Mount Tamalpais State Park


Mt. Tamalpais, or Mt. Tam as it’s known to locals, is a 2,571 foot peak just over an hour’s drive north from San Francisco. We met up with some old friends from Chicago, Dan and Shannon, to tackle the ~17 mile round trip day hike from Stinson Beach.

Here we are with a beautiful view of the elevation sign and the San Francisco fog behind us.

The Mountain:  Most hiking websites and books tell you to park at Stinson Beach, part of the Mount Tamalpais State Park. However, that parking lot doesn’t officially open until 9 am. And as it turns out, you can park all along the Shoreline Highway. The trail is accessible without entering that park, though the park and parking lot are free to enter.

Here’s our path from the trail head, through Pantoll Campground, to the peak.

From the trail head, , you take a combination of the Matt Davis and Steep Ravine trails up to the East Peak. Here’s the link to the map. Mount Tam actually has two peaks, East and West. East is tallest now, since West was knocked down a bit for a radio tower.

Here's an example of a confusing trail marker up close, and a better one up the stairs. Single signs like this with arrows pointing on each of its sides are incredibly confusing.
Here’s an example of a confusing trail marker up close, and a better one up the stairs. Single signs like this with arrows pointing on each of its sides are incredibly confusing. Better signs mark just one trail, and better crossroads have multiple signs.

All the trails we hiked were very were well trod, usually well-marked and there were a good number of other people around. However, for a hike so near to San Francisco on a Sunday, I was expecting the crowds to be much worse. Free maps are available at the Pantoll Campground, part of the state park, half way up the mountain.

Our Hike: 

After a short and scenic drive from San Francisco, we met Dan and Shannon, and set off on the trail. We were targeting an 8 am start but it took us a little while to figure out that we could just park on the street and hike, rather than going into the State Park at 9 am. We knew the 17 mile hike would take us a good part of the day, so we packed all kinds of sandwiches and snacks. No one likes a hangry hiker.

The hike begins in a very humid forest region, with tons of fog, ferns, and moss-covered trees. The beginning of the hike seemed to be the most strenuous, but that may be because it was incredibly humid near the beach in the forest. I can safely say that this was our sweatiest hike so far..

As usual, I'm in the back snapping pictures
As usual, I’m in the back snapping pictures

From the sweaty forest, we ascended up through some meadows, then back into a drier pine forest when we got close to the top of the mountain. There are a lot of trails in the park, and the crossroads are occasionally confusing, so it was a nice change to have Dan holding the map and navigating.

We made it to the peak after about 3 hours and 40 minutes of hiking. We stopped for one small break on the way up, but waited until we were at the top to enjoy our sandwiches. We were hoping for a good view of San Francisco and the bay, but unfortunately the fog was rolling in and out of our way. The summit can also be reached by car, so it was much more crowded at the top than it had been on the hike. You can easily identify the people who have come from the bottom of the mountain, because they’re wearing shorts and t-shirts while the people getting out of their cars are wearing pants and fleece.

Even the trees are sweaty.


After our break, we headed back down the mountain. The fog cleared for a bit before we were too far down, so we did get some good views and pictures. The very top of the mountain is pretty steep and the path is sand and gravel, so we went down almost as slowly as we went up. That camp halfway down has water and restrooms, so we took a quick break there before winding our way back to the Shoreline Highway where we began. Once we made it back to elevation almost 0, after just over 4 hours, we stopped to grab a six pack and still more snacks and headed to the beach park for our victory beer. The drive back into the city was easy and quick, too.

Partway down, the fog started to clear a bit.
Partway down, the fog started to clear a bit.

One of the best parts of the hike was catching up with Dan and Shannon, who recently moved to SF from Chicago. They’re already training for a ~22 mile round trip day hike of Mount Whitney, (elevation 14,505), later this summer. They’re also a traveling duo – Dan is planning to work remotely as an options trader and Shannon is a traveling nurse, so they’ll likely be rotating US cities in the future. They are threatening to move to Hawaii next, and I would love to visit them when they arrive!

2 thoughts on “Mount Tamalpais State Park”

  1. Thanks, Leslie Gail! I sure am enjoying your journey journal. I appreciate the updates, too, because I miss you!

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