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Mt. Tam’s Hidden Peak

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In the world of people-who-like-to-stand-atop-things-in-the-Bay-Area, Mount Tamalpais’ 2,574-foot East Peak is a mainstay. But even most locals don’t know that it wasn’t always the true summit of Marin County’s iconic mountain.

The mountain’s nearby West Peak once stood more than 2,600 feet above sea level, but it was bulldozed flat in the 1950s to make way for a Cold War-era radar station and military barracks.

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Easy/Tough: Mountain Bike Marin

Marin County is the birthplace of mountain biking. The sport was conceived in the 1970s, when local gear heads hopped on their (then street) bikes to explore the rolling hills that spill into the bay.

So riding knobby tires is something of a Bay Area traditionAnd even if you’ve only ever pedaled a beach cruiser, we humbly suggest you set aside a Saturday or Sunday to celebrate properly.

 Marincello/Old Springs Trails

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For novice riders, the most accessible destination is Marin Headlands, where the very easiest offerings are the Marincello and Old Springs trails. Both trails offer epic views of the sea (and sometimes of whale migrations), and include just enough easy uphill riding to make the trip count as “exercise.”

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Hike Henry Coe’s Lakes

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Yes, 2014 has been one of the driest years in California history. But that hasn’t stopped the wildflowers in Henry Coe State Park from putting on a spring spectacular – and if you hurry, you can still catch the show.

Most hikers access Henry Coe from the entrance behind Morgan Hill (which is only 34 miles from San Jose). But the lesser-known entrance at Hunting Hollow is just five miles farther, and offers a much more secluded experience for hikers, bikers, backpackers and equestrians. (Get directions)

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See Muir Woods without the crowd

Northern California’s Muir Woods National Monument is a destination renowned for its towering redwoods, but it’s also an infamous tourist trap. Traffic backs up for miles on the weekends, and the serpentine drive to the parking lot is enough to induce carsickness. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are several lesser-known hiking routes into Muir Woods from the nearby town of Mill Valley. Follow one, and you can enjoy the sky-scraping splendor of sequoia sempervirens the misanthropic way.

Ocean View Trail

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A bucolic hillside meadow beckons you into Muir Woods from the ridge above. As the trail switchbacks ever lower, the redwoods amplify in girth, until you find yourself in a shady grove of behemoth arboreals. This 3.5-mile route takes you in the “back door” by circumventing the official entrance – and the entry fee.

Getting there: Just across from the Mountain Home Inn at 810 Panoramic Highway in Mill Valley park in the small lot or along the road. Head left on Panoramic Trail, then veer right at the fork on Ocean View 

The Dipsea Steps

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The most rigorous hike into Muir Woods starts in Old Mill Park in downtown Mill Valley and heads up 688 stone and wooden stairs called the Dipsea Steps, then crosses Panoramic Highway and continues on the Dipsea Trail.

This single-track trail heads seaward, paralleling Muir Woods road for most of its descent. When it converges with the paved road at mile 1.8, head right through the official entrance gate of Muir Woods. At this point, you’ve earned your trees.

Getting there: Park near the Mill Valley Library in downtown Mill Valley and look for the first flight of stairs on Cascade Drive, just behind Old Mill Park.

Diaz Ridge Loop

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While the suckers are bumper-to-bumper along Muir Woods Road, park at the top of pastoral Diaz Ridge and swoop down to Muir Beach on foot – stopping perhaps at the quaint Pelican Inn for an Arnold Palmer – then follow the trail away from the coast to enter Muir Woods from sea level.

Getting there: From Highway One, turn right onto Panoramic Highway and park soon after the hairpin turn. The trailhead is on the left, across from the fruit truck. 

This issue of Bootprints contributed by Joslyn Hamilton 

 

Daytrip in Tomales Bay

We don’t know for sure what you’re into this weekend. But if a kayak trip, a hike on a remote beach or an afternoon shucking oysters and sipping microbrew sounds good, we’ve got a trip for you. Below you’ll find three ways to while away your Saturday (or Sunday) afternoon in Tomales Bay State Park: a north Marin hideout just more than an hour’s drive from downtown San Francisco. If that’s what you’re into.  Just remember to dress warm. The weather up there can get pretty moody.

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Short Day/Long Day: Pinnacles NP

A visit to Pinnacles National Park, just south of San Jose, is a moving experience. Literally. Perched along the San Andreas Fault, the park moves north a few centimeters a year. Twenty million years go, the park sat 195 miles to the southeast.

Besides its tenuous perch on the edge of California’s longest earthquake fault (check out the seismograph in the visitors’ center), Pinnacles is known for strenuous hiking, high temperatures and lots of rattlesnakes. So if you take one of our favorite hikes in Pinnacles, make sure you watch your step. Continue Reading…

Take a soak in Steep Ravine

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A midnight soak in natural, undeveloped hot springs … just within a stone’s throw of the waves of the Pacific Ocean. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Well it is nice. But it isn’t easy. A visit to Steep Ravine Hot Springs demands keen navigation and expert timing.

Hidden in a cove near the Steep Ravine Cabins in Mount Tamalpais State Park, the springs are only accessible during extreme negative tides, and even then only for a few hours.

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Marin County’s best waterfall

Alamere Fallrs running into breaking waves

Spring is here. And that’s when Marin County’s most hype-worthy footpath – the Palomarin Trail – is at its very best. The dramatic Alamere Falls are in full flow, and seasonal wildflowers pop their heads up to say hello.

The 7.5-mile out-and-back starts off gentle enough for grandparents or young children. The first miles offer oak-shaded views of the Pacific, glimpses of the wildflower-blanketed hills, and sometimes deer or bobcat sightings.

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NorCal’s best campus hikes

You may have swum with the sharks and run with the bulls, but have you hiked with the banana slugs and jogged with the Nerd Nation?

Bay Area college campuses offer a lot more than ivory towers and ivy-covered walls. Some have extensive and challenging networks of trails that draw academics and the general public alike.

Stanford – The Dish

Stanford foothills and the path to the Dish.

Where campus hikes in the Bay Area go, the best-known is easily the trail to the Stanford Dish. On and off-campus visitors throng this four-mile paved loop from sunrise to sunset.

The Dish is a radio telescope, perched on a hill with a spectacular view of most of the Bay Area. The surrounding tree-studded hills provide habitat for myriad native plants and animals, including the California tiger salamanderContinue Reading…

Ride a dogsled on Mt. Shasta

An action shot from a dogsled (taken facing the dogs) during a ride through the woods

Mount Shasta isn’t all about crystals and healers anymore. Not since the Dogsled Express brought their team of Olympian-caliber canines to Etna, strapped them to sleds and invited adventurers along for the ride.

The company offers humans ages three and up the chance to feel the call of the wild with a wind-whipping dogsled ride through the snow. That’s right – even this winter, there is enough snow at Shasta for a sled ride (most days, at least – the company has had to close some days for dry or rainy weather).  Continue Reading…

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