This hiking guide is sponsored by Zappos
The San Francisco Bay Area is a fantastic place to live, not only for the buzz of a world-class city and the great year-round weather (summertime excluded, I’m looking at you, Karl the Fog!) but also for the epic great outdoors which surrounds the region to the North, East, and South. We currently live in Marin County, which lies in the North Bay, just a short trip across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Crossing the GGB on foot is actually a great hike/run in itself if you haven’t done this before. This list is going to focus on our favorite and possibly even the best hiking trails in Marin County, which have a trailhead within a 30-minute drive of San Francisco City. These connected trail loops are located within the Mount Tamalpais State Park and Golden Gate National Recreation Area in the Marin Headlands.
The weather in the Marin Headlands and Mt. Tamalpais State Park can be fairly changeable with fog rolling in during the morning and late afternoon in the Summer months and potential torrential rain and high winds during the winter months. When the sun is shining though which happens much of the time year-round, the temperatures are usually high and so I would always recommend taking water with you on your hikes or trail runs.
In this article, I’m wearing my North Face Thermoball Eco Hoodie which I got at Zappos. Zappos is a great place to buy outdoor clothing because they have free (and fast) shipping, a 365-day return policy, and excellent customer service should you ever need to contact them.
- It’s Eco-friendly and works in wet weather. ThermoBall™ insulation is made from 100% post-consumer recycled polyester for superior lightweight and packable warmth on cold hikes, even in the wet.
- It packs down small. Quite remarkably the jacket packs down into its own pocket, which makes it very portable for traveling with and also when temperatures rise and you need to stow it away in your backpack. Something that happens often (during the winter) on coastal trails in Northern California.
- It is stylish and versatile. I love that it’s slim-fitting and looks stylish enough to wear in the city but is technical enough to withstand some of the harshest conditions while adventuring on the trails.
When you witness these trails for the first time, you won’t believe how close you are to such a big city. The network of trails here is well-maintained and truly vast, with diverse landscapes, plenty of wildlife and views that will have you stopping in your tracks every 10 minutes. If you would like to modify any of these loops but not sure how to find the best trails to do so, have a read of this post: How Do I Find Trails Near Me? The 5 Best Trail Finder Apps in 2019.
All of these hikes are loops so you will end up finishing back where you started and they can be hiked all-year-round, they are also extremely trail runner-friendly. As always when out in nature, hikers need to be mindful of natural events such as flooding, high winds, and high fire risks (‘red flag warnings’) which may be in effect and affect hiking plans.
1. Dipsea, Steep Ravine and Matt Davis loop: Long hike – Ocean views and waterfalls.
Distance: 7.8 miles (12.5km). Elevation Gain: 1781ft (543m). Dogs Allowed?: No.
A popular loop trail in Mt Tamalpais State Park, partly on the famous Dipsea Trail.
There are a few options for starting this trail; we like to start at Stinson Beach, as this means you finish your hike with epic ocean and beach views, as well as the option of some tacos and a cold beer at the beach before heading home / back to the city.
We prefer to do this loop trail in a clockwise direction, starting with the Matt Davis Trail. It means that the first half is pretty much all uphill, but the descent on the Dipsea Trail is worth it.
The Matt Davis Trail start can be found off Belvedere, which is a residential street off Shoreline Highway in Stinson Beach. After 4 miles or so of climbing, you reach the highway at Pantoll, which hosts a ranger station, paid parking, and restroom facilities. This is a great place to fill up on water before you head back down to Stinson.
Head from Pantoll Station down, following the well-signposted Steep Ravine Trail. Steep Ravine trail runs alongside a creek through an often-cool canyon, filled with ferns, redwoods, and other beautiful local greenery and wildlife. The shade is very welcome on a hot California day! Enjoy the scenery and the large wooden ladder you descend along the way.
At the junction with the Dipsea Trail, stick right to continue onto the Dipsea Trail. From here on down, be ready for the stunning ocean and beach views as you roll downhill back to Stinson Beach.
2. Rodeo Beach Coastal Trail Loop: Dog-friendly hike – Marin Headlands with your four-legged buddy.
Distance: 4.8 miles (7.7km). Elevation Gain: 954ft (291m). Dogs Allowed?: Yes.
Rodeo Beach is easy to access via Sausalito and the closest trail (of our selection) to the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. There’s plenty of parking along Mitchell Road, as well as restroom facilities.
The Coastal Trail follows the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean, and from here you can catch great views, especially at sunset (assuming it’s not foggy – it often can be in summer in particular, especially in the morning and evening).
Head up the Coastal Trail then on to the Miwok Trail for epic views – the Marin Headlands at their best! You can also make this hike longer by linking in other trails, but if you have a dog with you, please check that you can bring them. The Marin Headlands are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and dogs are only permitted on certain trails.
3. Tenessee Valley Loop: Short hike – Wildflowers and sea breezes in the Marin Headlands.
Distance: 5.1 miles (8.2km). Elevation Gain: 872ft (266m). Dogs Allowed?: No.
Our easiest pick is the ‘Tennessee Valley Loop’, which has moderate elevation gain and rewards you for your efforts with sea views and the experience of hiking amongst beautiful coastal wildflowers, especially in spring when the California poppies can make an appearance.
This hike starts and finishes at the Tennessee Valley trailhead, which has a good amount of parking options as well as bathroom facilities. It can be made longer by adding on an out-and-back to Muir Beach, or taking another trail from the parking lot when you return from the loop. I recommend a climb up the Old Springs Trail, which you can find around the back of the riding stables adjacent to the parking lot.
Tennessee Valley Trail to Fox Trail. Then Coastal Fire Road to the Coastal Trail. Return via the Tennessee Valley trail. Optional out and back to Muir beach.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to hiking in Marin County, California! If you have any questions about hiking or trail running in the area, please use the comment form below. Or just say hello! 🙂