Many moons ago, when I was internationally traveling as a single person (in other words, cheaply), I was struck with the joy of hiking to a eatery (pub, mountain hostel, etc), having a good lunch, and then continuing on my merry way again. Because much of the open space in the United States has strict restrictions against opening places of commerce in the middle of said public space (which I am not necessarily bemoaning), this “hike to lunch and then keep hiking” is not so much a part of our culture.
However, yesterday we created our own version of this vision. We hiked from Mill Valley, up the Dipsea steps, to Sun trail, then Redwood trail, and then a bit on Panoramic before popping out across the street from the Mountain Home Inn. While the Dipsea steps are a bit challenging, it’s a great hike for families, especially this spring. (Total mileage was probably just under 5 miles.)
We parked at Old Mill Park. If you haven’t been to Old Mill Park, you might need to hustle your kids past the playground under the redwoods– we have to promise every time that we’ll come back and play after hiking, and the first time we went through, it was a little rough.
From Old Mill Park, cross the bridge and the road. The road that heads straight up the hill will end in the first of three long series of stairs. It’s a lot of climbing, but in our experience, long sets of stairs are pretty intriguing for kiddos. If you get to the end of a series of steps and aren’t sure where to go next, ask one of the many people going up and down the stairs. At the top of the last set of stairs, cross Edgewood Ave and stay on the trail running along Sequoia Valley Rd. When that trail ends, follow the Dipsea Trail past a few giant houses until you get to a road with a wooden gate across it and a sign saying “Dipsea.” Keep going up this little wooded section until you pop out onto Bayview. Stay on Bayview until you end up on Panoramic Highway. This is the one un-fun part of the hike, because you have to cross this road, which has plenty of cars that are moving fairly quickly.
Once across the road, head to the right until you see the trail off to the left. This is the continuation of the Dipsea trail, and the Sun Trail. For future hiking, you can continue on the Dipsea trail if you want to head down into Muir Woods, or even go all the way out to Stinson Beach (7 miles, one way–but beware that the bridge is currently out in Muir Woods, necessitating a longer detour). This hike continues on Sun trail, a very short .75 miles or so, but what a glorious section of trail.
First, Sun trail winds along the side of the mountain, allowing you to look down on Muir Woods and, if the weather is clear, all the way out to the ocean. If sweeping vistas are not enough to tempt you, right now the wildflowers are in full bloom. Wild iris, poppies, scarlet pimpernels, purple lupine, a swath of Calla lilies spilling over the trail (white dots in above photo), blue-eyed grass– the long deluge of the winter has paid off in spades for wildflower wandering. This small trail is one of my most favorite in all of Marin county. It’s also fairly flat, which is a rarity on Mount Tam.
Another treat on Sun Trail was finding this fairy, tucked away on the hillside. I ran by here two weeks ago and completely missed her, but let me assure you– the four year old was ENCHANTED by finding a fairy on the trail. Keep your eyes out in the first 1/2 mile or so– definitely a fun find for smaller hikers!
At the end of Sun Trail, follow Redwood trail into the forest, onto trails lined with forget-me-nots (and another wild iris or two). Redwood trail is mostly in the redwoods (go figure) although bursts out a few times into some drier trail, lined with bright red Castilleja (also known as Indian Paintbrush) flowers. (Poison oak has also sprung up in full force, so be aware of its prevalence.)
Finally, take Panoramic toward the Mountain Home Inn. This last section is a bit of uphill and it was fairly hot–our small hiker was not impressed, but even more wildflowers showed up, and the promise of lunch was a motivator.
Cross the road (again, being careful of cars, although there is a crosswalk from the parking lot to the Inn) and find a place on the deck, where you can have an adult beverage and your child can have a grilled cheese and fries while looking across the Bay (view above). The Mountain Home Inn has some of the most incredible views of the Bay, in my opinion. The food is not cheap, but it’s of solid quality and as a treat for all involved, I highly recommend it. Also make sure you have sunscreen, as there is not a ton of shade on the deck.
To get back, retrace your steps or, if your hikers still have energy, you could head down to Muir Woods and then come back up the Dipsea (get a good Mount Tamalpais map for this and be amazed at the many possible combinations you could put together). It was a pretty satisfying hike for all involved– the four year old asked when we could do it again.
This is not a dog-friendly hike, however– leave Fido at home. Look for another post soon that will involve a dog & kid-friendly food/drink/hiking option in the East Bay!
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