Mount Tamalpais, or Mt. Tam, is at first glance the opposite of what I look for in a park. Its trailhead’s share a single winding road with two popular beaches and another popular park, all of its major peaks have paved road access, and it contains one of the tourist hiking destinations in the US (Muir Woods). Still, bay area locals hold it as a right of passage that you’ve done your fill of Mt. Tam hiking, so I’ve spent my last few days of hiking there.
My first glance was wrong, because so far it’s up there on my list of favorite parks in the area. The aspect of hiking in the bay area I like most is the variety in geology and biomes within a 1 hour drive of the peninsula; huge redwood forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains, rolling green pastured hills in the west side of the east bay hills, dry hot scraggly brush hikes farther into the east bay and up in sonoma, and deciduous forest mixed with steep hills in the south bay. Mt. Tam packs all of these within reach of a 10 mile hike.
Starting from the Matt Davis trail at Stinson beach you’ll get a few miles of forested ascent.
Then you’ll pop out into long grass steep hills that pop in and out of little groves of trees stuck into troughs.
If you keep on the Matt Davis trail, you’ll come to the back of the Muir Woods park (Pantoll) where you can find huge redwood forests. Or you can go north along the coastal trail where you’ll stay in the steep grassy hills for a few miles before hitting the paved Ridgecrest Boulevard and having some options. I chose to take the Cataract trail back to the Rock Spring parking lot, which served as my starting point the next time I came back.
The hike from Rock Spring parking lot to the East Peak lookout starts in dry forest then gradually turns to dry brushy territory. The fire lookout is nice, but be prepared for plenty of company. There’s a paved road that leads to the top, so even on a Thursday there were 20-30 people there when I showed up.
If you don’t mind crowds, or can manage hiking on weekdays, Mt. Tam has a huge variety of interesting terrain to explore. I’ll be going back soon.