This short, family-friendly trail was an impromptu birthday peak bagged by my mom, my wife and I as part of the second part of our spring break road trip. It’s barely over half a mile round trip, but gains at a steady pace, climbing over 250 feet in a quarter mile. And while it might not win you respect for the mileage, the Plank Walk Trail rewards you with stunning views of San Francisco and the bay out to the Pacific Ocean from atop Mt. Tamalpais.
While the trail is short and I’d describe it as easy, it actually is fairly steep and sections are rugged. Young kids can manage with supervision, but don’t let them wander off-trail!
The Plank Walk Trail
From the end of the parking lot you can’t miss the start of the Plank Walk Trail. It’s the trail literally made of planks (at least for the first section).
The first 0.1 miles of the trail is paved with wood planks — old railroad ties, actually — and bordered on the downhill side with a hand rail, making it look deceptively easy. You quickly gain elevation and the views expand.
Soon you look up and see the fire lookout tower the sits atop the East Peak of Mt. Tamalpais. The views are breathtaking. On a clear day, visitors can see the Farallon Islands 25 miles out to sea, the Marin County hills, San Francisco and the bay, hills and cities of the East Bay, and Mount Diablo. On rare occasions, the Sierra Nevada’s snow-covered mountains can be seen 150 miles away.
It was windy and chilly on this particular spring day, and we took photos, soaked in the views, and headed back down the trail, where the scrub protected us from the chilling winds.
Back at the visitor center, we checked out the old gravity cars and imagined what it was like when the old trail carried people to the lodge up here.
Mt. Tamalpais is worth a visit, even for a short little hike like this. The views are unique, and it’s easy to string together a series of micro-adventures into a full-day itinerary. For all the times I’ve visited the bay area, I had never before been to Mt. Tam. Now I can say to you — take a hike… up Mt Tam! It’s worth it.
Plank Walk Trail Map to Mt. Tamalpais East Peak
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Mt. Tamalpais Resources
- Mt. Tamalpais State Park is open 7am to sundown daily
- Visitor Center
- Friends of Mt. Tam – great resource with a calendar of scheduled events including guided hikes in the park
- History of the Gravity Cars
Mt. Tamalpais Weather Forecast
And now, your moment of zen…