Tag Archives: hike

Spectacular Steep Ravine/Dipsea loop

Ramble downhill through a wonderland of ferns and old-growth redwoods. Huge old trunks tower over your head, and beams of sunlight filter down along with birdsong and the sweet smell of the branches. This is the Steep Ravine trail, and it’s aptly named. The ravine that it follows is steep, with towering canyon walls rising up on both sides from a narrow boulder-strewn creek below. In places, giant redwoods have fallen and wedged between the banks, like rustic bridges or a giant game of pick-up sticks. The trail itself is also steep, dropping precipitously down the flanks of Mt. Tam. A little over half-way from the Pantoll Parking Lot, there’s a sturdy 10-foot wooden ladder to help hikers down a particularly steep spot.

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The uphill leg of the loop is a chunk of the Dipsea trail, which Steep Ravine merges in to after nearly two miles. At this junction you can either keep heading downhill to Stinson Beach, or you can turn left to head up the Dipsea (I like to do the loop hike in this direction since this part of the Dipsea has a LOT of steep stairs, which can get slippery when it’s wet. But in any weather I’d rather go up these stairs than down them).

The Dipsea leg is as beautiful as the Steep Ravine leg – the first section of the climb is so steep that it feels like you’re in a tree fort. The crowns of big old Doug firs are at eye level when you look out over the canyon. Later in the hike you pass through huckleberry stands, dense groves of skinny (young?) redwoods, gnarled oaks and bays, and then out into the high Tamalpais grassland with sweeping views of the Pacific ocean. The trail heads south for a ways before meeting up with the Coastal Fire Road that leads you back to Pantoll.

This loop is a great spot to see a lot of different kinds of plants. The microclimate changes sharply as you move up and down the mountain, from the narrow moist ravine into the open high-elevation grassland. There are many species of shade-loving ferns and lots of wildflowers. At this time of year, a lot of plants were in fruit but I still saw lots of blooms as well.

If you’re coming from Stinson Beach, you can also start this hike at the bottom end of the loop instead of at Pantoll. Park in the large turnout near a metal access gate, right before the big metal “Mt. Tamalpais State Park” sign. Then you can head uphill on the Dipsea for half a mile, until you come to the Steep Ravine junction. Veer left across a aged wooden footbridge to do the uphill leg of the loop on the Dipsea.¬†

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The countless blooms of concrete pipe trail

Really this is an unpaved access road, not a trail – but it’s a great spot to see a wide variety of wildflowers right now. In fact, it is the steep road cut that seems to account for much of the diversity. From the weedy forget-me-nots growing along the seep spring near the beginning of the road, you’ll pass through many different combinations of sun, shade and soil. The level road curves around the canyons and hills of the Marin Municipal Water District, and different flowers appear around every curve. I went out with my parents (happy mother’s day mom!) and we saw jewel flower, Chinese houses, Larkspur, linanthus, woodland star, iris, and many many more. There was a dry, rocky hillside with tall sticky monekyflower bushes laden with¬† blooms, through which a morning glory vine had grown so its large white flowers floated on a sea of orange. In a damp ravine, crimson columbine grew in a garden of other flowers including purple iris and forget-me-nots. When I got home, my plant list had 81 species on it, and 53 of those had been in flower!

This is an easy hike since it’s flat, but you can turn it into a more vigorous outing by connecting up with the network of trails that extends down into Deer Park or up onto the rest of the MMWD property – you could go all the way to the top of Mt. Tam if you wanted to!

To get there, head up the Bolinas-Fairfax road as if you were going to Bon Tempe Lake, but at the turnoff to the lake instead park in one of the limited pullouts on the downhill side of the road. Concrete Pipe Trail starts on the other side of the gate.

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