Marin Headlands Spring Wildflower Walks

10:05PM March 6, 2008 6 Comments »

March is the emerald month in California, the most spectacular time of year for hiking and roadtrips. From Oregon to Mexico, the hills are greening. The sun is hot. Wildflowers are popping. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to highlight my favorite spots to see the land come alive.

To celebrate the early arrival of spring, take a Sunday-afternoon hike (or mountain-bike ride) in the Marin Headlands. Because the mixed-use trails through the coastal prairie are wide and well graded, they’re ideal for a family walk. And on some of them, you can bring leashed dogs; download the trail map to see where.

Flower hounds: Check the wildflower bloom schedule. The poppies won’t peak for a few more weeks, but you’ll find plenty to fawn over now.

My two favorite walks follow, below. Download the trail map for a visual. And as you explore, remember that in the 1950s, this land was slated for development into ‘Marincello,’ a town of 25,000, with a mile-long mall at its center. Thank God for the Trust for Public Land; if you’re flush, send ‘em a check.

1.) Tennessee Valley. The two-mile-long valley follows a seasonal creek, bordered by century-old fragrant eucalyptus trees. But the money shots sprawl up high in the rolling hills. Take the Coastal Trail, where you can peer down the bluffs to Pirates Cove and watch the crashing surf pound the jagged cliffs. Along the way, you’ll spot bright-orange California poppies, the season’s first purple lupine, and tiny Douglas irises. Loop back along the ridgelines via the Coastal Fire Rd and Fox Trail, which drops out near to the trailhead. No dogs are allowed on the valley floor; instead follow signs up the Miwok Trail, then head over to the Coastal Trail—but you can’t make a loop with a dog.
Park at the Tennessee Valley trailhead, proceed a half mile to the Fox Trail, and loop along the ridgelines toward the water. Alternatively walk along the valley floor a mile toward the beach, then zip straight up the Coastal Trail. To get to the valley, take the Golden Gate Bridge and follow Hwy 101 to the Stinson Beach/Hwy 1 turnoff. Cross under the freeway. Right after the road becomes two lanes, at the hard-right curve, look for the signed turnoff to the left. If you hit the major intersection where Hwy 1 turns left at the traffic light, you’ve gone too far.

2.) Gerbode Valley. Avoid heavy weekend traffic by heading to the less-visited Gerbode Valley, the next dale south of Tennessee Valley. Like its neighbor, it’s bisected by a meandering creek, but don’t linger low: the point it to get up high. The fennel isn’t yet fragrant, but you catch whiffs of summer as you work your way toward the hilltops. Here and there little bunches of poppies and irises peek through the shimmering grass. Gorgeous. You could take the Bobcat Trail east, but I prefer the Miwok Trail, which runs north. Once up high along the Miwok, you’ll have drop-dead views of the city rising between the cleavages of the hills (see the above photo). To the west, the vast blue Pacific sprawls toward the horizon. If you’re ambitious, take the Wolf Ridge Trail (hikers only) for panoramic vistas up and down the coast. Good news for Fido: on-leash dogs are allowed on the Miwok trail.
By Muni: Take Bus 76 (Sundays only). By car: Take the Golden Gate Bridge northbound to the first exit, Alexander Ave. Take the second left, immediately after the hairpin turn leading beneath the freeway. Go through the one-way tunnel with the five-minute light, and continue down Bunker Rd about two miles to just before the lagoon. Park on the north side of Bunker Rd in Rodeo Valley, at the little parking area by the whitewashed clapboard buildings.