What’s Best: Pop out of the lush forests on the western slopes of Tamalpais onto open, grassy knolls with glorious views from high above the Pacific Ocean.
Agency: Mount Tamalpais State Park
Pantoll is the headquarters for Mount Tamalpais, which was established in 1928 as California’s first state park. The park includes 12-square miles (some 50 miles of trail), taking in the peaks of Tam and lands extending to the Pacific. The park connects with 200 miles of public trails. The Dipsea Trail-Steep Ravine loop exacts a 1,100-elevation gain, but delivers with splashy Pacific views and creek-side wonder. Head down the road from the far right side of the Pantoll parking lot. After a few hundred feet, go left on the Old Mine Trail, through Douglas fir and oak forest. After passing the Coastal Fire Road and the Lone Tree Fire Road, go to your right on the Dipsea Trail. After only .25-mile on the Dipsea, you have an option of taking a spur trail up to your right to Lone
Tree Spring, and its garden of redwoods and ferns.
PANTOLL RANGER STATION MAP SAN FRANCISCO Photo Gallery
Continue west on the Dipsea, which weaves in and out along the Lone Tree Fire Road, for .5-mile to a right-bearing junction toward Stinson Beach; this trail segment was used by Miwok long before Mt. Tam’s recreational trails were constructed. The Dipsea Trail falls some 600 feet over the next .75-mile to the bridge at Webb Creek. Turn right at the bridge and head up Steep Ravine Trail. You may hardly notice the climb, distracted by its charms: ferns, pools and riffles, bridges and mossy rocks. About .75-mile up from the Dipsea junction you reach a 10-foot ladder that provides passage through monster rocks. Above the creek ladder, having ascended now 600 feet, the trail veers away into mostly Douglas fir forest over the remaining .75-mile back to Pantoll.
For the Coastal Trail-O’Rourkes Bench loop, a view hike heading up the mountain from Pantoll, cross the highway to the gate that is near the beginning of Pantoll Road. Heading to your left, start out on the Matt Davis Trail which at this point is also part of both the Coastal Trail and Bay Area Ridge Trail. You begin on an open hillside, enter a fir-and-laurel forest, and pop into the open again. Take a trail heading up to your right that climbs 300 feet over a short distance to O’Rourkes Bench, a grassy open platform fringed by pockets of laurels and oaks. Veer right from the bench heading toward Tam but avoiding a right-hand contour that leads directly to Pantoll Road. You meet Pantoll Road at Rock Springs. Cross the road, veer right, and pick up Old Mine Road. This route descends into a panorama on its 1.25-mile course back.
BiKE: Two long loop rides involve going down one ridge on a fire road, connecting via auto roads, and riding back up another fire road. For an 8-mile Lone Tree Road-Coastal Trail loop with spectacular Stinson Beach views head south on the Old Mine Road from the Pantoll parking area. After .75-mile go right on Lone Tree Road. You descend close to 1,000 feet over the next 1.75-miles, coming to Highway 1 just south of Stinson Beach. Go left on Highway 1, undulating as much as 200 feet for the next 3 miles, past Slide Ranch, and turn left on the Coastal Trail before you get to Muir Beach Overlook. Make the steep, 2.5-mile pump back to Pantoll.
Parking: From Hwy. 101 north of Sausalito, take Hwy. 1-Shoreline Hwy. exit toward Stinson Beach. Follow up and turn right on Panoramic Hwy. Continue 3 ml. past Mt. Tam State Park boundary, and .25 ml. past Bootjack, to Pantoll Ranger Station Parking. Note: Parking lot fee; some non-fee places available across street, at jct. with Pantoll Rd.
Steep Ravine Camp
A similar ride, this one of 8.5 miles, is the Deer Park Road-Coastal Trail loop. Head down the Old Mine Road, as described above, and turn left on Deer Park Road. You drop about 1,200 feet to Muir Woods Road. Turn right and pedal a pastoral valley about 2 miles to Highway 1. Turn right toward Stinson on Highway 1, making up 300 feet of elevation on pavement. You reach the Coastal Trail, on your right about .5-mile past the Muir Beach Overlook.