As a nature lover that frequents the Bay Area hiking scene weekly, it’s almost inevitable that a trail will be visited more than once; and often times this repetition can be a bit unmotivating if the scene can’t keep up with my awe-inspiring trail expectations. Thankfully, Mount Tamalpais’s Cataract Falls resolves that dilemma. For all San Francisco nature lovers looking for a little bit of fresh air and serenity accompanied by a terrain with all the makings for a “feel good” workout, then the time has come to lace up those hiking shoes and hit Mount Tamalpais. This epic hiking trail conveniently resides in the Bay Area’s backyard of Marin County. Yet, if you happen to catch this hike on a sunny Saturday, shortly after a bit of rain I can bet you’ll quickly forget what state you’re in as you roam through the lush, vivid forest.
Isolated in its own small town nook, this Fairfax excursion holds aesthic wonders for both families with wee ones, and driven outdoorsmen looking for a solid incline to tackle under a nicely shaded canopy. I’ve hiked the Cataract Falls at least 4 times in the past year, and each time it feels as though I’ve entered a storybook where Hansel and Grethel once wandered amidst these vibrantly lime green fern patches, leaving breadcrumbs within the enormous redwood valley.
The vibe here is beyond refreshing; there’s something magical about this trail that appeals to nature lovers from of all walks of life. I’ve roamed alongside 4 year olds whose eyes light up in excitement as their near one of the three flowing waterfalls. Yet, within the same day trekked behind a long haired hippie running up the trail’s steep stairs, clearly trying to beat his last time.
Regardless of what you come to Mount Tamalpais for, opting for Cataract Falls will be an afternoon you and your hiking partner won’t forget. Time durations vary depending if you stop half way at Laurel Dell or keep going after lunch to the top. While majority of the waterfall gleam resides in the first stretch from Alpine Lake to Laurel Dell, the remaining hour or so of Cataract Falls will definitely keep your heart and inner nature woman thriving in ways that’ll leave you smiling through the whole ride home.
Hints: As usual take a hiking buddy- I’ve done this one alone a couple times, and while the scene is safe, being engulfed in a canopy forest for hours solo with no sounds of civilation besides the neighboring river can be a little worrisome. Also, be sure to bring a lunch and plenty of water and whatever you do, do not forget the camera!
Directions: For those coming from San Francisco take take 101N to San Rafael and take the Sir Francis Drake Blvd. exit. Drive 6 miles to Fairfax, and turn left on Pacheco Rd. Take an immediate right on Broadway, then first left on Bolinas Rd. (At the intersection of a downtown looking area- street sign is hidden on the left, so keep your eyes peeled.) Drive 7.8 miles to Alpine Lake, and park at the treelined turn just after crossing the dam. Keep in mind you won’t be the only weekend hiker with this bright idea so, parking may be limited.
WHEN: Best right after a brief rain; but a beautiful hike year round
WHERE: Cataract Falls