Things to Do
Things to Do
Mount Tam offers visitors more than 60 miles of hiking trails, connecting to a 200-mile trail system on neighboring public lands. Road bikers are challenged by the twisting road to the summit and the infamous Seven Sisters climb. Mountain bikers enjoy the panoramic Coast View and Dias Ridge multi-use trails as well as park fire roads. Picnickers flock to tables at Bootjack and East Peak (the summit).
Natural splendor abounds in any season, but Tam’s many creeks and waterfalls are most spectacular during the rainy months, usually late October through March. The best time for wildflowers is February through May. Plays at the Mountain Theater run on weekends in May and June. Whale-watching season runs November through April.
For guided hikes, astronomy programs, and volunteer opportunities, go to Friends of Mt. Tam. For a region-wide map and links to additional hiking information, try One Tam.
If you have an hour, drive across the park on the Panoramic Highway, starting north of Mill Valley and ending at Stinson Beach.
If you have half a day, drive to the summit at East Peak. Enjoy 360-degree views of the Bay Area from what Via magazine called “the crown jewel of Mount Tam,” the paved 3/4-mile-long Verna Dunshee Trail. It’s a great place for a picnic, too.
If you have a full day, walk 1.5 miles downhill through a redwood forest on the Steep Ravine Trail. Then take the Dipsea Trail another 1.5 miles to Stinson Beach, admiring ocean views and seasonal wildflowers along the way. Lunch at Stinson and walk back up to Pantoll on the Dipsea Trail for a total of 6 miles. Or, if the West Marin Stagecoach schedule allows, take the bus to Pantoll.
The sport of mountain biking was invented on Mount Tamalpais in the 1970s and ‘80s. Today’s enthusiasts can enjoy the Coast View and Dias Ridge multi-use trails as well as park fire trails. Cyclists are not allowed on other single-track trails.
Road bicyclists who are up for a challenge can try the Seven Sisters ride, which heads north from Stinson Beach to the Bolinas-Fairfax Road and includes a long stretch of super-scenic West Ridgecrest Boulevard. The twisting paved road to East Peak summit also provides a good workout and spectacular views.
CAMPING & CABINS
Bootjack and Pantoll campgrounds on Panoramic Highway each have 15 first-come, first-served sites about 100 yards from the parking area. Both campsites offer drinking water, firewood and restrooms with flush toilets. No showers are available. Both of these campgrounds have sites that are wheelchair accessible. For more information, call Pantoll Ranger Station at 415-388-2070.
Rocky Point/Steep Ravine Environmental Campground, on a marine terrace one mile south of Stinson Beach, has seven primitive sites and nine rustic cabins. Each cabin has a small wood stove, picnic table, sleeping platforms and an outdoor barbecue, but no running water. Restrooms and water faucets are nearby. Reservations are required. Cabin #1 and environmental campsite #7 are wheelchair accessible.
Alice Eastwood Group Camp, on Panoramic Highway near the Mountain Home Inn, has two sites for groups of 25 to 50 people. Both sites have tables, grills, and a large tent space.
Frank Valley Group Horse Camp, on Muir Woods Road about one mile north of Highway 1 at Muir Beach, has tables, fire rings, drinking water, pit toilets, horse troughs, and corrals for up to 12 horses.
For campground and cabin reservation information for Steep Ravine, Alice Eastwood and Frank Valley campgrounds and cabins, use the reservation link at the top of this park's home page or call 800-444-7275. Reservations may be made up to six months in advance. Only one vehicle and five people may occupy each cabin or campsite. No pets are allowed.
West Point Inn also rents rustic cabins on adjoining land, owned by Marin Municipal Water District. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Inn was built in 1904 as a stopover and restaurant on the Mill Valley/Mount Tamalpais Railway. The railroad is long gone, but hikers and cyclists can stop at the cozy main lodge for rest and simple self-service refreshments. Accommodations for overnighters are spartan, but you can’t beat the views.
To rent a cabin, go to the website of the West Point Inn Association, whose volunteers maintain and run the lodge.
Staffed by Friends of Mt. Tam volunteers, the park’s visitor center at the East Peak summit has maps, books, souvenirs, packaged snacks, and a wildlife exhibit. Nearby, the park’s railroad history comes to life in the Gravity Car Barn. The visitor center is open from 11 to 4 and the barn is open 12 to 4 on most weekends.
Two short trails at the summit offer a peak experience. The flat, paved Verna Dunshee Trail makes an easy 0.75 mile-long circle around the top. Panels along the way explain the area’s geology, ecology, and cultural history. You can also take the steep quarter-mile Plank Trail to Gardner Lookout on the summit's crown. Either way, the views are spectacular.
Among the park’s other family-friendly activities:
• Enjoy an old-fashioned Broadway musical. Mountain Theater offers outdoor productions in May and June. For dates and reservations, go to the Mountain Play Association website or call 415-383-1100. By trail, the theater is about 3/4 of a mile from Bootjack parking lot or 1/3 of a mile from Rock Spring parking lot. On performance days, plan to arrive well before 11 a.m. to find a spot. Alternately, take it easy and ride the free shuttle from Mill Valley. The Mountain Play Express runs every 15 minutes between 10 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. on performance days.
• Gaze at the stars. Astronomy programs are offered between the new and first-quarter moon from April through October. Programs include a talk and tour of the night sky at the Mountain Theater, followed by star-gazing through tele-scopes at nearby Rock Spring. Hosted by Friends of Mt. Tam and the San Fran-cisco Amateur Astronomers. For more information, go to the Friends of Mt. Tam website. [http://www.friendsofmttam.org/astronomy/schedule]
• Celebrate Earth Day with activities designed to delight and engage families. The event is held on the weekend before or after April 22, the date of the first Earth Day in 1970. To find out about this and other family-friendly group activ-ities on the mountain, check the Friends of Mt. Tam calendar.
California State Park’s do-it-yourself Adventure Guide is designed to make any state park visit more enjoyable and educational for school-age children. Download the guide or call 916-654-2249 to order a copy.
Mount Tam and the smaller park it encircles, Muir Woods National Monument, are home to one of California’s most impressive tree species, the coast redwood. Before or after any trip to see these stately giants, you and your family may want to visit Save the Redwoods League’s online Redwoods Learning Center. The site offers fun, redwood-themed activities, classroom tools, and ways to get involved in redwood protection. Redwoods bingo, anyone?
Teenagers are invited to check out the OneTam Youth Initiative, which includes programs for local students, including “Teens on Trails” and “Restoration Youth Crew.”
One Tam, aka the Tamalpais Lands Collaborative, offers an internship program for teenagers and young adults. Positions involve restoring sensitive habitat, preserving historic features, improving trails, and educating youth—both inside and outside the state park.
Recreational hang gliding is allowed for members of the Marin County Hang Gliding Association (MCHGA), the only currently permitted hang-gliding organization. Details, rules, and exact launching and landing locations may be found at http://www.mchga.org/rules1006.PDF. Hang gliders must sign in at Pantoll ranger station. Commercial and motorized hang gliding are prohibited.
Horseback riders are welcome on park fire roads as well as multi-use trails, including Coast View, Redwood Creek, Heather Cutoff, Miwok, and Dias Spur and Dias Ridge. For details, see the brochure map.
Frank Valley Group Horse Camp, on Muir Woods Road about one mile north of Highway 1 at Muir Beach, has tables, fire rings, drinking water, pit toilets, horse troughs and corrals for up to 12 horses. Make reservations up to six months in advance at the top of this Mt. Tamalpais web page or by calling 800-444-7275.
PICNICS & DAY USE
Bootjack, on Panoramic Highway east of Pantoll, has picnic tables for up to 50 people, stoves, water and flush toilets. East Peak summit has picnic tables, a wheelchair-accessible restroom and a visitor center staffed on weekends.
The 3,750-seat Mountain Theater, officially named the Cushing Memorial Amphitheater, was built of natural stone in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. On weekends in May and June, the Mountain Play Association uses it for outdoor productions of old-fashioned Broadway musicals. For dates and reservations, go to the Mountain Play Association website or call (415) 383-1100.
By trail, the theater is about 3/4 mile from Bootjack parking lot or 1/3 mile from Rock Spring parking lot. Plan to arrive well before 11 a.m. to find a spot. Or take the free shuttle from Mill Valley. On performance days, the Mountain Play Express runs every 15 minutes between 10:00 a.m. and 12:45 p.m.