Serendipity. We were supposed to be 175 miles north of San Francisco today hanging out with our friends Tree and Scott, but El Nino flooded the Pacific Coast Highway blocking our way north two days ago. Since most of life is Plan B anyway, we instead hiked at Point Reyes National Seashore two days ago where we met Craig.
Telling us of a shuttle that takes hikers from Stinson Beach up the Panoramic Highway to the Matt Davis Trail, he mentioned climbing through the forest of waterfalls at Mount Tamalpais State Park. We are all in!
Leaving Petaluma today, CA, we head south on the Pacific Coast Highway to the lagoon by Stinson Beach. About a 35-minute drive from the Golden Gate Bridge, Stinson Beach is below the Muir Woods National Monument and Mount Tam.
Stinson Beach, like Point Reyes Station, its sister town fifteen miles to the north on Route One, has a tiny downtown catering to all those wanting to escape suburban Marin County and urban San Francisco. Never finding the Shuttle that Craig spoke of, we instead drive up the switchbacks of Mount Tam looking to find the Matt Davis Trail or any trail to hike before we head to San Francisco for the night.
Arriving at the Pantoll Ranger Station Park Headquarters, lo and behold we see a sign for the Matt Davis Trail across from the parking lot. Though there is no ranger on duty, we self-register and pay the $7 for seniors for parking. Having been told by rangers that the fine for not purchasing the parking pass is $71, we see a sign here suggesting it might be even more.
Looking at the trail map, surprisingly we see that most of the hiking we did in previous years at the Muir Woods National Monument was, in fact, here in the Mount Tamalpais State Park. Pronounced tam-al-pie-us, Tamalpais roughly translates to “bay mountain.”
Across the Panoramic Highway, we take stone steps leading to the Matt Davis Trail. Rather than taking the Matt Davis all the way down the mountain to Stinson Beach, we opt to take it 1.7 miles to the Bolinas Ridge Trail, a part of the Pacific Coastal Trail.
Immediately, we enter the forest of oaks hiking on packed moist dirt softened by the rain of the previous week. Water pools on the trail, but nothing that we can’t easily step around them. Within minutes we are calling this our favorite trail of the ten we’ve hiked this January 2016 in California. We are known to jump to conclusions, but this conclusion was right on.
Winding by mossy logs and trees to one waterfall after another, we have mountain streams crossing the trail where stones have been placed by trail makers to let us step easily across.
Every so often we come out into a field of grass above and below us on the mountainside that would cause Julie Andrews of the Sound of Music to break out in song how the hills are alive. Though the trails in the forest are not steep, these hillsides have grassy meadows that would have us sliding hundreds of feet if we misstep. It never feels dangerous, but I think it will be a few years before we take our grandsons Owen and Max on this hike.
Forty minutes into our hike we take the Bolinas Ridge Trail along the mountainside while the Matt Davis Trail descends to the ocean below. The exposed trail remains easy on the feet with hard packed dirt now dried by the sun. Below, the fog shrouds the bay and works its way up the mountain to us.
Hiking above the Pacific, we come across a rusted, overturned truck blocking the trail. Looking up the mountain some 100 yards above us on, we see a car driving on to the Fire Lookout at the top of the mountain. Having driven four miles on the Panoramic Highway to the Matt Davis Trailhead ourselves, we know that the shoulders of the mountain roads are often non-existent. Putting two and two together, we can gather what might have happened to the wreck on our trail.
Comfortable in a tee shirt on this mid-January day, we have a mellow ridge vibe for what will be eight miles of hiking. The video below shows part of the Matt Davis Trail as we approach one of the many waterfalls.
Three hours later we return to the trailhead to desock and deboot and head for the airport. Still deep in the Mount Tamalpais State Park, we have ten miles of switchbacks on the Panoramic Highway before we hit Route 101, the main artery to San Francisco. At the top of the mountain we approach a seasoned cyclist going 30 miles an hour in descent. With no shoulder for him to move over to, we follow him for three miles down the hill; thirty mph is plenty fast enough on this road for cars and bikes alike going down these hairpin turns.
Rather than take the redeye home tonight to Boston, we opt for a night at Quality Inn at the San Francisco International Airport to toast our fortnight on the trail. Red-eying flights turn me into Zombie Dan. Sleeping on planes, that’s for the gifted like Hannah, not for the poor sleepers among us.
Though we rise at 4A for our 7A flight to Logan International Airport, that is all a small sacrifice in exchange for living our California Dreamin’ adventure on the trails of the Pacific.