Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bill Williams Trail Loop

South end of Phoenix Lake as seen from Phoenix Lake Fire Road

Phoenix Lake was once known as an escape that you can easily access. It is within walking distance of Downtown Ross and the Lake itself is beautiful with hiking and biking opportunities falling off trees. Now, Phoenix Lake has changed because it is now the Muir Woods of Central Marin. No, there are not gigantic old growth trees right at Phoenix Lake (I will tell you where the Redwoods are in a minute.) Phoenix Lake is very crowded with people realizing how convenient it is. On weekends, the crowds fill up the parking lot so quickly that by 10:00 on a nice day, you will have to drive down Lagunitas Rd. and start walking to Phoneix Lake. While at the lake though, you will have to deal with the crowds that keep growing and the innumerable bikers. There is one place though that many people do not visit. The Bill Williams Trail in a canyon south of Phoneix Lake is quiet and the hub bub has not discovered it yet. Not only is it beautiful and filled with Redwoods, it is an easy hike too except for one or two steep sections so forget about scrambling up trails and using your hands to help your balance. Also, this is a good hike for the hot summer although there are better hikes for summer days because parts of the hike outside the canyon such as the parts along Phoenix Lake can get hot in the summer. Without further ado, here is the hike's information:

Terrain: First and last parts are mixes of grassland and hardwood forest, the middle is redwoods.
Difficulty: Mostly gradual except for one steep section after leaving Bill Williams Canyon.
Crowds: Mainly high for first and last parts.
Best Times: Good year round hike but parts can be hot in the summer.
Length: 3.1 or 3.9 miles
Shade level: First and last parts are mostly lightly shaded while middle part is heavily shaded

Directions: From 101 at Sir Francis Drake Blvd, exit and go west. Keep going until you reach Lagunitas Rd. Make a left on Lagunitas and follow it until it ends. When it ends, you will find yourself at the parking lot for Phoenix Lake. (part of Lagunitas Rd. is closed for bridge repair so the alternate route is leaving Sir Francis Drake Blvd. from College Ave. and driving until you reach Kent Ave. Take a right at Kent Ave. and drive as the road turns into Ross Commons and intersects with Lagunitas Rd. Make a left on Lagunitas and you will be at the Phoenix Lake parking lot.)

The hike:
Most of the time, Phoenix Lake is crowded with all the spots in the main parking lot taken. Therefore, my description of the hike will start from the beginning of the Ross Trail which starts at the intersection of Lagunitas and Glenwood. Sometimes (absolutely no promises,) there are some spots open along the road but STAY AWAY from the Lagunitas Country Club spots unless you are a member. The Ross Trail starts along the left side of Lagunitas under the redwoods. After staying with the road for about .1 miles, it then slopes upward into a forest filled with tanbark. Along the trail, there is one fallen tree with its branches sprawled right across the trail. You can go through it though, the trunk itself does not cover the trail. About 0.3 miles into the hike, you can start seeing downhill to the Phoenix Lake parking lot and the picnic area. A short trail heads over to the parking lot and further along the trail, an extremely steep one I would not recommend does too. The trail stays mostly level now and about .6 miles into the hike, it reaches Phoenix Lake. Most people do not use the Ross Trail unless it is really crowded but once you reach Phoenix Lake, you will start seeing people. The view at the intersection is nice. You can see almost all of Phoenix Lake from here as well as Pilot Knob (the mountain in front of you) and Pumpkin Ridge (just to the right of Pilot Knob.) Bald Hill is directly to the right of you.

View of Phoenix Lake

Turn to the left and go through the dry woodland with a mix of grassland. Expect to see only a few bikers here because bicyclists have no through access. Instead, you will see bikers on the other side of Phoenix Lake and on Worn Springs Rd that goes up Bald Hill. As the fire road goes along the lake, there are some tiny canyons it passes by where the vegetation is a tad more riparian but it still is the dry hardwood woodland. There are a few paths that head down to the lake as you walk along the fire road. The last path to the lake intersects when the fire road passes a redwood grove. Then in about 0.4 miles from the intersection with Ross Trail, the fire road begins to dip towards the beginning of Bill Williams Creek. Harry Allen trail goes off to the left (that hike will be part of the loop back) and instead of the lake on the right, there is a small marshy area. The fire road passes what is now a creek bed and starts to slowly ascend. The Gertrude Ord trail branches off to the right and follows the bank of Phoenix Lake. Your route though is not the Gertrude Ord trail, it is the fire road in front of you. Redwoods immediately begin to take over the surroundings. Although they are second growth redwoods, they still stand out and are spectacular. Quickly, the fire road ends and the Bill Williams trail begins. It stays on the right side of the canyon as the canyon keeps narrowing. The forest feels like it will never end but if you look up to your right and left, you may notice how the redwood forest gives way to hardwood forest pretty quickly on the slope.
Bill Williams Canyon

 About 0.4 miles from the beginning of Gertrude Ord trail, Bill Williams trail starts going closer to the creek and in 0.1 miles, it crosses it. At this point, you will see a large stone wall with a pipe going through it at the bottom. This is part of the old Bill Williams Gulch Dam and was a water source until Phoenix Lake Dam was built in 1905. The trail is on the left side of the creek but quickly returns to the right. This crossing may not be fordable after heavy rains. Bill Williams Trail again goes above the creek and after one steep climb up, it quickly descends. At this point, the creek has three forks and the trail crosses all of them. A bridge is here this time. As the trail crosses the bridge, it crosses the last fork and climbs up the ridge. This is that one steep section I mentioned in the introduction. Stairs help the way though as the trail quickly intersects with the Tucker trail. By now, the terrain is a mix of bay and other hardwood trees. To the right, Tucker trail climbs 1 mile to Eldridge Grade. To the left, Tucker trail goes 0.7 miles to Harry Allen trail and that is the route we will take. Quickly, a trail branches up to the right. That is the Tucker Cutoff trail and goes to Crown Rd. Instead, we will go to the left. Tucker trail remains mostly level as it passes by tiny creeks. If you look down, you can see Bill Williams Canyon where you just hiked.

Bill Williams Gulch Dam

Once you intersect with the Harry Allen trail, you should follow it down to the left. The trail goes downhill through the dry woodland. In about 0.3 miles from the Tucker trail, it has one little steep area and the hike ends at the intersection with Phoenix Lake Fire Road. It is about 1.1 miles back to your car so you can retrace your steeps from the hike's beginning to the Harry Allen trail intersection.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Old Stage Rd to West Point Inn

View from Matt Davis trail

This is not one of those hikes in Marin that no one knows about. If you are one of those people who hikes a good amount, you probably know about this one. Still, I meet many people here who do not have the faintest clue about where West Point Inn is located. Therefore, I decided to put this hike on the blog. This hike is very fickle about its terrain. For one short part, you will be in a Redwood or Douglas Fir forest and then you will find yourself in chaparral with only a few scattered Douglas Firs serving as shade. The hike is about 4 miles long and you can take the kids on it because there are no steep uphills. There is a steep downhill on Nora trail but it is short and the rest of the hike is close to level anyway. On the Old Stage Rd. though, you should be wary of bikers because although some are courteous, some just speed down the mountain without looking. If you wanted, you could go to West Point Inn on the weekend and you might be able to go inside. On some Sundays, they even have a pancake breakfast.

Terrain: a mix of chaparral, Douglas Fir and Redwoods.
Length: 4.0 miles
Best times: good on days that are not hot
Crowds: can be heavy on Old Stage Rd and at West Point Inn on weekends.
Difficulty: moderately easy with one steep downhill section but gradual uphill climb
Shade level: First and last parts are shady with mix of shade and no shade in the middle parts.

From Highway 101, get off at the Route 1 exit. Continue on Route 1 as it goes up into the hills. On you right, you will see Panoramic Highway and go right onto it. Continue on Panoramic Highway past Mountain Home Inn and past Bootjack camp until you reach the Pantoll Ranger Station at the intersection of Panoramic Highway and Pantoll Rd. Park at the Pantoll Ranger Station and you should see Old Stage Rd across the intersection.

The hike:
After getting through this wild intersection, take Old Stage Rd as it starts to gradually ease its way up Mt. Tam. Immediately, you will see trail intersections nearby in this forest mixed with tanbark and Douglas Fir. Old Mine trail to your left climbs to the Rock Springs parking lot. Matt Davis trail to your right stays parallel to Old Stage Rd and you will be taking that route on your return trip. About 0.1 miles later, you should see Easy Grade trail (which is easier than other routes but is still pretty steep) go up to the Mountain Theater. The terrain remains similar on the Old Stage Rd and about 0.4 miles into the hike, you will reach the Bootjack trail intersection. It makes a descent first to Bootjack picnic area in 0.1 miles and then eventually makes the 2 mile trip down to Muir Woods. To your left, Bootjack climbs up to the Mountain Theater with a recently rerouted climb. Before the reroute...let's just say the climb was not very fun. To your right, you should see another road with asphalt but it goes to a ranger residence, not West Point Inn. Old Stage Rd loses its pavement as it climbs a small hill and hits a gate. You can continue, you are only leaving Mt. Tamalpais State Park and entering the MMWD (Marin Municipal Water District.) Next to the gate, there is a sign mentioning the dangers of Mountain Lions. Fortunately, I have never had a direct encounter with one. One time though, I was hiking in Santa Barbara and some animal that looked like a mountain lion raced away from me. They are more common in Santa Barbara though and I have never seen one up here.

After passing the gate, the terrain begins a slight change too. Instead of being shaded by primarily Douglas Firs, you will instead be going in and out of a mix of Douglas Firs and chaparral. Also, you should pass a few groves of Sargent Cypresses along the way. Also, views open up in a few places where you can see down to Muir Woods and San Francisco. As you get closer to West Point Inn, Old Stage Rd will see some brief shady points as it goes through the upper reaches of Spike Buck and Rattlesnake Creeks. Between them, Old Stage Rd will rise quickly but then descend as it goes into the next canyon. Also, remember to watch for bikers because many of them speed down this hill. After Old Stage Rd climbs up one more ridge and rounds a bend, you will find that you are 1.9 miles into the hike and at West Point Inn. There is a picnic area nearby and you will probably see a good amount of people because West Point Inn is a popular rest stop for hikers and bikers. If it is a weekend, you may be able to go inside West Point Inn. There are some maps there and some chairs. If you look around, you may see some small cabins where people can stay overnight. West Point Inn was once a stop on Old Railroad Grade, also known as "the Crookediest Railroad in the World" during its hayday. The Old Railroad Grade used to be a Railroad that went to the top of Mt. Tam to a tavern that unfortunately was destroyed by a fire in the 1920's.

View to Muir Woods from Old Stage Rd

To continue the loop, you should go down the Nora trail which you will find to the right of where Old Stage Rd hits Old Railroad Grade. Nora trail at first descends quickly through high chaparral with a mix of short trees. Follow the switchbacks as Nora trail begins to follow Laguna Creek which descends down to Fern Creek later. In about 0.5 miles after passing West Point Inn, you should be at the intersection of Matt Davis trail. By now, Nora trail has transformed from a trail in chaparral to a trail inside the redwoods (although the redwoods themselves are not too tall.) To continue the loop, take the Matt Davis trail to the right. To the left, Matt Davis trail goes about 1.2 miles to the Mountain Home Inn, a nice restaurant on the mountain with more trail opportunities (including the dreaded Hogback FR but that is another story.) To the right is where the hike will go though. For the next 1.3 miles until Matt Davis reaches the Bootjack trail, the terrain goes through the similar pattern as Old Stage Rd does. At creeksides, there are trees but away from the creeks, the dominant plants are chaparral. There are some places though with high chaparral instead of the scrubby plants that are not very tall. At certain places with the open chaparral, you will have some good views down into Muir Woods.

Woods on Matt Davis trail

Once you reach the point in the picture above, you will be close to the Bootjack camp which is a possible starting point for the hike but in this description, the hike will end at Pantoll. As you get close to Bootjack camp, you will be in a mix of Douglas Firs and hardwoods. In this area, I saw a King snake a long time ago. Once you pass this area and see a sign saying "Marin Municipal Water District," you will definitely be close to Bootjack camp. After passing the sign, you should see the camp near you. To get through the camp, just follow the Matt Davis trail. The trail will go near the parking lot and then go through a patch of grassland. There are some serpentine rocks here. Someone I know once said, "If serpentine were valuable, Mt. Tam would be one big mine." He is definitely correct. After passing through the grassland area, Matt Davis trail enters a Douglas Fir forest with tanbark. The trail runs close to the road so expect car noises to accompany you for the rest of the hike. The Easy Grade trail runs off to your right, going up to Old Stage Rd. very quickly. Once Matt Davis trail intersects with Old Stage Rd, the hike will have almost concluded. Retrace your steps on the Old Stage Rd. back to Pantoll where you can return to your car.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Z Ranch and Sky Trail Loop

Trees near the intersection of Sky and Z Ranch trails

When most people think of Point Reyes, they think of only a few places. They will think of the Lighthouse, Chimney Rock and maybe even Bear Valley. Not many people think about the Sky trailhead though. This hike starts up in the "Sky" and climbs up even further into the sky, staying close to the crest of Inverness Ridge. You will get a chance to be in the shade but also get those sweeping beautiful views down the Point Reyes peninsula. Lets just hope the fog is not too strong that day. Also, you could do this hike if you are staying in Sky Camp. If you are looking for a hardcore hike, I would recommend checking out additional options at the bottom of the post. The first part of the hike can be steep but it levels out not too long after you leave Sky trail. The weekends may bring more people to the trail, especially around Sky Camp but when you leave Sky trail, expect to only see a few people or possibly no one. Without further ado, here is the information on the hike:

Terrain: First and last parts are Douglas Fir forest. The middle part is a mix of Douglas Fir and grassland.
Difficulty: First and last parts are steep while the middle part has some steep sections
Best Times: Good year round hike but it can be foggy in the summer
Length: 4.2 miles
Shade level: First and last parts are heavily shaded while sun and trees trade often during the middle part.

Directions: take Sir Francis Drake Blvd. far out into West Marin until you hit Route 1. Go right and you will see Bear Valley Rd. appear on your left quickly. Take Bear Valley Rd. until you see a sign for Limatour Rd. on your left. Take Limatour Rd. up into Inverness Ridge. Once the climb up the ridge has flattened out, you should start looking to your left because you will be very close to the Sky trailhead. It is a parking area on the left and you should not miss it.

The hike:
After you park your car, you should see the Sky trail (which actually looks more like a fire road) going up past the gate. Once you start taking it, you will immediately notice the incline. Walking up Sky trail is definitely steep but it is even harder when you are backpacking and carrying all the camping gear on your back(which I unfortunately did once but it was a great hike and Sky trail is not too far anyway.) Also be careful for bikers because Sky trail up to Sky camp is open to them. At this point, you should see a large amount of understory in this Douglas Fir forest. At about 0.4 miles, there is a small open area along Sky trail with a short respite. If you are feeling tired already and want to rest, this is a nice place to do it. Even if you are not too happy about the steepness, you will probably be happy with the great scenery. Once you pass the open area, Sky trail will go onto the north slope of Inverness Ridge. Periodically, there will be a crack in the trees so you can see north or more of Inverness Ridge. Once Sky trail goes back to the crest of Inverness Ridge, you should expect to see Fire Lane trail to your right. This trail goes down to the coast and you can hike a 9 mile loop back to Sky camp. Fire Lane trail was built after the Mt. Vision Fire of 1995 which wrecked the Bishop Pine forest north of Limatour Rd. and was not too far from Sky camp. Although the fire was 15 years ago, there is still strong evidence of it. About 0.7 miles into the hike and a minute later, you should see the Horse trail going up the ridge. We will now leave Sky trail and go on the Horse trail.

View out to nearby ridge

Once you are on the Horse trail, you will continue the hike in the Douglas Fir forest. The Horse trail will go up towards Mt. Wittenburg 1407 ft. high, the highest point in Point Reyes. It may still be possible to catch a glimpse of hills across Tomales Bay. In 0.4 miles when you intersect with the Z Ranch trail, you will definitely receive better views. You should be able to look north along Inverness Ridge. Take a right onto the Z Ranch trail as you walk below the crest of Inverness Ridge. The further you walk, the better the views will get and you can now get a clearer picture of the hills to the north. The trail continues to alternate between grassland and trees. In about 0.7 miles, Mt. Wittenburg trail should intersect with Z Ranch trail. Mt. Wittenburg trail descends 2 miles down to Bear Valley. Also on your left is the short trail that goes through dense forest to the top of Mt. Wittenburg. Nearby is a nice meadow where you should have views that extend out past Limatour Beach and go to headlands there. At about this point, the trail starts to slowly descend as it makes its way to Sky trail.

Mt. Wittenburg slope as seen from Sky camp

In about 0.6 miles after the junction with the Mt. Wittenburg trail, Z Ranch trail should end at Sky trail as the Meadow trail intersects on the left. The Meadow trail also descends down into Bear Valley. Take the Sky trail as you begin to loop back towards the Sky trailhead. In about 15 minutes, you should pass Sky camp. There is a large Douglas Fir here which is easy to spot because not many trees surround it. To your left, you can walk just a bit to get a good view of the Point Reyes headlands. A path goes up through some Douglas Fir to more campsites. If you look back towards Mt. Wittenburg, you should see a hill that was formerly covered in grassland but is clearly losing the battle against young Douglas Firs. Once you walk back to Sky trail (which is now fire road length because bicycles can now use it once you passed Sky camp,) Sky trail will go between Mt. Wittenburg and the small hill where the rest of the campsites are. The trail descends a bit but levels out more once you pass the hill on your left. You should be able to get some views down to the ocean if you look hard through the trees. Below you are the headwaters of Santa Maria creek. Once the canyon ends, you should see the junction with Horse trail. You are only 0.8 miles from the trailhead now. You can retrace your steps from the junction with Horse trail.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Angel Island Perimeter Fire Road Loop

Seagulls at the cove

(On a side note, I will be doing less photo slideshows for hikes and I will put photos from the hikes on the blogposts instead.)

I will say that Angel Island is a well known landmark in the Bay Area. First, everyone sees the island and then they want to know the name. Many people who visit Angel Island though do not go further than Ayala Cove where the Ferry docks. Many people do but I know many people who have only visited Angel Island a few times or never ventured to certain parts. Angel Island has a large amount of variety with grassland, oak woodlands, history and of course great views of San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area. There are a few good hikes on Angel Island including the loop up to Mt. Livermore and the loop around the island. I will soon write about the loop up to Mt. Livermore but this post will be devoted to the loop around the island (which can overlap with the route up to the mountain if you want though.) I last visited Angel Island in April and there were places that had people that I thought would not have many. Still, there are a few sections that really feel desolate and open...until you look to the left and see San Francisco. Anyway, Angel Island has some interesting stories to it too. Asian immigrants were held here at the "Ellis Island of the West," soldiers were stationed here during the Civil War and WWII and there is even a slight possibility criminals from Alcatraz swam here. Yes, you may now see where to hike to experience Angel Island...but first, I should tell you how to get there.

Terrain: Mix of oaks and grassland, some buildings
Length: 5.3 miles (excluding the Ferry)
Crowds: Mainly high. The southside is less crowded
Best Times: Good when it is not foggy, best in spring and fall
Difficulty: Mostly flat and easy. This is a good hike for kids who do not mind the length or you could shorten it for them.
Shade level: first part partly shady, middle part unshaded, last part partly shady.

Directions: From Route 101, get off at the Tiburon Exit. Continue on Tiburon Blvd. until you reach Downtown. Go to the marina area and look for the Angel Island Ferry. The Ferry will take you to Ayala Cove.

The hike:
After exiting the ferry, you will see a picnic area, bathrooms and a visitor center, you will see a fire road leading to Perimeter Road. The visitor center is informative and interesting and spending time there is great. Our route though is the road that goes up to the left and right. You can choose whichever way to go but I usually hike clockwise so that is the way this description will go. You will intersect with Perimeter Road with a nice picnic area to your right. Once you turn left, you will enter an oak woodland but the fire road will not get much shade because it is wide. Below you is a steep decline to the visitor center area. The terrain stays similar as the Northridge trail intersects with the fire road. Northridge trail descends to the visitor center on the left and goes up to Mt. Livermore on the right. The forest around the fire road clears a bit and it soon hits a curve to the right. Around this place, views to the East Bay open wide. As you turn right, you will see the old Immigration Station below you. As you pass it, you will see a fire road going down to the Immigration Station. When people immigrated to San Francisco, they went to the immigration station and many of them were kept there for a long time. There are some descriptions there about life there. People even wrote poems on the walls.

After passing the immigration station, the fire road goes through more mixed woodland. If you look down, you will see a small beach and there is a small trail descending to it. Then the fire road visits more old buildings but they are not related to immigration this time. They were barracks during WWII and there are also some buildings that date to the Civil War. This was part of Fort McDowell. You can go into the buildings but be careful. There is one interesting building with a stairway. The stairway is precarious and suddenly stops with its outline along the wall. There are a few more buildings down below too as well as above the building here. If you look down, you will even see an old baseball field. There are a few non native pine trees too. If you look up, you may see evidence from the fire in October of 2008. A few trees look blackened but it has been growing back quickly. After admiring that, you can follow the fire road which turns to the right. To your left, there is a fire road going down to a short off limits peninsula. The fire road rises on the grassland ridge and intersects with a trail leading uphill. The Nike Missile site is nearby. Then the fire road rounds the hill and starts to descend. You should see a small canyon with some dry redwoods. This area was hard hit by the fire and seems to be coming back more slowly than other parts of the island.

Fire Damage

If you look out to the west, you should have good views of the Marin Headlands and Golden Gate Bridge but the best views are yet to come. The fire road curves to the left as it crosses the canyon. To your left, you should see a precarious path leading to the left of the fire road. Although the path heads right back to the fire road, I would not recommend it. The fire road stays on the south shore with occasional views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Finally, the trail reaches a large right hand turn. Here, there is a small viewing place. In my opinion, these are the best views of the hike. On crowded days, there may be a small crowd here but you should be able to get great pictures of San Francisco if you want. Also, there is a small steep trail nearby that descends to Battery Ledyard. The Battery has some stairways and areas to explore but be careful there. Also, there is a large concrete area which I once lay down with a group of friends and looked at the clouds. Anyway, whether you decide to make the short trip or not, the fire road continues into a pine/eucalyptus forest. A small trail goes up to the right which eventually hits the fire road higher up on Angel Island.

View of the city from Perimeter Fire Road

You should see a fire road descending to your left. It has a quick descent to Fort McDowell, a fort dating to the Civil War. The buildings are all organized around a patch of grass. Although the buildings are boarded up, you can look around them and they are still interesting. After looking around at the beauty and history of the place, you can retrace your steps back to the fire road. In a few minutes, you should reach a large boarded up building to your left. When you reach this spot, you are about one mile from Ayala Cove. Right after the building, you will see a small path to your left. It leads to restrooms, a campground for kayakers and descends through a small oak woodland to a small beach. It is a nice quiet beach and you may see some kayakers landing there. When you decide to continue on the fire road, you should see views open up to your left. You can see Tiburon and Mt. Tamalpais. Unfortunately, the views go away soon as you round a bend and enter the oak woodland again. A short trail goes off to your left, descending quickly through the trees to Ayala Cove. If you decide to stay on the fire road, you will notice a slight descent. While I was walking through here, I once saw some caterpillars spinning cocoons which was interesting to watch. Once you reach the intersection with the Sunset trail on your right, you will know the hike is almost over. The fire road that goes to Ayala Cove should be on your left. By now, you can follow the fire road back to Ayala Cove and the visitor center. On a side note, you should check the ferry schedule to make sure you do not wait long on the island.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ben Johnson Trail Loop

Looking for a way to get out of the Muir Woods crowd but still enjoy the redwoods? Try the Ben Johnson trail loop and you will get exactly what you want. This hike explores the ridges and upper reaches of Muir Woods without the crowds. Sometimes on those crowded summer days though, the crowd comes up here but the redwoods will give you the wilderness experience you want. You will not get to the redwoods without hard work though because both the uphills and downhills on the hike are steep. Only the last part of the hike in Muir Woods is not steep. Besides the redwoods, the hike shows you all of the terrains on Mt. Tam's Southside with the redwoods of course but also grassland and riparian woodland.

Terrian: Uphill mostly grassland, downhill redwood forest
Difficulty: moderately steep. Not the best hike for children who do not like short steep uphills.
Crowds: heavy in the last mile, heavier in the summer
Best times: Best in the spring or less crowded days
Length: 3.9 miles
Shade level: First half mostly unshaded, last part completely shaded

Take Highway 101 to the Route 1 exit. Exit on Route 1 and follow Shoreline Highway until you are in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and hit Panoramic Highway. Turn right on Panoramic Highway and continue until a four way intersection. Take Muir Woods Rd. on the far left and go down until you see Muir Woods parking lot. Park in the overflow because the first parking lot is always full (although on the less crowded days, it would not hurt to look.)

The hike:
After parking in the overflow parking lot, go onto the trail heading towards Redwood creek. You can choose to make a right turn because the hike loops back but I prefer the left. Once you turn left, you will enter a riparian woodland with a few Douglas Firs but no redwoods. Up ahead, there is a redwood creek crossing on some planks acting as the bridge. If the creek is high, the planks will be underwater. If this is the case, you should return to the road and walk toward Muir Beach. Soon, you will see Deer Park Fire Road to your right. Hike up that and you can continue the loop. This adds about 0.8 miles extra to the hike. Assuming you can cross the creek, the Dipsea trail almost immediately begins a steep climb through the ferns and Douglas Firs. Bear with it because you will get a reward later. 0.4 miles and many switchbacks later, the Dispea trail will cross with Deer Park Fire Road for the first time. They intersect with each other several more times. At this point, I usually choose Deer Park Fire Road although Dipsea is a great option too.

Deer Park Ridge

Right after the first intersection, Deer Park Fire Road rounds a bend with great views of the ocean. Then it taunts you by going near to but not into the forest on the slope going down into Muir Woods. Then you finally cross through a stretch of trees only to discover it was very short. Yet the views on the grassland are nice except that trees are blocking views of the ocean now. Then there is a big open field of grassland with trees at the end. Dipsea intersects with Deer Park Fire Road for the last time on this hike and Deer Park Fire Road enters the redwood forest. I always think there will be no more grassland but I am wrong. The grassland comes back but then Deer Park Fire Road enters the woods again. This time, Deer Park Fire Road stays in the redwoods. If you look at the bark, you will see evidence of a fire that burned here. Also, a tree fell down nearby creating a large opening in the forest floor. You can continue examining the redwoods if you want because they are so wonderful. This is the reward you got for all that work earlier on Deer Park Fire Road.

All too soon, the Muir Woods boundary sign arrives and so does the intersection with Ben Johnson trail. To the left, there is a nice area to sit down with people and more than once I have seen groups sitting there. Turn right and go down the switchbacks through the redwoods. After about 5 minutes, the switchbacks end as the Staplevelt trail goes off to the left. It goes up 1 mile to Pantoll. This is the last trail intersection for about 1 mile. There is a bench here if you want to sit and enjoy the magnificant redwoods here. As you turn right, the trail begins to descend again. It is steep in places so watch your step. Also, there are some roots in the middle of the trail so be careful tripping over them. Also, stepping on the roots creates stress for the redwood trees so make sure to hop over the roots. Along the way down, you will notice holes that fires burnt in the bottom of the trees. There should be a couple you can go in but remember to careful and do not hurt the trees. Take some time to just look at the beauty of this forest that not many people know about. On the crowded days, people do come up here but while you are here, just look at the giants shooting up into the sky with the dead crunchy leaves on the ground near you. Okay, this is a bit off topic because this is a hiking guide and not a guide on how to look at a redwood. So 1 mile after intersecting with the Staplevelt trail and many great redwoods later, you will see the Hillside trail branch off to your right. Stick with the Ben Johnson Trail because one minute later, you will land at the intersection with the Muir Woods main trail after crossing Bridge 4.

Forest on Ben Johnson Trail

To your left is the Bootjack trail which follows the oh so flat and easy canyon until it becomes a long uphill climb which ends 3 miles later at the Mountain Theater. To your right though is the Muir Woods trail that follows the canyon and the redwoods until hitting Muir Woods parking lot. Turn right and you will follow the redwoods. Pretty quickly, you will be able to see the creek easily and salmon breed here often. Once I saw salmon fighting here over mates. Continue walking as you pass Camp Eastwood Road on the left. It goes up to Alice Eastwood Camp and Panoramic Highway. Fern Canyon trail goes up to the left after Camp Eastwood Road. Fern Canyon Trail follows the lovely canyon until going up the ridge to Alice Eastwood Camp. On the fence at this intersection, there is sometimes a ladybug colony but I have not seen them recently. The Muir Woods trail has many landmarks but I will mention most of them on another post. Keep walking on the trail and you will pass through Cathedral Grove and the quiet zones. After Cathedral Grove, you will see Bridge 3. Going either way is great but I prefer going over the bridge to see Bohemian Grove and a large tree with a burl. After exploring the redwoods, walk to Bridge 1 and past that is the main parking lot. If you parked in overflow, follow the path on the right as it takes you through the riparian woodland. Soon, you will be back at the overflow parking lot.

Additional options: You can add about 2 miles to your hike with this option. When you are at the Staplevelt intersection, you can take a left and walk 0.5 miles to the TCC trail (for more information on the TCC trail, look at my post on it.) You can walk 1.5 miles to your right and then take the Bootjack trail down to Muir Woods. This adds about 2.3 miles to the hike and although the TCC trail is really nice, I prefer the Ben Johnson trail to the Bootjack trail.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tcc Trail loop

If you want a hike with the redwoods, the Douglas Firs, the views, the shade and no steep uphills, this is the hike for you. Did I mention the crowds do not find their way in here? When you park at Pantoll and see the cars, you will have second thoughts about the crowds. Just remember that Pantoll is a starting point for other well known hikes like loops to the Mountain Theater and hikes down to Stinson Beach. Like the Cataract trail hike, this hike has no real uphill except for one tiny section. Actually, most of the hike is uphill but you will not notice the very slight slope on the TCC trail. This hike combines all the terrains of Mt. Tam's southern slope (except for the chaparral) and takes you through the upper reaches of those creeks that go into Muir Woods.

Terrain: mostly mixed Redwood/Douglas Fir, some grassland
Difficulty: mostly easy, one steep downhill. Good for kids
Length: 3.7 miles
Crowds: Usually low, higher on the weekends
Best times: Good year round, come after a rain to see cascades
Shade level: Hike is almost completely shaded.

Directions: From 101 at Richardson Bay, take Shoreline Highway to Panoramic Highway. Go on Panoramic Highway past Muir Woods Rd until you reach the Pantoll Ranger Station. Park there and your hike begins to the left of the ranger station.

The hike: Start the hike by taking the Alpine trail. It begins right near the intersection with Pantoll Rd and Panoramic Highway. The trail takes you through some Douglas Firs as it falls into a small canyon. This part of the hike follows Panoramic Highway so you are reminded that you are not alone. The trail descends steeply as it goes further away from the road. Redwoods become the dominant tree but the redwoods here are nowhere near as tall as the Muir Woods trees (yet.) As the trail intersects with Bootjack trail, there is a large redwood nearby. The Bootjack trail slopes down, redwoods are still dominant. You will know you are close to the Van Wyck Meadow when the Troop 80 spur branches off to the left. Right now, there is some grassland. After passing some large boulders, the Bootjack trail arrives in Van Wyck meadow with the boulder in the middle. In the meadow, there is a sign saying, "Van Wyck Meadow, population 3 stellar jays." After enjoying this clearing in the middle of the forest, take the TCC trail to the right. Almost immediately, the TCC trail crosses Redwood Creek which eventually becomes that large creek in Muir Woods. Right now, Redwood Creek is narrow and has cascades. Right after a big storm, there is usually alot of water though. There is another clump of boulders in the redwoods, this time with moss on them.

The TCC trail leaves the canyon with a very light slope. The trees change to Douglas Fir. The pattern for the rest of the TCC trail is redwoods near creeks and Douglas Firs on the ridges. Also, about 0.6 miles into the TCC trail, there is some dead manzanita which has those curvy branches. This area used to have chaparral but now, all that remains of it is the dead manzanita. Most of the canyons have small creeks because this is near the headwaters for many of the creeks. The TCC trail fortunately does not climb up this canyon with a large steep ridge. The slope is covered with ferns and the dominant trees are Douglas Firs. This canyon resembles one of those many canyons in Point Reyes around Bear Valley. By now, you should feel isolated from the rest of Marin County and the trees blocking the view does help. There are usually few hikers here (although you probably see that already) but on those packed weekends, the hikers will definitely venture onto this trail. Also, you will notice all the little cascades in the many canyons you pass. Once you enter a smaller canyon, you will know that the meandering through canyons will end soon. The Staplevelt trail intersects here and descends to the Ben Johnson trail. It also goes up to Pantoll but we will take the longer route with the views.

TCC trail makes its last trip out of a canyon as it intersects with the Dipsea trail. This part of the hike is still covered in trees but in a minute, the Dipsea trail will enter grassland. Climb up and in a few minutes, you will intersect with the Coastal trail. This a great spot to view San Francisco (hopefully it is not foggy.) Once you are done viewing, you will climb up the Coastal trail into Douglas Fir forest. The fire road will soon become paved. There used to be a quarry nearby. In about 0.3 miles, there will be a small building. 0.2 miles later, the trail reaches Pantoll and the hike unfortunately ends.

Additional options: If you want to avoid the Coastal trail above the Dipsea trail, take the small trail to the right of the Coastal trail that follows it until Pantoll.
If you wanted to cut the hike by about 0.5 miles, take the Staplevelt trail up to Pantoll. The trail goes through Douglas Fir forest.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dawn Falls Loop

This hike is one of the "better known" hikes on my blog. I am writing a post about it anyway because for its proximity to Larkspur and Kent Woodlands, this hike is little visited. Yet it contains all the elements of a popular hike which is why large numbers of locals visit but outsiders...not many. The hike traverses through mixed hardwood/redwood forest before descending into Baltimore Canyon to be covered by second growth redwoods. Then the falls come. Although they are only a 30ft drop and are a trickle in the summer, it is still a treat to visit in the winter. You should view this hike as one of those "quick getaways" from it all even though there are houses clearly visible from the hike. Although the hike is fairly flat for most of the hike, the two steep parts definitely are steep. Without further ado, here is information on the hike:

Terrain: Upper part mixed redwood/hardwood forest, lower part redwood forest
Difficulty: Mostly flat except for two steep sections
Crowds: Low most of the year, can be high on spring weekends
Best times: It is good year round but best in winter and early spring for falls
Length 3.3 miles
Shade level: First half is partly shady, last half is very shady

Directions: From Sir Francis Drake Blvd., go on College Ave. until you intersect with Kent and Woodland. Go on Woodland Rd. until you hit Evergreen Rd. Turn left on Evergreen Rd. and continue on it until you reach Crown Rd. Turn left on Crown Rd. and in a minute, Crown Rd. should end at Southern Marin Line FR, the hike's starting point.

The hike:
Begin by walking past the gate. There is a board nearby with information on the nearby trails and it has maps. After passing that, the terrain becomes a mix of chaparrral and hardwood trees. Hoo Koo E Koo trail passes on the right, heading up to Bilthedale Ridge and then onto the Matt Davis trail near Mountain Home Inn. Southern Marin Line FR continues, curving around the upper reaches of small creeks that head into Baltimore Canyon. Southern Marin Line FR soon passes Dawn Falls trail in a small intersection. To the right, Dawn Falls trail heads up through the mixed forest to the Hoo Koo E Koo trail. Soon, you will pass a pipe which is the Southern Marin Line FR. The black poles and cords assisting it are conspicuous. Just to the left, Dawn Falls trail heads down to Dawn Falls. This trail will be your route for most of the last half of the hike. This intersection is 0.4 miles from the begining of the hike. Continue further on Southern Marin Line FR as it turns to the right. Just to the right, there is evidence of a small mud slide as the roots of some plants remain exposed. Now, the forest becomes more open with chaparral popping out here and there. Views across the canyon open to King Mountain. To the right, views extend to the East Bay and Mt. Diablo on a clear day. Redwoods start to appear but only at creek crossings. The fire road makes another turn and redwoods become more dominant. Once the redwoods become more dominant, you will know you are near H Line FR. The intersection with H Line FR is 1.2 miles into the hike. Besides making a shady rest stop due to the redwood covering and a water fountain. There is a small pumping station here for the water. H Line FR climbs up to Blithedale Ridge FR and then descends it to Old Railroad Grade.

Continuing on Southern Marin Line FR past the intersection, a trail almost immediately goes down to the left. Do not let the gradualness of the beginning fool you, this trail is later horrendously steep and you will find yourself walking downhill sideways in many places. The Barbara Spring trail up ahead is no cakewalk either but it is easier than this trail. After 0.4 miles of mostly mixed forest, the Barbara Spring trail arrives. It is to the left with a small signpost. Brace yourself for the descent. The trail immediately enters a second growth redwood forest and descends along the stream. The descent goes like this: steep descent, levels out for a second and descends steeply again. You will know you are almost at the bottom when the descent slows down for a much longer time than usual. The trail goes to the right of the creek and after one last descent, you are at Dawn Falls trail. Looking to the left, Redwoods tower over you making you feel far away from Larkspur. Look to your right and you will see some houses. Fortunately, the route takes you to the left. Continue through the redwoods as the road narrows into a trail. In 0.5 miles from Barbara Spring trail, the Ladybug trail branches off to the right. It is a connector up to the King Mountain trail. Sometimes, there is a ladybug colony around here. After passing Ladybug trail, the terrain changes a bit. The trail becomes more rolling as a small meadow appears. After the meadow, the trees become hardwood. Once the redwoods return, you will know you are close to the falls. A few minutes later, Dawn Falls trail begins to steeply rise, using switchbacks to ascend the steep ridge. About halfway up the ridge, Dawn Falls appears to the right. It is a 30 ft drop beginning near some rocks. Dawn Falls does not run in the summer so if you came for the falls, come after a rain. After climbing a bit more through the redwoods, the trail finally reaches Southern Marin Line FR. Turn to the right and continue on the 0.3 miles back to the car.

Additional options:
When you begin the hike, instead of passing the Hoo Koo E Koo trail, you could take it. The Hoo Koo E Koo has a gradual climb with mostly hardwood forests and redwoods at the creek crossings. The Hoo Koo E Koo trail soon meets Blithedale Ridge FR. Take that fire road to the left. The terrain here is a mix of chaparral and hardwood forest. Blithedale Ridge FR is a rolling fire road that keeps going up and down. Soon, Blithedale Ridge FR passes H Line FR which passes across the fire road. Take the left option. The fire road leaves the chaparral and enters the redwood forest, hitting the pumping station quickly as well as the intersection with Southern Marin Line FR. This option adds 0.6 miles to the hike and I would not recommend it because Southern Marin Line FR is more beautiful and easier.

Overall, take the hike for the variety of terrain, the redwoods and of course, the falls.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Abbots Lagoon

If you like bird watching, beaches, headlands, great photo opportunities, a hike for the kids and do not mind the drive, this is the hike for you. This hike gives you a closer look at all those rolling hills you drive through to get here. It is also another one of those many "desolate" Point Reyes hikes I talk about that people are coming to more and more. The people themselves are mostly friendly locals like myself. This hike combines the beach habitat with a healthy lagoon and headlands habitat. Even the cows you see grazing whenever you look out the window do not march all over the trail. Oh, did I mention that in the spring, wildflowers are everywhere?

Difficulty: Easy
Terrain: mix of coastal scrub and grass at begining, sand dunes at the end
Crowds: usually high in wildflower season, medium for the rest of the year
Best times: Great year round but it can be foggy in the summer
Length: 3.0 miles round trip from beach

Directions: From 101, go on Sir Francis Drake into West Marin until you reach Route 1Go up it until Sir Francis Drake Blvd picks up again. After Inverness, Pierce Point Rd branches off to the right. Take it and soon, you will see the Abbots Lagoon parking lot to your left.

The hike: Begin by walking onto a flat trail surrounding by coastal scrub and grassland. This is the Point Reyes headlands and the terrain stays the same until the hike nears its end. Expect to see some cows grazing nearby. Along the way, there are observation signs describing the cultural and ecological history of the area. You should be happily snapping away pictures of the headlands with the camera at this point. You will know the hike is ending soon once you hit the lagoon and the bridge. Immediately, you will enter an almost pristine dune habitat as the trail's terrain changes from dirt to sand. Remember to walk on the designated trail because this habitat could easily fall apart with human disturbance. Just follow the footprints which follow the creek, go through some large dunes.
Then the trail opens up to the beach. The views from it are wonderful and you can see both up and down the coast. This is a fantastic place to watch seabirds because they are so numerous and are not the kind that steal your food. Do not feed them or they will become dependent on humans. Also, snowy plover nest here and they are an endangered species so let's hope their nests expand. Remember not to enter the roped off areas. When you are here, you will say, "So this is California 200 years ago." You can continue walking along the beach for more views and more relaxation. This is an out and back hike so you can turn around anytime you like. A word of caution: check the tide tables if you plan to take a long walk on the beach. Also, DO NOT turn your back on the ocean because people have vanished along this wild coastline with large rip currents.

Additional options: You could walk up to Kehoe Beach, to the road and then south along the road back to the Abbots Lagoon trailhead. It is more than 8 miles long and people tend to drive fast on Pierce Point Rd.

Overall, the hike's highlights are the wildflowers, the views, the birds and the not so crowded beach.