Mount Tam: The Hiker's Heaven

Happy trails

Photo: Michael Pujals [CC by 1.0]/Flickr

Just north of San Francisco is a large stretch of land that is a hiker's heaven. There are miles upon miles of hills, valleys and stretches of bay that provide excellent backpacking and wildlife viewing. But there is one particularly popular mountain in this area that is a must-visit: Mount Tamalpais, or better known to locals as Mount Tam. This 2,500-foot mountain in Marin is a state park that provides 360-degree views of the Bay Area and beautifully preserved wild spaces to enjoy. Click through this slideshow and see some of the magnificent places and wildlife you'll encounter while hiking Mount Tam.

A variety of trails

Miguel Vieira/Flickr.

Miles of trails crisscross the sides of Mount Tam, and hikers will encounter a variety of habitats from redwood forests to oak groves, and nearer the top, chaparral and open grasslands. Each habitat has its own special beauty and its own variety of wildlife. Dress in layers, as the temperature can vary depending on where you are on the mountain.

What a view

roens/Flickr.

The peak of Mount Tam offers spectacular views of the Bay Area. From the top, on a clear day, you can see far out into the Pacific and spot the Farallon Islands 25 miles offshore. You will also see over the Marin Hills to San Francisco and across the bay to Oakland and even Mount Diablo. Arriving pre-dawn or at sunset will provide you with a view of the city lights twinkling around the bay.

Waterfall hike

mhara442/Flickr.

While there are many trails to choose from, there are a handful of favorites, including a trail leading to Cataract Falls. Cataract Falls is a lovely waterfall especially in spring when it is full from rains, and it is the delight of many landscape and flora photographers.

Hiking safari

Jaymi Heimbuch.

Hiking along Mount Tam for any length of time will provide encounters with wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled during morning and evening hours for bobcats hunting in the tall grasses. While most are shy and stay out of sight, you might be lucky enough to spot some of the more courageous cats.

Watch where you step

Kid Cowboy/Flickr.

Watch out for some of the wildlife though — especially rattlesnakes. This is particularly important in warm summer and fall months. Rattlesnakes seek out warm spots on rocks and on dirt trails, but can often be hard to spot, so keep an ear out for their tell-tale rattling sound that warns you of their presence.

Diverse wildlife

Jaymi Heimbuch.

Other wildlife common to Mount Tam include deer, raccoons, fox, coyotes and raptors including red-shouldered hawks and turkey vultures.

Flourishing flowers

Miguel Vieira/Flickr.

Various flower species, including this mountain iris, can be found along the trails. Because the mountain features several distinct habitats, including forested area, chaparral and grasslands, the variety of wildflowers and interesting plants is vast. Be sure to bring a camera with a macro lens, or macro setting, to capture their beauty when you visit.

New perspectives

Rob Bingham/Flickr.

A local organization called Friends of Mount Tam offers several activities for visitors, including guided hikes, moonlight and moonrise hikes, astronomy nights that feature night sky tours, and trail advice.

Or you could just drive

Jaymi Heimbuch.

Even if you don't want to hike, the drive up and around Mount Tam is scenic and offers plenty of sights. There are three parking lots on Mount Tam, two of which are free, and camping is also available — though snagging a spot can be a challenge and you'll have to make your reservations far in advance. Public transportation from San Francisco to Mount Tam is also available.

Bike on up

Brian McNitt/Flickr.

Mount Tam is a favorite among cyclists. The ride is challenging, but the views are worth the effort!

Spectacular state park

Jaymi Heimbuch.

Mount Tamalpais State Park is one of the oldest and most popular parks in California, which is no surprise considering the amount and diversity of flora and fauna, and the views across the 6,300 acres of park. Add this spectacular, historic and deeply loved state park to your must-visit list.