The Marin Headlands and Mt. Tamalpais watershed are an unbelievable treasure of wildness, trails and eye-popping vistas. It’s crazy to think that millions of people are a stone’s throw away. Views of San Francisco can be had from ridgelines and highpoints but at your feet is a fairly intact ecosystem. The Pirate’s Cove Trail, as seen in the photos above, is a prime example.
Except for a few areas that were once ranched, used for military purposes or roads built, large stretches of landscape are virtually undisturbed. Native plants sweep the hillsides, providing habitat and maintaing seeps, even in the driest of seasons. Hummingbirds, White-crowned Sparrows, hawks of all kinds and kites are year round residents along with an endless number of other birds. I’m always happy to see a bobcat, however rare, but bunnies are a sure sight along with newts in the spring. For someone like me, an unabashed nature-geek and garden designer, this is a place of inspiration. But no matter who you are or what you do, it’s hard not to fall in love with it.
Pirate’s Cove, one tiny segment of the Pacific Coast Trail, is accessed by fire roads from a few different directions but the easiest routes are from Tennessee Valley or Muir Beach. I often leave from Tennesse Valley because it’s one of my favored trail runs and I love the climb. But if I were to hike it, I’d leave from Muir Beach and plan it as an out-and-back for two reasons. The climb is slightly more moderate and, when finished, you can take a well-earned stop at The Pelican Inn for pub fare and a pint. Other trails to discover, one foot after the other:
- Matt Davis Trail. Start at Mountain Home Inn, Bootjack or Pantoll Ranger Station. You can walk this as an out-and-back, loop it by way of Troop 80 or West Point Inn (Norah and Rock Springs Trail or a number of other trails) or catch the West Marin Stagecoach for $3. This trail takes you through coastal scrub, oak woodlands and pockets of redwood groves. Keep and eye open for poison oak but also for some fabulous examples of ceanothus, lepechinia and native, seasonal wildflowers.
- The Steep Ravine Trail meanders along Webb Creek, through redwoods and ferns, up ladders and past pools. Start near Stinson Beach or the Pantoll Ranger Station (I prefer Stinson Beach). You can easily jump onto another trail to take you back to your starting point or, again, hop on the Stagecoach. It’s worth every bit of effort and something to be savored every step of the way.
- Other trails to explore: Bootjack, Dias Ridge, Coastal Trail to the SCA & Alta Trails, Sun Trail to the Tourist Club, Dipsea, Norah & Rock Springs, Troop 80, Green Gulch from any direction (stop for their amazing bread and farm share veggies) and the list goes on. Find maps here, at trail heads, ranger stations or the Depot Cafe and Bookstore in Mill Valley.
*Note: photos taken on iPhone screaming for an upgrade.