Mount Tamalpais State Park


What? : Just north of San Francisco's Golden Gate is large, 6,300 acres, Mount Tamalpais State Park. It has redwood groves and oak woodlands with a spectacular view from the 2,571-foot peak.

The panorama view from the 2,571-foot Mount Tamalpais peak is breathtaking. On a clear day, you can see the Farallon Islands out to sea, the Marin County hills, Mount Diablo, San Francisco, and the hills and cities of the bay.


Where? : Located in Marin County just north of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The main park road is Panoramic Highway, for us coming from San Francisco take the right fork off highway 1 at the East Entrance (3.2 miles west of highway 101). The road climbs the mountain slopes and then it is descending west to the ocean, it reconnecting to highway 1 at Stinson Beach, just south of the town center (this is the park entry point to the one going south on highway 1).

Google Map Link


When? : Year round, at summer the deep gorge and the trees will protect you from the sun. Many trails leading to the mountaintop, including the Old Railroad Grade Fire Road, do not have shade and are exposed to sun.


Due note 1: Pantoll Ranger Station and Park HQ, located at the junction of Panoramic Highway and Pantoll Road, this is a good place to start your visit, getting information and pay for parking fees.


Due note 2: As I understand it you need to pay a day-fee for parking lots (i.e., you need to pay 10$).


Due note 3: On weekends and holidays, a Golden Gate Transit bus runs from Stinson Beach up to Pantoll Ranger Station and along the Panoramic Highway to Marin City.


Due note 4: At East Peak, a small visitor center and recreated Gravity Car Barn are open as volunteer staffing allows


Due note 5: Muir Woods National Monument is surrounded by the state park, but it is a separate park and govern by another entity (GG-NRA).


Due note 6: Marin Mt Tamalpais Watershed District is a huge open space area adjacent to the park from the north. Actually, most of the area north of Panoramic Road, including Mt Tamalpais (exclude the road and the mountain top), the large open space valleys and the lakes to the northwest are part of this unit (see map below). You can combine several trails in both parks and have relatively long day hikes.

Due note 7: There are few camping sites within the park, Bootjack or Steep Ravine are great for overnight staying.


Due note 8: The Park is open from 7am to sunset year-round. Dogs are not allowed on trails, on fire roads or in undeveloped areas.


Due note 9: The sport of mountain biking was invented on Mount Tamalpais in the 1970s and ‘80s. Bikers can enjoy the Coast View and Dias Ridge multi-use trails as well as park fire trails. Cyclists are not allowed on other single-track trails.


My thoughts: Mount Tamalpais State Park and its surrounding open spaces provides endless opportunities to hike and enjoy the outdoors; you can’t cover all what it has to offer in one visit. I did several day trips & hikes at the park and enjoy it very much, and still there are many sections of the park that I want visit.


The visit:

On a clear day, when there is no fog, visitors can see from the Mount Tamalpais East Peak Fire Lookout the Farallon Islands 25 miles out to sea, the Marin County hills, San Francisco and the bay, hills and cities of the East Bay, and Mount Diablo.

Mount Tamalpais Park contains mostly redwood and oak forests. The mountain itself covers around 25,000 acres and it has many miles of hiking/biking trails.


Muir Woods National Monument:

I can’t write on Mount Tamalpais Park without mentioning Muir Woods National Monument.

This National Monument is surrounded by the state park, but it is a separate park and govern by another entity.

This is probably the most beautiful redwood grove near San Francisco, especially now when Big Basin State Park had fire at the summer of 2020.



History – The Crookedest Railroad:

At the early 1900s Mount Tamalpais had on its southern slope what was probably the world’s crookedest railroad ascend. Built in 1896, the Mill Valley and Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railroad negotiated 281 curves on its eight-mile way to the summit. From the summit a Gravity Car, with a brake’s operator only, took the 30 passengers card all the way down. Riders came to try out this new branch line, which was known as the “longest roller coaster ride in the world.”

After massive wildfire that burned all the buildings and facilities at the mountain slops the Scenic Railroad stop to operate in the 1930s and the rails where removed. Today you can hike the Old Railroad Grade Trail.


Mountain Theater:

The 3,750-seat Mountain Theater, officially named the Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre, was built of natural stone in the 1930s. it still has live shows once a year.





You probably need to plan your park day visit in advance, there are few options, and you can’t do it all in one day.

In any case, do plan to drive up to mount Tamalpais highest point at the end of your visit and enjoy the view from the top.


My recommended options:

·       Visit Muir Woods National Monument, a must visit redwood forest, and then drive to Mount Tamalpais.

·       Visit at the west side of the park and hike one of the following options:  Cataract Trail, Steep Ravine Trail Loop.

·       Climb Mount Tamalpais, you can start at Throckmorton Fire Station or from Pantoll Ranger Station Park HQ

·       Long (~17 miles) loop hike that climbs the mountain top from Panorama Highway, from there hike down to the valley and lakes that are located north of the mountain ridge (Marin Mt Tamalpais Watershed District). Climb back the ridge using Cataract Trail and complete the loop hiking to your car.

·       Hike the south side of the park (Dias Ridge Trail), still on my to-do list…


At my hike descriptions below I will not distinguish between trails that are in the park boundaries to hikes that are practically in Marin Mt Tamalpais Watershed District, from my view all this area is one big hiking playground.



East Peak Fire Lookout:

This is probably the easiest but a must do hike, the view is amazing.

Drive all the way to the highest point and park your car at the parking lot near the small visitor center (not sure if there is a lot to see here).

I will start my walk at Verna Dunshee Trail, a flat paved trail that circle the mountain top, I recommend doing it counterclockwise. Start near the Gravity Car Barn and learn about the local train activity, keep walking the trail and you will start circling the mountain. After the east section you will reach the southeast viewing point to Richardson Bay, Sausalito, San Francisco, and the Bay bridge 14 miles to the south.

After enjoying the view keep walking and soon you will be back at your starting point. Overall, this is 0.7-mile easy hike with rewording view.

From here take Plank Walk Trail that will take you to the fire lookup at the top of the mountain. Here you can enjoy the 360 views, from the ocean to Sonoma, Marin County and south to San Francisco. The Fire lookout itself is close.

This 0.5-mile trail is not difficult, and I highly recommend doing it even if you did the lower loop.



Panoramic Highway to East Peak:

Start your hike at Panoramic Highway small parking near Throckmorton Fire Station (

Overall hike is 5.8-mile hike with 1600 feet elevation.

From the parking lot near the road take the Gravity Card Fire Road trail that gradually climb the mountain slopes, after 1.3 mile you will reach Hoo-Koo-E-Koo Fire Road and Vic Haun Trail. Leave the Gravity Card trail and turn into one of them, they will both connect to Temelpa Trail. There you will turn right and go up the mountain using Temelpa Trail. The climb up at this section is much steeper (including switchback sections) and after hiking 1.5 mile you will reach the summit Verna Dunshee paved Trail. Overall, from the starting point below to this point it is 3.1-mile hike.

Turn left and go to the observation point and enjoy the view all the way to San Francisco.

From here visit the Fire lookout at the top of the mountain (read the East Peak Fire Lookout section above).

Once you decided to go down, go to the parking lot and at the lower (south) road find the entrance to Upper Fern Creek Trail.

Start to hike down in the creek, at this section the narrow trail is finding it way down in the dense vegetation. After 0.75-mile you will reach the Old Railroad Grade Trail. Turn left and after 0.35-mile you will reach the junction with Hogdack Fire Rd. turn right and hike all the way down to the fire station below and from there to your car.

The trail down is 1.8-mile long.



Pantoll Ranger Station Park HQ to East Peak:

Park your car at Pantoll Ranger Station ( or at the nearby Bootjack Campground parking lot (

From both starting points take the Old Stage Road that is climbing gradually the mountain slop's (if you started at Bootjack take the short Bootjack Trail up that will connect you to the main trail).

After two miles of moderate climbing from Pantoll Ranger Station you will reach West Point Inn, an active lodge with cabin for rent.

After you done with resting and enjoying the view to the south keep hiking, here you need to find the Old Railroad Grade Trail that is going up on the back side of the lodge (do not take by mistake the trails that are going down).

Keep hiking up the trail and after additional 1.4-mile you will reach the road leading the top, turn right on the road and hike (0.3-mile) to the small visitor center.

From here visit the Fire lookout at the top of the mountain (read the East Peak Fire Lookout section above).

You can go back down to your car on the same trail or take another trail; go to the parking lot and at the lower (south) road find the entrance to Upper Fern Creek Trail.

Start to hike down in the creek, at this section the narrow trail is finding its way down in the dense vegetation. After 0.75-mile you will reach the Old Railroad Grade Trail. Turn right (upward) and after 0.9-mile you will reach back to West Point Inn, from here just hike down to your starting point.



Link to Steep Ravine Trail blog



Link to Cataract Trail blog