It was like every New Jerseyites’ dream. I woke up after days of clouds and rain and felt the warm California sunshine. Quite literally, I was squinting desperately after leaving SFO. That’s right–the Garden State Hiker has temporarily assumed the role of Golden Gate Hiker.
I’m not sure it’s fair to compare the hiking I’ve done in New Jersey to the mountains surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area. In California, you expect beauty, awe and a camaraderie of like-minded outdoorsy hikers on any given trail. But fairness and State Park jealousy aside, after 7 miles of Mt. Tam, I’m in love with the Bay Area’s natural playground.
Nestled in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is a state park called Mount Tamalpais, or Mt. Tam to locals, featuring giant redwoods, waterfalls, Stinson Beach and several panoramic views. It’s best known for being the home of Muir Woods, drawing thousands of tourists daily. After “hiking” through the tourist section of Redwood National Park last fall with SJ and Brett, I was adamant about hiking a section of Mt. Tam that was less like Disney World and more like the plain ole wilderness. Real hiking can’t be done in 3 inch stilettos or in a 3 piece suit.
With the advice of one of Brett’s co-workers and a certified SF local, we parked in the Bootjack Lot a few hundred yards down the road from the Pantoll Ranger Station and Parking Lot (which was full.) Bootjack Lot, located near the top of Mt. Tam, was half full. We only saw hiking families and Zip Car driving young professional types. At the rangers’ station, we picked up a free trail map and asked the ranger for recommendations. She suggested we hike 4 miles of the Matt Davis Trail to Stinson Beach, then find the Dipsea Trail and hike that to the Steep Ravine Trail for a total of 7 miles. We started hiking at noon and finished at around 5 p.m. The ranger’s advice was perfect, but we did notice that most other hikers seemed to do the same route in reverse. Steep Ravine-Dipsea-Stinson Beach-Matt Davis.
Either way, hiking onto the foggy Matt Davis trail felt like stepping into another world. Looking above and below, we saw all sorts of creatures.
If you’re going to hike the Matt Davis trail, bring layers! The current weather in San Francisco does not apply to the shaded, damp forest of Mt. Tam. We dug out our fleeces right at the start of the hike. I wished I had brought a light rain jacket as well. Later on, after passing through Stinson Beach, the trail became much warmer and we had to shed our layers again.
After a mile or so in the forest, we emerged to these meadows that may or may not have contained a view of the Pacific Ocean. The fog was so strong that as we walked, we soon lost sight of where we came from.
Back in the forest, we were motivated to complete the next 2 miles by the promise of ocean and snack stands. According to our free trail map, just beyond the foggy meadows are two Hang Gliding Sites. Wouldn’t that be cool?
After completing our 4 mile leg on the Matt Davis Trail, we entered Stinson Beach, population 486, a coastal town thriving on tourism–not much different from the quirky shore towns of New Jersey. I realize, I’ve probably offended at least 400 of Stinson Beachers by comparing it to the Jersey Shore.
After the beach, it all became vertical: the trees, the upward climb and even most of our photos. We took the Dipsea Trail to the Steep Ravine Trail which then brought us back to the Pantoll Ranger Station. Fortunately, the trail was so beautiful that we hardly noticed all the hiking we were doing until the 7th mile. The redwood trees in the Redwood National Park were by far larger than the ones we saw on the Steep Ravine Trail, however, seeing them out in nature flourishing as abundantly as maples or oak trees was incredible.
The Steep Ravine Trail braided itself along the Webb Creek. Since we hiked up the mountain during the return trip, we were in the constant presence of waterfalls. Just imagine being desensitized to the soft trickle of water running down a mountain.
Brett was particularly excited for a 10 foot ladder that requires climbing next to a waterfall. Once we got to the ladder, I needed to touch the water we had been following since crossing onto the Steep Ravine Trail. Here’s my second Baptism:
Mt. Tam: if the Garden State Hiker can do it, so can you. This location is perfect for the beginning hiker from San Francisco, New Jersey or anywhere. The landscapes and variety of terrain warrant a visit and the trail is easy enough that a newbie can complete a longer distanced hike. We hiked 7 miles! I now feel confident we can conquer even more in the future. I admit, squatting down hurt a little today, but editing all of my photos for this blog entry was even harder.
Know of any other hikes I should check out while I’m in the Bay Area? Let me know!