Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hike // Steep Ravine Loop, Mt. Tamalpais State Park

steep ravine trail

The Steep Ravine Loop is an enchanting ramble through the heart of the redwoods and over wildflower studded ridges. Without question it is one of my favorite trails in the Bay Area and since it’s a pretty snacky 3.9 miles it’s a personal favorite to share with out-of-town guests. Sure, nearby Muir Woods has the older old-growth redwoods. Steep Ravine though - feels far more intimate - early on a spring morning it’s hard to top. Once on the open ground of the Dipsea Trail, Marin flashes another look too. Wildflower spotted, rolling, verdant hills with grand views of San Francisco and the Pacific coast. It’s a can’t miss hike.

Hike Summary
Difficulty Moderate
Distance 3.9 Miles
Popularity Moderate
Peak Season Spring
Fees None

Across the road from the Steep Ravine trailhead is the Steep Ravine campground where we stayed the night before. It’s a fantastic piece of earth, perched on one of the few flat bluffs along this part of the coast which is west of Highway 1. In the spring wildflowers adorn the edges of the trails to the walk-in campsites each of which offers nice views both of San Francisco and Bolinas Bay. The twinkle of lights in the night from Stinson Beach is both comforting and beautiful. Truly, Steep Ravine is one of the most beautiful campground we’ve ever stayed at - and we hardly even got to enjoy it’s fully splendor - because it poured rain for most of our stay.

steep ravine spring

Spring wildflowers near the trailhead

After a delicious breakfast at Breakers Cafe (the Eggs Monaco was very very good!) in Stinson Beach, we started down the trail at about 9am with fresh drops of rain from the night before still dripping off the lush foliage lining the trail. We both agreed it was perfect hiking weather, the air was cool but not cold and had been cleansed by the overnight rainfall.

The first three quarters of a mile of the trail is relatively flat, gaining elevation very slowly while following along the edge of Webb Creek. Forget-me-not, Giant trillium, and Hounds tongue splashed spring color into an otherwise vibrant green forest understory. We were so enamored the trailside show of flowers it took us nearly an hour to reach the trail junction with the Dipsea Trail.

redwood hikers

A family hiking through old-growth Redwoods

While lovely, truthfully a beautiful creekside hike is nothing particularly unique in the Bay Area, least of all in this part of Marin. Old-growth redwood stands however are a rarity anywhere! Old-growth locked away in a secluded canyon is truly rare. After crossing the Dipsea Trail the walls of the canyon steepen and narrow in right as towering redwoods begin to emerge. The trail itself begins to climb as well up steeper hills, often with cut steps. Although each grove is unquestionably serene. Ambient noise from the nearby panoramic highway does periodically penetrate the forest canopy: disturbing.

steep ravine ladder

Beylah climbing "the ladder"


Old-growth Redwoods

After passing through several redwood groves the trail eventually begins to switch back and forth up the hillside as the scenery changes from a dense fern crowded redwood forest to an open and mossy hardwood forest before abruptly leading into the well developed Pantoll Campground which is usually buzzing with campers and day hikers from the parking lot alike.

After refilling our water bottles near the ranger station we retraced our steps a short ways to join the Old Mine Trail. This half mile of trail rolls over a generally flat, dry, coastal pine forest. Perfect habitat for one of my favorite wildflowers, the stunning, although shy, Calypso Orchid. Eventually the Old Mine Trail leaves the cover of the pine forest and spills out onto an open ridge with phenomenal views of the Pacific Ocean, Marin Coast, and San Francisco in the distance. A careful eye can pick out the top of the Golden Gate Bridge peeking out over the Marin Headlands.

calypso orchid

Calypso Orchid

Again we found ourselves at a junction with the Dipsea trail, we took care to follow the correct trail, following the right-most trail at a 4-way junction. Once on the Dipsea Trail we covered about half a mile on the open ridge, spotted with spring wildflowers (2013 has actually been a pretty poor year for wildflowers) before descending back into a pine forest which again gave way to Redwoods. The descent down the Dipsea is generally fairly gradual, with the exception of the last few hundred feet which roar down a hundred or so slippery steps back down to Webb Creek.

dipsea view

View of the Pacific from the Dipsea Trail

We retraced our steps back over the leg of the trail before returning to the parking lot where I promptly banged my head with the trunk of the car while loading up gear like a dope. After taking a few minutes to dig out snacks from our camping cooler we started the drive back home over the Golden Gate and through the city back home.

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