What’s Best: Stroll back in time through a stone amphitheater; or explore a cataract tucked in the forest of north Mount Tam.
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. For Rock Springs parking: Park on left at MMWD lot after 1.25 ml, at intersection of Pantoll Rd. and Ridgecrest Blvd. For Mountain Theater parking: Go right of E. Ridgecrest Blvd. to signed parking after .25 ml. Note: Pantoll Rd. closes at night.
Agency: Mount Tamalpais State Park; Marin Municipal Water District From Rock Springs parking: The Cataract Creek loop, which follows two streambeds, is the prime-time hike for this trailhead. From Rock Springs, a pleasant open area with Douglas fir and mossy oaks, head to your left on the Cataract Trail. Follow the trail, on a rocky ledge at times, alongside Cataract Creek, amid a mix of oak, madrone, fir, and many shrubs. After a mile you pass the Mickey O’Brien Trail to which you will double-back. Continue another .25-mile to the picnic area of Laurel Dell. From there, head down the trail a short distance to view the falls of Cataract Creek, gushing water beginning a mile-long tumble that ends at Alpine Lake, TH42. Then backtrack and go left on the O’Brien Trail.
MOUNTAIN THEATER MAP SAN FRANCISCO Photo Gallery
Barths Creek will be on your left as you ascend to join the Simmons Trail. Near this junction is Barths Retreat, now a picnic area, that was the getaway for an avid hiker, Professor Emil Barth, who first roamed these woods in 1886 when they were wild. On the mile-long return leg, Simmons trail ascends a rocky chaparral slope, crosses a hilltop of oak and Douglas fir, and descends into a redwood ravine. You cross a bridge over a stream before reaching the Rock Springs trailhead.
From Mountain Theater parking: The 4,000-seat Sidney B. Cushing Mountain Theater is named in memory of the president of the historic Mt. Tam-Muir Woods Railway. The outdoor venue is the backdrop for the Mountain Play, produced yearly since 1913. The Civilian Conservation Corps redesigned the natural, tree-fringed grassy bowl in the early 1930s, resulting in the Greek-inspired stone terraces and walls that are here today.
To walk around the Mountain Theater, take the paved road and head to your right toward the Madrone Grove. You’ll wind up near the bottom tiers of the amphitheater’s many rows of stone-block seats. Wander up through the seating terraces, or around the amphitheater, to the top. Then take the paved loop road that leads back out to the parking area. More Stuff: The Rock Springs Trail, which takes off from the left side of the stage as you look down from amphitheater seating, is a less used, 1.5-mile route to West Point Inn.
Bike: This trailhead offers good back-country riding. For a fairly short ride through some wild country, try the Rock Spring-Laurel Dell Roads loop, which covers almost 4 miles, all but 1.5 miles of which is off highway. Take the Rock Springs-Lagunitas Road, which begins on your left, .25-miles past the Mountain Theater. After a mile climbing a little and dropping a little go left on Laurel Dell Road. Laurel Dell undulates several hundred feet through varied country on its 2-mile route to W. Ridgecrest Boulevard. Turn left, enjoying splendid ocean views, and ride back to the trailhead.
Big time pedal pushers can take a longer ride a loop of Bon Tempe Lake and Lake Lagunitas. This loop a 10 tough miles drops you down and back up 1,500 feet, with a lot of humps along the way. Take the Rock Springs-Lagunitas Road to Lake Lagunitas. Take the paved road away from the lake. Turn left toward Bon Tempe Lake, cross the dam at the lake, and begin a 1,200-foot climb up on Rocky Ridge Road. This road meets the Rock Springs-Lagunitas Road at Bay Tree Junction, which is 2.5 miles from trailhead parking.