What’s Best: Remote Marin vistas from 1,500-foot-high ridge tops with peculiar geology and trees; or a white-water creek, deep in a conifer forest reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest.
Parking: From Hwy. 101, take San Anselmo-Sir Francis Drake Blvd. exit and proceed on Sir Francis Drake about 6 ml. At Fairfax, veer left on Broadway, to center of town, and turn left on Bolinas Rd. Continue up 3 miles on Bolinas Rd. It becomes Fairfax-Bolinas Rd. Pass Meadow Club Golf Course and the MMWD gate. For Pine Mountain hikes: Park on left at trailhead 1.25 ml. after entering the MMWD gate. For Alpine Lake hikes: Park at Alpine Dam about 5.25 ml. after entering the watershed lands. Note: MMWD gates close in the evening and reopen in the morning. Agency: Marin Municipal Water District
Pine Mountain trailhead to: Azalea Hill (.75 ml.), or Pine Mountain Hike summit (5 ml.), or Sargent cypress grove (3.75 ml.), or Oat Hill ‘ Ridge (up to 9 ml.); Alpine Dam hike to Cataract Creek and Laurel Dell (3.25 ml.)
From Pine Mountain parking: For Azalea Hill, a short walk with a huge view, head up the dirt road that is on the same side of the street as the parking area. The road curls to the east side of the hill, rising about 150 feet on the short hike to the 1,217-foot top. The trail continues down to Bon Tempe Meadow at Sky Oaks Ranger Station.
For Pine Mountain, Sargent cypress grove and Oat Hill Ridge, head out rocky Pine Mountain Road, across the street from the parking area. On open chaparral, you ascend straight and fairly steeply over the first mile, climbing more than 200 feet, where you reach a road junction.
To Oat Hill Ridge, turn left at this junction. Oat Hill is the ridge running back toward Alpine Lake that you can see on your left during the first part of the hike. During the next 1.5 mile, heading south, you drop down to a saddle and then up again, through a gap between two 1,400-foot, tree-covered peaks. The trail continues in deep fir forest until the end, when you emerge in an open oak hillside. Veer left at a fork near the end that leads to short uphill walk to Oat Hill, a grassy mound with views down more than 600 feet to Alpine Lake. You’ll often see raptors soaring below.
ALPINE LAKE MAP SAN FRANCISCO Photo Gallery
For Pine Mountain one of Marin’s best peak walks continue straight, past the Oat Hill Road junction. After about .5-mile across the rough ridgeline, take a left on Pine Mountain Road. From this junction you climb almost 300 feet in .75-mile. At 1,762-feet, Pine Mountain is Marin’s second-tallest summit on public land. Look for a very short spur trail leading right from the main trail. On the top of Pine Mountain, you will find only a humble pine sticking out of the chaparral. But take note of the low rock walls at the summit, built by Chinese laborers in the late 1800s and used to separate the rancheros.
To see the Sargent cypress grove pygmy cypress trees unique to California continue straight at the junction with Pine Mountain Road. The grove is a hedge on either side of the San Geronimo Ridge Road for .5-mile, beginning at the Pine Mountain Road junction and ending beyond the junction with Repack, or Cascade Road, which drops to the right into Cascade Canyon. These diminutive cypress smell like juniper. The greenish rock you see is serpentine, an igneous or volcanic mineral comprised of magnesium silicate.
From Alpine Dam parking: The Cataract Creek Trail to Laurel Dell, the most popular route at Lake Alpine, begins on the left .25-mile past, or south, of the dam. Only a few parking spots are available on Fairfax-Bolinas Road, and turning around is difficult, so you may wish to park at the dam on weekends. Water gushes over bedrock along this fern-and-conifer creek walk leading to the picnic glade at Laurel Dell. You’ll cross the creek within the first .25-mile, after which the trail climbs the hillside to the right of the creek, now a series of cascades and pools. After about .5-mile, you pass the Helen Markt Trail, which goes left back toward Alpine Lake. Almost 1.5 miles up the creek canyon, after more gushing whitewater and significant falls, the trail levels out. You then come to the junction with the High Marsh Trail, which heads on a high contour back toward Alpine and Bon Tempe lakes. Near the junction, some 700 feet above the surface of Lake Alpine, is the picnic area of Laurel Dell. Poppies, popcorn flowers, and a host of other wildflowers may join you for lunch during the springtime months.
Bike: Well-conditioned mountain bikers will like Pine Mountain Road. One difficult and exciting loop of wild country of about 12 miles, with numerous up-and-downs is to continue north of Pine Mountain Road on San Geronimo Road. Over the next 4 miles, dubbed 17 Knolls, you do some serious pedaling along the ridge, which varies between 1,200 and 1,500 feet. After passing three roads that lead to your right the last of which drops down to Buckeye Circle in San Geronimo turn west, or left, from what has been a northerly course. About .75-mile beyond that juncture, just west of the climb to Green Hill, you meet up with Pine Mountain Road, which drops down to your left. Pine Mountain Road begins a big loop through the Carson creeks drainage above Kent Lake. The road then turns east, up and over tall Pine Mountain, and back to the junction with San Geronimo Ridge Road.