Mt Tamalpais State Park: Bolinas-Fairfax Rd to Pantoll Ranger Station

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This Marin County hike, mostly in Mt Tamalpais State Park, was on a warm, summery day. The Bay Area Ridge Trail segment goes between Pantoll Ranger Station and Bolinas-Fairfax Rd, mostly on the Coastal Trail. I started at the Bolinas-Fairfax Rd trailhead, from which the trail passes through a portion of Golden Gate National Recreation Area before crossing into the state park. Highlights included wonderful ocean and coastline views, as well as some pretty wildflowers.

GPS track

GPS track

The elevation stays between 1400 and 1800 feet but includes about 1700 feet of climbing on the nearly 13-mile round-trip hike.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

I was expecting a relatively warm day, but was surprised to note that my car’s outdoor thermometer registered 80 degrees, even in the deeply shaded redwood forest area at the trailhead. The redwoods are beautiful, and lush ferns and tree moss emphasized the moist microclimate. A few birds were vocalizing in the forest, though they stayed out of sight.

photo of moss covering a tree trunk

Moss covering a tree trunk

After about 0.7 mile the trail emerges from the forest into mostly open hillside and follows roughly parallel to, and downhill from, West Ridgecrest Blvd. Shortly after getting into the open, I found two types of pretty, orchid-like wildflowers. I don’t know the name of either, but from the structure of the flowers it seemed that they must be related to each other.

picture of colorful wildflowers next to the Coastal Trail

Colorful wildflowers next to the Coastal Trail

About 1.2 miles from the trailhead there is a small trail junction where the equestrian route connects. Then, about 2.1 miles from the trailhead is the junction with McKennan Gulch Trail, and the Coastal Trail follows the shoulder of West Ridgecrest Blvd for a very short distance before again separating. At 3.2 miles is a junction with Willow Camp Fire Rd. On my return trip I made a short detour to the nearby hilltop, where I had a nice view of Pt Reyes across the peninsula that ends at Bolinas. You can see Pt Reyes without leaving the Ridge Trail, but the view was a little different from the hilltop. This junction is the highest point along this Ridge Trail segment.

image of Pt Reyes across the Bolinas peninsula

Pt Reyes across the Bolinas peninsula

The next 1.6 miles of trail descends about 300 feet gradually. About midway, there was a great view of Stinson Beach, which is always fun to view from above on a clear day. I could zoom in far enough with my camera to see that the beach was well-populated with visitors taking advantage of the beautiful weather.

photo of Stinson Beach

Stinson Beach

The trail crosses the top of a small gully where a seasonal stream goes down the hillside. It was interesting to note the stripe of green vegetation following the stream down the hillside, surrounded by summery brown native grasses. The trail passes the remains of a car, rusty from weather. Apparently someone missed a curve on West Ridgecrest Blvd above!

picture of car next to the Coastal Trail

Car next to the Coastal Trail

There are also some interesting exposed rocks higher up the hillside.

image of rock outcropping

Rock outcropping

There are many places along the trail where you can see Bolinas Lagoon. This is my favorite, since it nicely shows the curve of the shore of Bolinas Bay with white wave-caps denoting Duxbury Reef at the far end. The marine fog bank is not far off-shore.

photo of Bolinas Bay and Lagoon

Bolinas Bay and Lagoon

About 4.8 miles from the trailhead is the junction with the Matt Davis Trail, which you follow toward Pantoll. Shortly after this junction there is a nice view toward San Francisco. On my outbound trip, Sutro Tower and part of the Marin Headlands were floating on a sea of cottony fog.

picture of Sutro Tower floating on a sea of fog

Sutro Tower floating on a sea of fog

The Matt Davis Trail continues for 1.6 miles to the Pantoll Ranger Station, mostly through forest. On such a warm day, the shade was very welcome. I think the temperature must have been close to 90 degrees out in the sun. I even considered pouring some water on my head to help cool off! (but made sure I still had plenty to drink for my return hike)

image of Matt Davis Trail

Matt Davis Trail

On the return trip I noted that there was a small side trail to Bare Knoll, so I took a short detour to revisit the view of San Francisco. Barely 2 hours after my previous view, the fog layer was less deep, with more of the San Francisco skyline and the Marin headlands in view. It was quite interesting to note the difference.

photo of Sutro Tower after some fog burn-off

Sutro Tower after some fog burn-off

I also noticed that I could hear a fog horn and a bit of surf noise, even 1500+ feet up on the trail! On the hillside section of the Coastal Trail between Matt Davis Trail and Willow Camp Trail I noticed a small plane with pontoons and, shortly thereafter, a hang glider floating above the ocean’s surface. I wonder if the pontoons were in case of a water landing.

picture of hang glider

Hang glider

After returning to the trailhead and cooling off a bit, I started my drive back to San Francisco and the Peninsula. Along West Ridgecrest and Panoramic Way I stopped several times to marvel at the views, which just got better as the fog continued to burn off during the afternoon. From one place I had a great view of Mt St Helena nearly 50 miles to the north across the Marin and Sonoma County hills.

image of Mt St Helena

Mt St Helena

From other stops I could see Mt Diablo, Tiburon, the Bay Bridge, and the Farallon Islands – even Mt Umunhum and Loma Prieta, a good 60 miles away to the southeast. Here is Sutro Tower once again, with the fog almost completely gone and Mt Um and Loma Prieta on the skyline in the background.

photo of San Francisco and Sutro Tower

San Francisco and Sutro Tower

The Mt Tamalpais State Park area is a wonderful place to hike, and on this day the views were more than worth the drive time and warm weather. I’ll look forward to hike other nearby segments of the Ridge Trail in the future, especially the next section to the south below Panoramic Way, and especially if I can be lucky with my weather choices!

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One Response to Mt Tamalpais State Park: Bolinas-Fairfax Rd to Pantoll Ranger Station

  1. Pingback: Bay Area Ridge Trail: 30-month update | trailhiker

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