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Mount Tamalpais State Park

Day Trip From San Francisco

Hiking in Mt. TamOn the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge lies Marin County, home to Muir Woods National Monument and Mount Tamalpais State Park.  Just a stone’s throw from San Francisco, this seemed like the ideal day trip to escape from the city and enjoy some fresh air. It was mid-December, but the forecast for that day said 60 degrees and sunny (back home it was in the mid-20s and windy), so I felt compelled not to waste the day indoors. I awoke to fog and light rain, but I was not deterred and kept my faith that would keep its promise of sunshine. I had every intention of going to Muir Woods, but after looking at several buses and cabs, I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t an affordable way to get from downtown San Francisco to Muir Woods in December. Sure there were tour companies willing to take me over there, but I wanted a more solitary experience, so I settled on Mount Tamalpais State Park, adjacent to Muir Woods.

Hiking in Mt. TamGetting here using public transportation was not going to be easy. A car or bicycle would make the 20 mile journey easy and not worth a second thought. I only had my 2 feet, some determination and a faith in public transit systems. I checked some websites, made some calls, packed a lunch and some water and I was out the door. I walked from the Hotel Vertigo, which is 1.5 miles from the Ferry Building. From there I took the ferry across the bay to Sausalito. The cost was $9.25 and the crossing took 30 minutes. I was hoping to get a great view of San Francisco as we left the dock. What I got was wind, rain and fog. From the ferry terminal in Sausalito, I walked two miles north to the town of Mill Valley to catch the bus that would take me to Mt. Tam. I called Golden Gate Transit and the operator told me there would a bus to take me from Sausalito to Mill Valley, but I never saw it. On a day that I had set aside for hiking, what was two more miles? As I was walking, the fog began to lift and the sun started to shine. This was going to be a nice day after all.

Hiking in Mt. TamWhen I arrived in Mill Valley, I walked to the bus station at the corner of Donahue and Terners and waited for the Marin Transit Stagecoach. I had called their contact number earlier and they assured me the #61 was running today and would take me to (and, even more importantly, from) Mt. Tam. So there I sat, a mere 11 miles from my hotel, waiting at what I hoped was the right place for what I hoped would be the right bus, when I saw a fiftysomething couple with backpacks and sensible hiking shoes. I decided to take a chance. I asked if they were headed up to Mt. Tam and they said that they were and that this was indeed the right place. Sure enough, the stagecoach came (sadly enough it was more like an airport shuttle than a stagecoach) and I was on my way!

After a couple of stops in town, civilization began to be replaced by mountains, valleys and wilderness. I passed a sign that said MUIR WOODS 3 MILES (so close) and still we climbed, making our way along the aptly named Panoramic Highway. After 45 minutes, I was let off at the Pan Toll Ranger Station. I verified with the driver that there would be a bus back to town in a couple of hours and disembarked.

San Francisco BayOf the three stops in the park, I picked the ranger station because I thought that would be a good place to get a map. Despite being 60 degrees and sunny, it was still December and the ranger station had long been closed for the season. No maps. There was a park map posted in the window, so I took a picture of it and made a mental note not to stray too far. I looked at the map and saw that most of the trails converged at a point labeled “Outdoor Theater” so I picked a trail and started walking there. The park was empty. The woods were quiet. I was all alone and I loved it. I hiked for 45 minutes or so up a hill and when I reached the top, I was rewarded with a panoramic view of Marin County. The Pacific ocean to the west, the Golden Gate San Francisco Baybridge and San Francisco to the south and the bay and Tiburon to the East. I marveled at the view, then sat down for a picnic lunch, before continuing my hike. I hiked for the rest of the afternoon, keeping an eye on the clock. Better to be back at the ranger station an hour early than a minute late. I caught the stage back to Mill Valley and waited for a bus to Sausalito (the eternal optimist). When one did not materialize, I started walking back to the ferry terminal. The ferry left for San Francisco just before the sun was to set. Unlike my morning crossing, the skies were clear. My reward for a day of hiking was getting to watch the sunset while crossing the bay. I had my “San Francisco Mix” playing through my headphones. Pigpen was telling me to turn on my lovelight as I was nearing the Ferry Building where my lovely wife was waiting.

Know Before You Go

Check the ferry schedule, bus schedule and stagecoach schedule to coordinate your trip. In the summer, this is much easier.

Bottom Line

Though I did not get to see the majestic redwoods I was hoping for, Mt Tam offered stunning vistas of San Francisco, the bay and the Pacific ocean.

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