais State Park, of moderate difficulty, taking four hours. You enjoy great views as the trail progresses through gigantic redwoods, and then drops sharply by a series of stairs into Steep Ravine.

The Coastal View Trail Loop, Mt. Tamalpais State Park, affords you the best of Mt. Tam in one loop trail. Starting at Mill Valley this moderately difficult, 8.5 mile long, full day hike gives you all the characteristic features that make Northern California a preferred destination: chaparral grasslands, stunning seascapes of the Pacific, forest creeks and venerable redwood groves – plus the chance for a refreshing pint at the friendly British pub en route!

 For a scenic hike with some California history thrown in, take the West Point Inn, Mt. Tamalpais hiking trail which starts in Mill Valley. It is a moderately difficult 9.0 mile long hike and takes a full day to cover. From grasslands to redwood forest to breathtaking mountain top views to the remains of the old Scenic Railroad, with a relaxing stop at West Point Inn, it is an enriching experience.

An easy hike, the Mountain Theater and the Southwest Slope of Mount Tamalpais starts pretty high up the mountain road. On this two mile hike, you visit the stone built amphitheatre and make a loop along the mountainside, with views over southern Marin and the Bay Area.


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