Rating:
Area: Marin County/Mt Tam
Distance: 9 miles
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Medium
Elevation gain: 1,800ft (from 1,400 - 2,572ft)

There's a way up Mt. Tamalpais for everyone whether you're a biker, hiker, driver or equestrian. Opt for the easy drive-up option and you'll be taking the third of a mile plank-walk to the rocky summit and some of the best views in the bay area, but you'd be missing out on the opportunity to experience some really great Marin hiking trails.

Our nine mile tour around the south slope of Mount Tam begins at the Pan Toll ranger station, where you can ditch the car, grab a map and head for the Old Mine Trail which begins slightly east of the road junction. Immediately you'll be heading along a narrow trail through oak woodland and intermittent fields of rolling hillside grasses. Head for the Mountain Theater, a four thousand seat amphitheater that's been a venue for the spring Mountain Plays since 1913, then pick up the Rock Spring Trail which will take you to the West Point Inn.

The West Point Inn is a remnant of a bygone era, in a time when steam power was a favorite way to travel up the mountain thanks to the long-gone Mt. Tamalpais Scenic Railway. Here you can top up your water supplies, or take a picnic and toss a few horseshoes before resuming the hike. If you're really lucky you might also find yourself at the Inn on one of their special Pancake Breakfast days.

The trail continues up the west side of the inn, up Old Railroad Grade. After a while we duck off this wide dusty railroad route in search of a little shade and some more greenery, and find relief in the Tavern Pump and Fern Creek trails which transport us towards the summit.

Just before the summit is the East Peak parking area, where you'll meet up with the car-bound masses in search of Mount Tamalpais' summit. Here you'll also find the opportunity to browse the small gravity railroad museum and satisfy your sweet tooth at the snack shop. Mmm, if only there was an ice-cream stall on every summit ..

The return journey is very much a downhill affair involving different trails and different scenery, including some new-growth redwoods and a very pleasant section of the Matt Davis Trail.

Route Summary:
Old Mine > Rock Spring > Old RR Grade > Tavern Pump > Fern Creek > Verna Dunshee > Fern Creek > Old RR Grade > Nora > Matt Davis

Tangents:
- Trailspotting Images: Mt. Tam East Peak on Flickr
- Mt. Tamalpais Gravity Railroad on YouTube
- California State Parks: Mt. Tamalpais
- California State Parks: Park Map (page 6)
- West Point Inn

101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area by Ann Marie Brown