HALF MOON BAY, Calif., December 19, 2011—Just north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge sprawls Mount Tamalpais, standing guard over Marin County like a fairytale spirit of nature. Its redwood forests, oak woodlands, open grasslands and jaw-dropping views of the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean have influenced outdoor fans from around the world.
Early visitors to Mount Tamalapais took advantage of trails developed for recreational purposes when San Francisco’s population grew after the Gold Rush. In addition, a wagon road and a railroad carried people from the Marin County town of Mill Valley to the summit. The Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway, established in 1896, carried visitors up the mountain over 281 curves. “The crookedest railroad in the world” was in operation until 1930.
Railroad remnants can be found at the East Peak’s Gravity Car Barn and the West Point Inn, a way station where steam trains once met stagecoaches. Today, visitors can drive or hike to the summit; the diverse trail system takes hikers through redwood groves, grasslands and chaparral-covered hillsides.
Mount Tamalpais State Park has more than 50 miles of hiking trails that connect to a 200-mile trail system managed by the Marin Municipal Water District and Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Among the highlights of the mountain trails is Steep Ravine, which plunges into a redwood canyon with ferns and churning waterfalls. Light hikers love the round trip from Mountain Theater to the West Point Inn on Rock Springs trail; it’s fairly easy and weaves among a hardwood forest.
Also on the Mount Tamalpais is Muir Woods National Monument, one of the last old-growth coastal redwood forests on the planet. The average age of the coastal redwoods here is between 600 and 800 years—and the oldest is at least 1,200 years old. John Muir called Muir Woods (dedicated in his name) “the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world.”
East Peak is the highest point on the 2,571-foot mountain. On a clear day, the breathtaking view includes Mount Diablo, San Francisco Bay, the hills of Marin County and the Farallon Islands. While there, visit the Gravity Car Barn, which houses a replica of the cars that carried passengers down the mountain with only gravity and a brake.
Jill K. Robinson is an award-winning journalist and adventure seeker. Follow her adventures on dangerjillrobinson.com and Twitter @dangerjr. Jill and her husband are avid kayakers and own Half Moon Bay Kayak Company.
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