Mount Tamalpais stands guard over the bay, with views stretching from the Farallon Islands to the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains. And while you can drive almost to the top, it’s nothing to brag about. Hiking to the top is better. Better still? Hiking to the summit, starting from Stinson Beach.
Getting to the Trailhead
Getting here can be an adventure in itself. Stinson Beach is on the Pacific Coast side of Marin County, west of Mill Valley. When I hiked this, I left early to start hiking at sunrise. The normal route would be west on the Shoreline Highway, but there was a detour when I went, so instead I drove over the extremely windy Panoramic Highway. The benefit of this is that the parking area is right on Panoramic Highway, just before it connects with Shoreline. Here’s the exact location on Google Maps. I chose this parking area mainly because the beach parking lot wasn’t open yet, but because it’s on the east side of Shoreline, you aren’t vying for parking with beachgoers as well.
Hiking from Stinson Beach to Mount Tam
Start out by crossing to the south side of the Panoramic Highway and pick up the Dipsea Trail.
The trail begins climbing quickly across the grassy coastal headlands, providing sweeping views of the coastline, which looked especially sweet in the early morning light.
At 1.1 miles, you reach the Steep Ravine Trail. This trail climbs alongside Webb Creek, threading among towering redwood trees, criss-crossing moss-covered wooden footbridges, and climbing carefully hewn stone steps. About 1/10th of a mile up the Steep Ravine Trail, the Dipsea Trail peels off to the right. Keep to the left at this junction, and continue to follow the creek. This is one of the most beautiful sections of this hike, and worth a trip in itself.
Note that there is a ladder you’ll have to climb. It was damp and slick this particular morning, but that’s not unusual back in this ravine. Take your time and use care going up. And don’t forget to pause beforehand to soak in the view of the cascading water.
At the 3.4 mile mark, you see signs of Pantoll Campground through the trees. There are public restrooms here as well as a parking area.
At the Pantoll Campground, you’ll cross the parking lot up to the driveway entrance, then (watching for cars) cross the Panoramic Highway. Look for the signs for the Old Stage Road, heading toward the West Point Inn.
The Old Stage Road begins as paved for a short distance, quickly becoming a dirt road. My early morning start meant I had the trail to myself on my way up, though I met a number of hikers and mountain bikers climbing the road on my return trip.
Two miles up this gentle grade brings you to the historic West Point Inn. This inn has been around for over 100 years, and has both rooms and cabins for rent. To reach the Inn, you’ll have to either hike or bike, which is part of the charm. Time your trip right and you can hike here for one of their famous pancake breakfasts!
Follow the dirt road left around the front of the West Point Inn and around to the back where it continues the gradual climb up to Mount Tam. You’ll reach a gate and the road to the East Peak parking area. Bear right at the fork and follow to the Plank Walk Trail. This takes you the remainder of the way to the fire lookout tower on the summit of Mount Tamalpais.
The summit makes a good spot for a snack or lunch break. On the weekends, you can stop at the Visitors Center in the East Peak parking area and purchase snacks or souvenirs with all the non-hikers. I was grateful to be here on a quiet weekday. Everything was closed and only a few other hikers here and there.
Heading back down to Stinson, follow the Old Stage Road again back to Pantoll Campground. From here, look for the signs for the Matt Davis Trail.
This trail is a little longer than the Steep Ravine Trail, but less slippery in wet conditions. I passed countless rivulets, even five days after the last rainfall, and the scenery varied from dark, lush forest to open, grassy hills with views out to the Pacific Ocean.
Finally, the trail ends near the Stinson Beach fire station. From here, walk west and south to reach Shoreline, then south on Shoreline until you reach the Dipsea Trailhead. From here, just another 1/4 mile or so of trail takes you back to the parking area where you began the hike.
After the hike, stop at the beach to dip your toes in the water. You’ve earned it!
Stinson Beach to Mount Tamalpais Trail Map & Elevation Profile
- 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
- West Point Inn – Info on the history, accommodation, membership and their periodic pancake breakfasts!
- This hike is part of the NorCal Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. Take the challenge!
Mount Tamalpais Weather Forecast
Wednesday 11/14 0%
Mainly sunny. Areas of smoke and haze are possible, reducing visibility at times. High 67F. Winds NNE at 5 to 10 mph.
Thursday 11/15 0%
A mainly sunny sky. High 67F. Winds light and variable.
Friday 11/16 0%
Mostly sunny skies. High 64F. Winds light and variable.
Saturday 11/17 10%
Partly cloudy skies. High 61F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.
Originally hiked on January 23, 2018.