What’s Best: The ultimate Marin and San Francisco views on short walks to the top or around the summit of Mount Tamalpais; or the mother of all downhill mountain bike rides. Tam is where mountain bikes were invented.
Parking: From Hwy. 101 north of Sausalito, take Hwy. 1 toward Stinson Beach. Follow Hwy. 1 and turn right on Panoramic Hwy. Continue 3 ml. past Mt. Tam State Park boundary, to Pantoll Ranger Station. Turn right on Pantoll Rd. After 1.25 ml, go right of E. Ridgecrest Blvd. and follow for about 3 ml. to road’s end parking. Note: Gates at Pantoll Rd. close in evening and reopen in morning. Agency: Mt. Tamalpais State Park; Marin Municipal Water District
At 2,571-feet, East Peak is the highest among the three peaks that form the curving summit ridge of Tamalpais. West Peak, with the white sphere military installation is 11 feet shorter, and in the saddle between the two is Middle Peak, standing at 2,490 feet. The three unimaginatively named peaks combine to create the curvature known, from the time of the Miwok onward, as the more poetic “Sleeping Maiden.” The parking lot at road’s end was the terminus for the tourist railroad that chugged up from Mill Valley, and also the site of the Tavern where travelers enjoyed their stay.
For the Tam East Peak Summit with views of everywhere take the road from the end of the parking lot and start up the plank trail. You circle around to the east face of the mountain, and walk up rocks for the last bit of this 200-plus-foot climb. On top is Edwin Burrough Gardner Lookout, constructed in 1936 and named for the first district fire warden. The lookout features a stone foundation that anchors the steel-frame and timber structure, withstanding winds of 100 mph and greater. You can go south from the peak on a little loop trail among the big rocks. On foggy days, the view from Tam can be ethereal, as the green peak often sticks above a puffy white blanket.
MOUNT TAM PEAK MAP SAN FRANCISCO Photo Gallery
For the Tam Summit circle via the Verna Dunshee Trail which you don’t want to overlook in your haste to see the peak go right at the signed trailhead just down from the parking lot. The circular route, roughly paved with benches along the way, contours 200 feet below the summit. You view the Bay Area panorama in quadrants as you walk. As you complete the circle, coming down some railroad tie stairs, you pass what’s left of an old railway station.
The North Side loop takes in Inspiration Point and Middle Peak. Start at Eldridge Grade, which is just down from the paved parking area coming up, it’s on your left. Starting at 2,200 feet, Eldridge Grade drops about 300 feet over 1.5 miles and makes a big hairpin to Inspiration point via a short trail to Collier Spring near the point. You descend through a variety of chaparral flora. After drinking in the views, leave the Inspiration Point heading west on the North Side Trail. After curving 1.5 miles, you come to Collier Spring, a lush butterfly habitat among redwood trees. Go left on the Collier Spring Trail, gaining 400-plus feet in .5-mile and coming to the road. Go left on the road for a short distance, and drop off to your left, on the Lakeview Trail. This trail goes around the north face of Middle Peak, reaching a fire road on which you can take a quick jaunt to the top and continues to meet the road again, a few hundred feet away from the Eldridge Grade.
Bike: East Peak is the seminal trailhead for the sport of mountain biking. In the early 1970s, at a time when ten-speeds were all the rage, teenagers like Gary Fischer, Brian Butler and many others pieced together “clunkers” from parts of old fat-tire bikes and pointed the wheels down the mountain. The craze caught on.
Many yahoo routes lead down the mountain to many different places in Marin. The trick is getting someone to give you a ride up. The best ride may be Eldridge Grade beginning to your left off Ridgecrest below the parking lot. Eldridge makes a circuitous run to the north, over 6 miles to Phoenix Lake, TH47. Another option is to come down Eldridge for 2.5 miles, go right on Indian Fire Road, and then right again after .5-mile on Blithedale Ridge Road. You can ride Blithedale all the way to Greenwood in Mill Valley, as described in TH52; or veer left off Blithedale Ridge on Corte Madera Ridge and hit the pavement at Overhill in Corte Madera. The Blithedale Ridge run is over 5 miles, and the Corte Madera Ridge option is more than 6 miles.
Old Railroad Grade is another classic descent, with a saner line of fall than sections of the above routes. You wind up at Blithedale Park, TH52, in the heart of Mill Valley. The grade begins to your right before you begin the last uphill to the East Peak parking lot it’s before you get to Eldridge Grade. Following the bed of the historic tourist railway, you drop 2,000 feet over almost 7 miles, including a short paved stretch after about 4 miles, on Fern Canyon Road be sure to go left on Old Railroad Grade and not continue down Summit Avenue. En route, you’ll pass West Point Inn, after the first 1.5 miles, below the mountain’s south face. You then head east, passing a turnoff on Gravity Car Grade that leads to Mountain Home Inn, TH56. From there the grade curves below East Peak, dropping down to the redwoods of Blithedale Park.