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Hike: Mt. Tamalpais to Stinson Beach

Experience on of the San Francisco Bay Areas Best Hikes!

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Sausalito is known for outdoor lifestyle activities such as hiking and biking, and one visit to Mt. Tamalpais will convince you of why. Through towering redwoods and coastal ecosystems, hiking Mt. Tam for the afternoon will make you relax and enjoy the stunning Bay Area scenery.

The hike from the top portion of Mt. Tamalpais done to Stinson Beach and back up is one of the favorite in the area and gives hikers a chance to appreciate just how different the ecosystems and scenery can be from mile to mile in the North Bay Area. Just minutes from downtown Sausalito, Mt. Tamalpais is the dominant peak in the area, and this hike takes full advantage of this fact with soaring views out over the Pacific Ocean to the west.

The Hike

Starting at Pantoll Ranger Station and Campground near the top of Mt. Tamalpais, you’ll find a parking lot with restroom facilities, a park map, and a ranger on duty at certain times that can help you with park information and route planning for your hike. Totaling approximately 7.5 miles, this hike is a pleasant exercise walk for most people with the only mildly difficult area being the ascent back up from the beach for about a mile and a half.

From the parking lot, you will find the entrance to the Dipsea Trail and you’ll begin heading at a nice, but sharp, downhill grade for several miles. This is the first of several ecosystems that you will witness, and as the trail follows the creek downhill, you will get a sense of solitude as you are surrounded by towering redwood trees. This is one of the favorite hikes anywhere in the Bay Area because of the tall trees with their dense canopies as well.

After reaching the bottom of the creek canyon, you will continue on the Dipsea Trail, crossing over a fire road and entering onto coastal scrub hills that stretch away to the Pacific Ocean. After the shade of the trees, this sunny walk through the low coastal brush while looking out over the ocean is a pleasant change.

At the bottom of the descent, you will find that you have arrived in the town of Stinson Beach, and after a few turns on residential streets, you will find yourself at one of the most revered and beautiful beaches in Northern California. Stinson Beach makes the perfect place to kick off your boots and stop for your packed lunch or for something from one of the concessionaires nearby.

The trip back up is slightly steep switchbacked trail for the first half, bringing you up the other side of Mt. Tam and through yet another landscape of smaller trees and coastal vegetation that feels like a smaller and brighter version of the earlier forested trail. Although it is steep throughout this section, the trail is well engineered and the arduous portion of the climb is not all that long.

Once you emerge from the trees, you will find that you are once again high above the Pacific Ocean, but this time with a much more drastic drop-off to the wave below. The sweeping grassland hills to the right and the panoramic views of the ocean to the left make this next couple of miles some of the most scenic in the Bay Area and some of the most photographed stretches of hills anywhere.

After making your way back across the front of the hillsides, you’ll cross back over the road (carefully) and make your way right back to the Pantoll Ranger Station parking lot and Campground to complete the loop.



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Photos copyright by Jay Graham Photographer
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