I hiked this route on Memorial Day which meant Stinson Beach, the parking lots, and the trails were quite busy. The highlights of this route for me were the Steep Ravine Trail, which has incredibly lush redwood undergrowth, and the views from the summit of Mount Tamalpais. It was neat to check out the Mountain Theatre on the way up, and I ended the hike by grabbing some food and sitting on the warm sand of Stinson Beach looking at over the Pacific Ocean.
When I started in the morning Stinson Beach was covered with the ocean fog, but I quickly climbed out and the temperature climbed with the elevation as the trail gets more exposed. I was really rather hot by the time I reached the peak. The trail back down was actually probably slightly more exposed, but the Hoo-Koo-E-Koo Trail and Matt Davis Trail both go through more exposed and heavily shaded cool sections as they contour around the mountain. The final section of the Matt Davis Trail is also heavily shaded and the temperature dropped as it got nearer to the Pacific Ocean again, which was a very welcome break from the sun.
The trailheads are just off Highway 1 at Stinson Beach, there are three places you can park;
- There’s an area for street side parking where Dipsea Trail crosses Panoramic Highway
- There’s on street parking where Matt Davis Trail meets Belvedere Avenue
- There’s multiple large National Park Service operated lots at Stinson Beach
All of these are free, but Stinson Beach can be popular on nice weekends so the parking fills up quickly. I got to the Stinson Beach lot at 8:45am just as it opened and a large stream of cars poured into the lot on a holiday weekend.
- Follow Dipsea Trail for 1.25 miles from the trailhead.
- Take a right onto Steep Ravine Trail at its intersection with Dipsea Trail. Steep Ravine Trail follows Webb Creek up a steep sided valley which is lush with green vegetation and redwood trees. There are a couple of footbridges over the creek and one section with short climb up a ladder.
- Steep Ravine Trail ends at a State Park parking lot at an intersection, cross Panoramic Highway and follow Old Stage Road a very short distance to Easy Grade Trail.
- Follow Easy Grade Trail for 0.6 miles which takes you to the Mountain Theatre, a large open air theatre. There are water fountains at the theatre, up to this point the trail has mostly been shaded but from here the trail starts to go through more scrubland and is more exposed.
- Loop around the Mountain Theatre and follow Rock Spring Trail for 1.5 miles to Old Railway Grade and West Point Inn.
- Take the lower Old Railway Grade trail, which is a fireroad, for around 1 mile to Fern Creek Trail
- Fern Creek Trail which follows Fern Creek up to the summit parking lot and is steep with many steps and switchbacks. Follow the for 0.75 miles to the parking lot.
- From the parking lot at the top it’s around 0.25 miles up the Plank Trail to the summit where there’s a watch tower. The distance from Stinson Beach is around 7.25 miles.
- From the summit retrace your steps back to the parking lot and then follow Verna Dunshee Trail clockwise around the summit, past the Gravity Car Barn which has one of the old railway carts on display, to the intersection with Temelpa Trail.
- Temelpa Trail switchbacks down the side of the mountain and is quite exposed, after a mile take the Vic Haun Trail which meets the “Double Bow Knot” where Old Railway Grade switchbacks on itself twice.
- Follow Old Railway Grade briefly to Hoo-Koo-E-Koo Trail which connects to the Matt Davis Trail after 1 mile.
- The rest of the hike follows the Matt Davis Trail for almost its entire length back down to Stinson Beach, it first follows the contour of the mountain inclining ever so slightly up to connect back to the intersection with Panoramic Highway from the route up, here cross over Pan Toll Road and follow the trail first continuing around the contour of the mountain inclining slightly down through grassy hillsides and then the final 2 miles switchbacks down through another redwood forest following a stream to the trailhead at Stinson Beach.
Maps and References
For reference the Mount Tamalpais State Park shows all the relevant trails. The Pease Press Trails of Mount Tamalpais, Muir Woods, and Marin Headlands map is a very detailed walking map of the entire area, and it has some additional historical facts for a number of the trails, which I picked up from REI.