A moderate hike on Mt. Tam with classic sites, terrific views – Marin Independent Journal

Jim Holden


This hike on Mount Tamalpais will make you lighthearted. From the trailhead at Rock Spring, we walk the Rock Spring Trail, taking in great views of the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco and the bay before arriving at our West Point Inn destination. There, you can enjoy a delightful lunch or snack at its picnic tables overlooking the San Francisco skyline. No matter how your day started, this hike will buoy your spirits.

• Hike summary: This moderate Mt. Tam hike of 3.4 miles round trip on the Rock Spring Trail starts at Rock Spring, passes through the Mountain Theatre, forest and open areas before it ends at the West Point Inn, returning the same way. It contains some short, moderately steep areas and places where you need to be careful of your footing. No dogs allowed. A port-a-potty is available at the Rock Spring parking lot and at the West Point Inn.

• Getting there: Take the Panoramic Highway to Pantoll and just as you reach it, veer to the right to take the uphill Pantoll Road, and not the downhill road to Stinson Beach. From there, drive up the mountain approximately 1 mile to Rock Spring, where you continue straight across the road to park in its wide, expansive parking area.

• The hike: As you enter the parking area, our trailhead is on the far right. Take the signed Mountain Theatre Fire Road, which is covered with small rocks, up its moderate incline to the top with great views over green slopes to the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco. After enjoying the views, continue down for a short distance past some restrooms on the right. Continue on the trail a short way and enter the Mountain Theatre on a high aisle.

This moderate hike on Mount Tamalpais offers terrific views. (Photo by Jim Holden)

The Mountain Theatre was built in the early 1930s during the Depression, largely by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It serves as the showcase for the popular and long-running Mountain Play held each summer.

We walk through the amphitheater on the high aisle and continue on the Rock Spring Trail, passing by toyon and its bright red berries and through stretches of serpentine rock that show shiny green in patches. After passing through sections of forest, manzanita and open areas with beautiful views, we arrive at the West Point Inn. Bring your lunch or snack on the hike and eat at the outside picnic tables while enjoying the spectacular views of San Francisco, the bay and the Tiburon Peninsula.

On a recent hike there, I met with Pat Williams who has served as an innkeeper there since 1990. Among other interesting facts, he related that the West Point Inn is the last surviving building of the Mount Tamalpais and Muir Woods Scenic Railway.

The railway, dubbed “the crookedest railroad in the world,” was built and opened in 1896 and attracted residents from near and far to the charms of Mt. Tam and Marin County. It closed in 1930, the victim of the catastrophic mountain fire of 1929 that destroyed more than 100 Mill Valley homes and the increasing popularity of automobile travel to the mountain.

The West Point Inn was the western most point of the railway’s crooked and thrilling journey from the Mill Valley Depot to the mountain’s East Peak and served as the railway’s stopover point for passengers traveling by stagecoach to Stinson Beach (then named Willow Camp) and Bolinas. It also provided food and rooms for overnight stays.

At present, you can stay at the inn almost any night of the year, with reservations required and almost always needed far ahead of time. On specified Sundays from Mother’s Day into October, you can hike to it from our trailhead or others and delight in the inn’s wonderful pancake breakfasts — first come, first served. The breakfasts are hosted and cleaned up by volunteers, who receive benefits for their services. Please go to the West Point Inn website (westpointinn.com) for all pertinent information.

On the way back, walking at your own pace, you will see that the light and shadows are different and will notice things that you missed on your way in. Dally anywhere you wish — happy that you are outdoors and fortunate that you are enjoying one of the county’s wonderful and diverse trails.

On the hike’s ending stretch, walk through the Mountain Theatre, take the incline up to the hike’s initial viewpoint, and then when ready, walk the short distance down to your car.

Next column, we take advantage of the winter season (before it flees) by hiking to an amazing waterfall. In the following column, we will take a short, easy and beautiful hike on Mt. Tam.

A longtime avid hiker and Marin resident, Jim Holden is the author of two nonfiction books: “It Happened in Marin” and “Adventurous Lives, Daring Acts.” He can be reached at [email protected]

Jim Holden www.marinij.com Entertainment,Lifestyle,Outdoors,Things To Do,Hike,Hiking,Marin County,Mount Tamalpais,newsletter

2024-01-21 20:00:55 , Marin Independent Journal

Leave a comment