Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Hike // Cataract Falls, Marin Municipal Water District

Cataract Falls.

The trail up Cataract Creek is short but surprisingly steep and stacked with natural beauty, waterfall after waterfall dot the sides of the trail until the top of Bolinas Ridge where impressive views of Point Reyes and the Pacific Ocean await. Crowds can be an issue though, so when the weather is nice be prepared to share the trail with about half of Marin or hit the trail on a more sour afternoon to avoid the disneyland experience.

Hike Summary
Difficulty Moderate
Distance 3.6 Miles
Popularity Popular
Peak Season Winter, Spring
Fees None

The trail up Cataract Creek begins peacefully, meandering along the bank of Alpine Lake at the edge of a beautiful, mossy, mixed forest of Oak, and Pine, and Redwood. Several small drainages pour into the lake and bubble along the side of the fern lined trail. If the whole trail was like this, it would be a lovely spot for an afternoon hike on a chilly winter afternoon. That’s just the approach to Cataract Creek though.

alpine lake

Alpine Lake, near the trailhead.

After getting a late start we finally got our boots on the trail around 12:30, much later than I would have liked, and right at the peak crowding for a holiday weekend. Even though we were sharing the trail with just about half of the Bay Area that afternoon, we found no number of people would be able to ruin that trail.

As the trail arrives at Cataract Creek the trail promptly collides with a gorgeous cascade just before the creek dumps into the edge of the lake. The atmosphere gets a little darker here as the forest canopy and canyon walls close in to block out any direct light. If the rest of the hike was like this, it would be a lovely spot for an afternoon hike on a chilly winter afternoon.

cataract creek

Waterfalls at the base of Cataract Creek near Alpine Lake.

The tallest set of falls along Cataract Creek.

The trail veers right, steps cut from rock and wood lead the way steeply up the slope of the canyon. The first leg of the hike is the steepest and consequently has the largest cascades with the tallest drops. At no point did the hike feel strenuous as we stopped frequently to photograph the many falls we encountered. Just a couple days removed from a series of large storms which soaked the Bay Area just before the New Year we found the waterfalls roaring near peak form. This segment of the trail concludes with Cataract Falls themselves, perhaps the most impressive of all, and certainly the most photogenic.

After Cataract Falls the trail eases up a little and climbs much more gently up the canyon hugging the creek. The canyon walls are not as steep here and consequently the forest feels a little lighter and more airy. Plenty of small waterfalls continue to dot the side of the trail for the next half mile or so.

Cataract Trail

Cataract Trail, above Cataract Creek

Eventually the steepness picks up again as direct sunlight begins to hit the forest. We actually saw a couple taking photos in a ray of sunlight, genuinely excited about something which suddenly felt novel to them. The trail eventually dumps into a large open picnic area, Laurel Dell. For those interested in covering more ground, there are a number of loop options available from here. We simply hung a right though and eased our way up to the end of the trail. After a trickt stream crossing and a final small hill we found ourselves at the parking lot. A very short walkn from there leads to the bald crest of Bolinas Ridge.

bolinas ridge

View of the Pacific Ocean from Bolinas Ridge

We decided to take a little time to scarf down about ½ a cup of trail mix, some oranges, and hydrate a little bit, fire off a few frames and then begin the descent back down the way we came up. An hour or so later we were kicking off our boots at the car and donning some comfortable slippers for the drive home (Life Pro Tip: slippers, everywhere!).

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