7.3 mile Mount Tam loop from Stinson Beach to Pantoll and back, through
gorgeous woods, high grassy slopes, and a lush steep ravine. Matt Davis
Trail is a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 7.3 mile loop hike is moderate, with about 1600 feet
in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is around 75 feet. The featured
hike climbs to about 1600 feet, then descends back to the trailhead. Some
sections of Steep Ravine are well, steep, but the other trails are moderate,
with long easy stretches.
More shade than sun.
Moderate-heavy (near Pantoll).
Nice any time, but best in early spring.
From US 101 in Marin County, exit CA 1/Mill Valley/Stinson Beach and drive
on Shoreline Highway to the junction with Almonte, about 1 mile. Turn
left, remaining on Shoreline, and drive about 2.5 miles to the junction
with Panoramic Highway. Turn right on Panoramic and drive about 1 mile
to the junction with Muir Woods Road; stay straight on Panoramic (right
lane). Continue about 7.5 miles (past Pantoll) to the junction with CA 1,
just before the town of Stinson Beach. Turn right, drive about 0.2 mile,
then turn right (at the fire station) onto Belvedere Avenue. Look for parking
on the left side of the road before the "do not enter/wrong way"
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Restaurants, motels, and stores in Stinson Beach, along CA 1 just past Belvedere.
More store and restaurant options, as well as gas, are available in Mill
Valley at the junction of Panoramic and Almonte. There is a small, walk-in
campground a few feet from the Pantoll trailhead, with very nice shaded
sites, unfortunately situated close to Panoramic Highway and the Pantoll
Side of street parking. No entrance or parking fees at this trailhead --
if you start at Pantoll the day use parking fee is $8. No designated handicapped
parking, and trails are not suitable to wheelchairs or strollers. Maps available
(for a fee) at the Pantoll Ranger Station. Restrooms and water at the
beach, a few blocks west. Pay phone at the fire station, and the Pantoll
trailhead. West Marin
Stagecoach offers public transportation to this trailhead.
Park is open from 7 a.m. to sunset (hours fluctuate slightly during the
year). Bikes and horses are permitted on some trails; Matt Davis and Steep
Ravine are hiking only trails. Dogs are not allowed in the state park.
The Official Story:
Mount Tam page.
Pantoll Ranger Station 415-388-2070
Map/book choices and more information:
Download the park
map pdf from CSP's website.
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.
Hikes has a great map and descriptions of this hike, with gorgeous
Barry Spitz's Tamalpais Trails (order
this book from Amazon.com), a book with a pullout map of Tam is a
Olmsted Brothers' map, A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of Mt.
Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands (order
this map from Amazon.com) is useful.
Mount Tam Trail Map, published by Tom Harrison Maps (order
from Tom Harrison Maps). Comparable to the Olmsted map
Hiking Marin by Don and Kay Martin (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and descriptions of this
The official State Park map is available (for a fee) at the ranger
Matt Davis/Steep Ravine/Dipsea
Loop in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured
photos from this hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
popular hike departing from the town of Stinson Beach, strung together from Matt Davis, Steep Ravine, and Dipsea trails,
is probably my favorite Mount Tam hike, and is right up there on my bay
area top ten list. The 7 mile loop features a bit of everything, with
waterfalls, redwood, Douglas fir, and oak forests, grassland, canyons,
and views galore. These three trails are some of Tam's best, and combining
them into one hike intensifies their pleasures. Matt Davis is a masterpiece
of trail construction -- the perfect trail through a spectacular landscape.
The entire experience, from Stinson Beach to Pantoll (and back), is a
joy. Steep Ravine starts out in a pretty redwood canyon and gets better
with each step, as you descend past waterfalls and down a famous ladder.
The hike only spends a short time on historic Dipsea,but
this segment showcases fabulous, gasp-worthy views of Stinson Beach, the
Pacific coastline, and Point Reyes.
I would recommend this loop for any season
but summer. Since Steep Ravine and Matt Davis are accessed by the popular
Pantoll trailhead, these trails are crammed during tourist season, although
you will find more peace early on a weekday. The first few weeks of spring
are just about the perfect time, for that's when the waterfalls are still
dramatic and wildflowers sprawl through both grassland and forest.
Begin your hike on Stinson Beach's Belvedere
Avenue, just up the street from the fire station (although you could
start and end at Stinson Beach). A few steps past a "wrong way"
sign, Matt Davis Trail begins on the right, clearly signed. This hiking
only trail immediately steps onto a bridge and crosses a creek, where
alder, thimbleberry, and buckeye thrive in damp conditions. Multi-trunked
California bays shade the narrow path, and an invasive ivy greedily hugs
the ground. You might also notice cotoneaster, a non-native shrub with
red berries, and some poison oak. At about 0.14 mile, you'll reach an
unsigned junction. The path to the right heads to Panoramic Highway. Bear
left to remain on Matt Davis Trail. The trail crosses the creek again,
then reaches another junction at 0.16 mile, this one signed. Turn right
and continue on Matt Davis Trail.
The trail begins a moderate ascent,
guided occasionally by wooden fences. Buckeye and California bay offer
shade, and a creek provides soothing aquatic murmurs. You might see iris,
forget-me-not, milkmaids, buttercup, and vetch blooming in early spring.
Matt Davis Trail draws near the creek, then turns left and winds
back uphill to cross the stream on a bridge. After a few more tight switchbacks
you'll emerge in chaparral,
where you can enjoy an initial view west to the ocean. Shrubs of silver
lupine, toyon, sagebrush, broom, poison oak, and coyote brush crowd
the trail. Enjoy the sunlight while you can, for the trail quickly heads
back into the woods. Big-leaf maple and buckeye trees grace another bridge
where cascades of water rush downhill in winter and early spring. A series
of steep steps curve uphill, reaching a pretty spot with giant
rocks and lichen draped trees. Stone steps continue the climb, finally
ending as the trail levels off to a more moderate ascent. At the Bischof
Steps the trail curves right, under the shadow of a massive boulder, Table
Rock. The creek is just a few feet off the trail to the left here, and
shows off a pretty cascade. Matt Davis Trail keeps ascending, zigzagging
up the side of the mountain through a wide canyon. At the top of
the boulder, look for a small sign pointing left to Table Rock. Duck under
some buckeye to emerge
at the top of Table Rock, a perfect rest or lunch stop with excellent
views to Stinson Beach. Back on Matt Davis Trail, Douglas fir are prominent
on the hillsides, standing ramrod straight while California bays often
arch themselves across the trail. You might also notice tanoak, huckleberry,
poison oak, a variety of ferns, and in spring, trillium. Although those
grueling sets of steps are now just a memory, there is one harsh 2-foot
high step formed in the root of a Douglas fir. Eventually the trail crosses
over to the western slope of the mountain, continuing to ascend in broad
switchbacks. I saw lots of coralroot under the trees in March. Finally,
Matt Davis Trail steps out into grassland. The hillside rolls steeply
toward Ridgecrest Boulevard, but the trail curves right and keeps a thankfully
easy pace as it angles east. The ocean is visible back to the west. Twice
you'll step into the shade when Matt Davis Trail passes through creases
in the hillside, then pops back out into the sunshine. This grassland
fosters blue eyed grass, California buttercups,filaree,
and bluedicks in early spring. At 2.53 miles, Matt Davis Trail meets Coastal
Trail at a signed junction. Bear right to continue on Matt Davis Trail
(the following stretch is a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment).
The trail lingers for a few steps in the
upper reaches of a wooded narrow ravine. A small seasonal waterfall descends
from the left in winter and early spring. Back in grassland, the trail
climbs very gently to a somewhat signed junction at 2.73 miles. Hawks
are commonly spotted hunting near here. The path to the left climbs steeply
to the ridgeline, while the path to the right ascends a few feet to a
viewpoint. Even from the junction a view south emerges, encompassing the
Marin Headlands, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the coastline
well into San Mateo County. Continue straight.
With one last sweep through grassland,
the trail heads into a woodland of Douglas fir, California bay, redwood,
and canyon and coast live oaks.In late winter and early spring a few
seasonal waterfalls trickle down small gulches where maples benefit from
damp soil. You may see beautiful pink calypso orchids nestled close to
the ground in late March. Hound's tongue and milkmaids are more common.
The trail makes steady progress at a nearly level grade, toward Pantoll.
Although the forest blocks all views, cars are audible as they drive along
nearby Panoramic Highway. Matt Davis Trail leaves the woods for a rocky
stretch of grassland, dotted with ceanothus and coyote brush. I perched
on a trailside rock for a snack along here, not realizing there was a
bench nestled in a cluster of chamise just around the corner. At 4.20
miles, you'll reach a signed junction near a small parking pullout on
Pantoll Road, which runs here to the left of the trail. Bear right,
descend and then carefully cross Panoramic Highway. A few steps drop
down to the Pantoll Parking lot (this is a large lot next to the ranger
station). Veer right across the upper lot, and look for the signed
start of Steep Ravine, off a paved service road, at 4.25 miles.
Hiking-only Steep Ravine begins a descent
along a canyon wall. Fences herd hikers down a string of switchbacks to the canyon floor, where the
trail joins a modest stream as it travels toward the sea. While the stream
is still small the trail skips over the channel a few times, winding through
redwoods like a slalom course. But before long, Webb Creek feeds into
the canyon, transforming the stream to a more formidable waterway. Bridges
ford the creek, which is lined with huckleberry, California bay, tanoak,
and Douglas fir. Some good-sized redwoods loom overhead, and litter the
canyon, necessitating a few ducks here and there. Look for trilliums,
milkmaids, hound's tongue, and stream violets in spring. Suddenly you'll
arrive at the top of the ladder, right beside the drop of a waterfall.
I suppose some people descend it face first, but the wood is usually pretty
slippery, so take it slow. At the base be sure to pause and look back
at the falls. The trail, influenced by all this moisture, takes on a slippery
texture, so use caution descending rock steps. A giant redwood which had
fallen, blocking the trail, is notched with a square cut large enough
to squeeze through. Steep Ravine Trail keeps descending, along the way
passing another memorable waterfall, with a pretty pool at the base. At
5.95 miles, Dipsea Trail heads left over a bridge, departing from a signed
junction. Continue straight, past an old dam, to another junction
(this one unsigned) with the other leg of Dipsea, at 6.00 miles. Turn
right. The trail ascends, following a small pipeline, and reaches
another junction, this one signed. Continue straight on Dipsea Trail.
Dipsea rises through a jumble of plants,
with Douglas fir and coyote brush prominent. At 6.06 miles, you'll reach
yet another junction with a fire road. Continue straight on Dipsea.
Closed to equestrians and cyclists, Dipsea ascends a little, crests, then
descends easily. The initial view after the crest is breathtaking -- the
ocean, Stinson Beach, Bolinas Lagoon, and the mountains of Point Reyes
sprawl at your feet. At 6.18 miles, Dipsea crosses Hill 640 Fire Road. Continue straight.
Springtime flowers include checkerbloom,
wild radish, blue and white lupine, and California poppy. The trail dips
into a damp area where you might see or hear quail. Traffic on nearby
Panoramic squelches the mood a bit. Dipsea begins descending at a more
moderate grade, through shrubs of coyote brush and purple bush lupine.
Suddenly the trail turns into the woods, with a creek on the right. Some
gnarled buckeyes stand along the trail, along with California bay, hazelnut,
and currant. A boardwalk ushers you through a sunny spot where willow
and twinberry bushes grow. At 7.07 miles, Dipsea approaches Panoramic
Highway. Carefully cross, then pick up the signed trail again on the
Cotoneaster overwhelms the sides of
the trail. At 7.19 miles, Dipsea plops you out on the side of CA 1. With
caution, walk along the side of the road to Belvedere Avenue. Turn right
and return to the trailhead.
Last hiked: Tuesday, July 6,