Gerbode Valley Trailhead,
Golden Gate National Recreation Area/Marin Headlands,
National Park Service,

Marin County
In brief:
4.8 mile Marin Headlands loop, with spectacular views to San Francisco.

Distance, category, and difficulty
:
This 4.8 mile loop hike is easy, with about 700 feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is around 100 feet. Wolfback Ridge lingers at around 800 feet. The featured hike climbs to about 760 feet, then descends back to the trailhead. Grades are moderate.

Exposure
:
Totally exposed.

Trail traffic
:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt fire roads.

Hiking time
:

2 1/2 hours.

Season
:
Good anytime.

Getting there
:
From US 101 in Marin County, take the Alexander/Sausalito Exit (going north, it's the first exit after you've crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, heading north, it's the last one before you cross it). Drive east and turn left onto Bunker Road. There is a one-way tunnel which cuts under 101, and you may need to wait up to 5 minutes for your turn to travel through it (this is a great opportunity to put on sunscreen). From the other side of the tunnel, drive about 1.5 miles, then turn right onto an unmarked small road (across from the stables). Park on the side of the road near the bridge.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/302

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3749'57.14"N
Longitude
12230'44.56"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, and restaurants back near US 101 in Marin City. There are a few camping options in the Headlands, including small camps at Kirby Cove and Bicentennial.

Trailhead details:
There doesn't seem to be a formal parking system; most people park on the edge of the dirt stretch of road. No designated handicapped parking, but trails are amenable to wheelchairs (at least in the dry parts of the year). No entrance or parking fees. There are no toilet facilities. No maps or drinking water available. If you want to pick up a map before you start hiking, drive past the trailhead to the Visitor Center: from the Headlands side of the tunnel on Bunker Drive, drive about 2 miles and bear left onto Field (just before you get to the lagoon). Make the first right into the Visitor Center parking lot. Muni bus line #76 runs past this trailhead along Bunker Road.

Rules:
Most trails are multi-use. Some restrict bikes, and others are hiking only. Dogs are permitted on some Headlands trails (they are not allowed on every trail on the hike featured on this page); ask the staff at the Visitor Center for current information, or check the Headlands map on the link below.

The Official Story:
NPS's GGNRA page.
Marin Headlands Visitor Center 415-331-1540

Map/book choices:
Map from NPS (download Marin Headlands map).
A variation of this hike is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order this book from Amazon.com.
A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of Mt. Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands, by the Olmsted & Bros. Map Co. (order this map from Amazon.com) is a great guide.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Gerbode Valley hike.
North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub, contains a topographic map and detailed trail and park accounts (order this book from Amazon.com).
Hiking Marin, by Don and Kay Marin, features a good map and brief park description (order this book from Amazon.com).
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order this book from Amazon.com), has a decent map and descriptions of the Ridge Trail segment though the Headlands.


View photos from this hike (includes portion of Rodeo Valley Cutoff now closed).



Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page



Of the three main valleys in the Marin Headlands, Gerbode is the only one that isn't split down the middle with a road (fire roads don't count). This trailhead is popular with equestrians, cyclists, and hikers, but if you go early on a weekday, you may find you have the trails to yourself.
      Any hike you start from the valley floor will include somewhat of a climb. The shortest (and easiest) is the described featured hike. Bobcat Trail is an easy climb to Wolfback Ridge, and from there if you continue north on Bobcat (part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail), then take Miwok Trail to the south, you'll create a 5 mile loop that encircles Gerbode Valley. For a grand tour of Gerbode and Tennessee Valleys with lots of elevation change, hike Bobcat, then descend to Tennessee Valley on Miwok Trail, and return uphill on Old Springs Trail, then downhill to the trailhead on Miwok. This is a loop of more than 6.5 miles. If you enjoy hiking from this trailhead, take a look at the pages for the adjacent Tennessee Valley Trailhead and Rodeo Beach Trailhead for more ideas.Rodeo Valley Trail
     Spring seems to arrive ahead of schedule in the Headlands, and Gerbode Valley coddles some of the earliest bay area wildflowers. Even when the vibrant green of winter fades to a washed-out summer patina, you can still find some late bloomers and lingering flowers. The Headlands is one of my favorite summer hiking destinations. Our typical summer coastal weather pattern of morning fog keeps the hills shrouded with cool mist, and hiking is pleasant. If you love to see leaves change in autumn, look elsewhere. There are few trees in these hills, and virtually no colorful leaves.
     For the featured hike, start by walking across the bridge near the Rodeo Valley Trailhead sign. In the winter after heavy rains, the stream under the bridge rushes south, and early wildflowers including vetch and milkmaids grow in the mist. Once over the bridge, the trail, open to cyclists, equestrians, and hikers, emerges in Rodeo Valley. At about 300 feet, the level connector path meets Rodeo Valley Trail at signed junction. Turn left onto Rodeo Valley Trail.
     This trail runs parallel to Bunker Road at the edge of Rodeo Valley, on a wide, multi-use trail. Willows thrive on the left near the creek, and coyote brush, bush lupine, and fennel dot the grassland. In summer many birds feast on fennel seeds, and you might see great clouds of red-winged blackbirds and other small birds. At 0.3 mile, stay to the right at a junction with Bobcat Trail.Bobcaqt Trail in winter
     This broad fire road, open to hikers, equestrians, and cyclists, climbs over 600 feet to the top of Wolfback Ridge. The grade is gentle at first, ascending along a willow-lined creek and through grassy fields of fennel, then cutting a swath through a large clump of eucalyptus trees before intensifying the climb. You might see a few old fruit trees along the sides of the trail. As you leave the valley floor behind, a variety of plants jumble together across the hillside to the right. Look for California coffeeberry, poison oak, sagebrush, lizardtail, toyon, snowberry, honeysuckle, ceanothus, and blackberry. About a mile up there are views back to the ocean. On the sides of the trail several rock outcrops are prominent. Vultures, kestrels, and redtail hawks hunt in the skies above the valley, while cottontails scurry about evading their predators. In the rainy months, the sound of water rushing downhill into Gerbode Valley accompanies your climb. Moisture loving plants appear, including creambush, hazelnut, and even a single shrubby madrone. At 2.4 miles, you'll reach a junction with now closed Rodeo Cutoff Trail. Continue straight on Bobcat Trail.
      After about a minute more, you'll reach the Five Corners junction. Turn right onto Alta Trail. Rodeo Valley
       The broad fire road climbs across the base of a hill, on the right, passing the descending Morning Sun Trail, on the left. At 3.1 miles, turn right onto Rodeo Valley Trail.
     
Enjoy the views of the city and Hawk Hill to the south as you hike downhill on this portion of trail that is closed to cyclists. Rodeo Valley is what the GGNRA calls a wet meadow. It certainly supports a lot of wildlife, including deer, coyote, bobcat, and about a million birds. The north slope is mostly chaparral, with interesting rock formations (watch out for poison oak) mixed through coyote brush, fennel, and thistles. A few giant chain ferns mark a wet seep. In summer you might see purple and pink blossoms of sweet pea vines. The valley floor is vibrant with small willow trees and aquatic grasses which sway delightfully in the ocean breeze. Some small springs keep the trail damp in the spring and almost lawn-like in the summer. As the trail flattens out, look for an extensive display of twinberry shrubs on the left. At 4.8 miles, you'll reach a previously encountered junction. Turn left and retrace your steps to the trailhead.

Total distance: 4.8 miles
Last hiked:  Tuesday, July 31, 2001