Bon Tempe Trailhead,
Mount Tamalpais/Marin Municipal Water District,
Marin County
In brief:
5 mile loop through chaparral and deep woods, on the northern flank of Mount Tamalpais.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 5 mile loop hike is moderate, with about 700 feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is around 690 feet. The featured hike's high point is around 1253 feet. The elevation change may seem minimal, but the featured hike is not easy. There are steep sections along Rocky Ridge and Kent Trails, and some short scrambles over fallen trees and rocks along Alpine Lake. Rocky Ridge is indeed well-named and the trail can leave your feet sore so wear sturdy boots. High temperatures exacerbate hiking difficulty here. There are easier and harder hikes originating from Bon Tempe. A map with topography (see maps below), is essential for hike planning.

Exposure:
A mixture of full sun and deep shade.

Trail traffic:
Moderate.

Trail surfaces:
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time:
3 hours.

Season:
Nice year round.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Marin County, exit San Anselmo/Sir Francis Drake. Drive west on Sir Francis Drake about 5 miles to the town of Fairfax. Turn left on Pastori, make the first right onto Broadway, and then turn left on Bolinas. Drive about 1.5 miles on (what is now signed as) Fairfax-Bolinas Road, then turn left onto Sky Oaks Road (signed to Lake Lagunitas). Once past the entrance kiosk, drive about 0.4 mile, and turn right (to Bon Tempe) at a signed junction onto a gravel road. Drive about 0.3 mile, then bear left (unsigned) to the trailhead (if you get to a second parking lot at the end of the road you've gone too far).

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/89

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3757'33.05"N
Longitude
12236'35.32"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, restaurants, and stores back in Fairfax. No camping in the immediate area.

Trailhead details:
$8 entrance fee (self-register if entrance kiosk is unattended). Gravel parking lot. Maps available (for a fee) at the kiosk when it is staffed. No drinking water. There's one portable toilet near the trail entrance. No designated handicapped parking. People in wheelchairs may be able to squeeze through the stile at the trail entrance, but trails are not wheelchair-friendly. There's a pay phone at the Lake Lagunitas Trailhead, at the end of Sky Oaks Road. There is no direct public transportation to this trailhead.

Rules:
Bicycles and horses permitted on a few trails (mostly fire roads). Most trails are open to hikers only. Dogs are permitted on the hike described below: they are allowed on leash on the water district trails but are not allowed on the adjacent state park trails.

The Official Story:
Sky Oaks Ranger Station: 415-945-1181.
MMWD recreation page

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Trail map from MMWD (pdf)
• Olmsted Brothers map, A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of Mount Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands is great (order this map from Amazon.com).
Mount Tam Trail Map, published by Tom Harrison Maps (order from Tom Harrison Maps). Comparable to the Olmsted map.
Hiking Marin, by Don and Kay Martin has good maps and area descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).
• The map and text in Barry Spitz's Tamalpais Trails (order this book from Amazon.com) are particularly useful when you're searching for obscure Tam trails, and it's a nice tandem to the Olmsted Brothers map.

Bon Tempe in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from the featured hike




Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page




Mount Tamalpais' northwestern flank provides a diverse hiking experience. TrailheadAlthough there are always plenty of fishermen by the lakes, and throngs of cyclists favor the wide fire roads, when you turn onto one of the smaller trails, you'll most likely leave the crowds behind. It's a different world of undermaintained trails that are often narrow and overgrown with tall, dense thickets of shrubs. Minor trails are unsigned. Huge Douglas fir and redwood trees block out the sky, fallen limbs and trunks sometimes obstruct the trails, and dead tanoak and madrone leaves obscure the paths. You might find yourself in dark quiet woods, miles from another soul, with no idea which direction you're heading, or even if you're on the correct trail. It's a little patch of lonely wilderness very close to civilization. However, trails like this are not for everyone. View of Alpine Lake from Rocky Ridge Fire RoadHikers with a poor sense of direction, or folks in a hurry should look elsewhere. Students of nature, or thwarted explorers and outdoor adventurers searching for a trek to fully engage all the senses may want to give this hike a try. I've found that there's nothing like the panic of being lost in the woods to quiet my busy mind.
      If you're not up for a day long expedition, the Bon Tempe trailhead offers short and easy hikes too. A 2 1/2 mile loop around Bon Tempe Lake is a good choice for beginners, with excellent wildlife and bird watching opportunities, and no real danger of getting lost. Hikers seeking challenging loops have a few options. Rocky Ridge Fire Road begins close to the trailhead, but you can also ascend on nearby Rock Spring-Lagunitas Fire Road. View east from Rocky RidgeLet your endurance level be your guide; climb as far as you want, and return to the trailhead on minor trails and/or fire roads. Bring plenty of water, particularly in warm weather. Trails get muddy in winter and early spring, when it's best to stick to the fire roads. Smaller trails are often blocked by fallen trees and prone to storm damage.
     Start the featured by walking uphill on the gated fire road departing from the Bon Tempe Trailhead. After about 40 feet, a road forks left, on the way to Bon Tempe Sunnyside. Stay right. The trail crosses the spillway, then crests at the dam. Walk across the flat dam, with Bon Tempe Lake on the left and Alpine Lake on the right. Both are man-made reservoirs which hold drinking water for Marin County residents. Rocky Ridge Fire RoadThere's a nice view of Tam's peaks across the water to the southeast. At 0.32 mile, you'll reach a junction. Bon Tempe Shadyside heads left around the lake. Turn right.
     A few steps later at 0.35 mile, under a canopy of valley oaks, Rocky Ridge Fire Road begins at a signed junction. Bear left.
      The broad multi-use trail starts to climb immediately. In mid-spring, the bright yellow flowers of false lupine nicely frame a view down to Alpine Lake. Madrone, California bay, coast live oak, and Douglas fir shade the trail. Rocky Ridge's harsh grades persists as the trail steps out into chaparral. The trail is lined with chamise, manzanita, toyon, ceanothus, shrubby oaks, and a spattering of Douglas fir. There are a few azaleas on the right. Stocking Trail The shrub, normally found in the damp woods, blossoms in spring. Nice views unfold to the north, west, and east. To the north, Pine Mountain blocks any long views at this relatively low elevation. Bolinas Ridge is visible to the west, and to the east you should be able to see Pilot Knob, the bay, and Mount Diablo. Thankfully, the trail levels out, and there are even a few short descents. Perhaps to compensate for this kinder, gentler grade, the trail becomes increasingly rocky. Douglas fir pull back to the edges of the ridge, leaving trailside vegetation dominated by shrubby plants preferring serpentine soil, such as yerba santa, chamise, ceanothus, and manzanita. The eastern segment of Stocking Trail feeds into Rocky Ridge Fire Road from the left at an unmarked junction at about 1.59 miles. Kent Trail This portion of Stocking appears on old maps, but a water district sign proclaims it closed. Just down a short hill the other section of Stocking Trail breaks off to the right at a signed junction at about 1.63 miles (Stocking Trail is marked on the south side of the post; the side facing the junction points the way to the continuation of Rocky Ridge Fire Road, to the left). If you'd like to extend your hike, you could continue on Rocky Ridge Fire Road to Rock Spring- Lagunitas Fire Road, climb another 500 feet to Lagoon Trail, then pick up Kent Trail and continue the featured hike. This will add about 2 miles to your day. Turn right onto Stocking Trail.
     Narrow Stocking Trail is signed as hiking-only. For a few steps the path remains out in the open, but Stocking Trail quickly is engulfed by tall shrubs of chamise, ceanothus, and toyon, as well as small Douglas fir. This stretch seems to have been carved out for woodland elves; even hikers under 6 feet will be ducking the branches that arch over the cramped trail. Kent Trail along Alpine LakeGradually woods overtake the chaparral, as Douglas fir and redwood are mixed through California bay and tanoak. Madrones are here too, and in early spring they contribute tiny aromatic white flowers to the trail litter. Stocking Trail crosses Van Wyck Creek on a bridge. A rough trail runs along the creek all the way to Alpine Lake, but it is not maintained or signed. Huckleberry shrubs are plentiful. Stocking keeps a mostly gentle downhill course, but there are a few very short ascents. Some giant redwoods loom in fairy circles along the trail, and old fallen giants still retain their majesty on the ground. Very large giant chain ferns thrive in this part of the woods. Stocking Trail skirts the shore of Hidden Lake, and then, at 2.03 miles, ends at a signed junction with Kent Trail. Turn right.
      Hiking-only Kent Trail initially descends at a moderate pace. Redwoods, tanoaks, and Douglas fir dominate, and there are few plants in the deeply-shaded understory. Dead leaves on the ground hide the trail in places. At the confluence of Van Wyck Creek and Alpine LakeLook for fallen tree limbs arranged as trail borders, for guidance. The sound of running water becomes louder as you near the East Fork of Swede George Creek. Kent Trail steps past the tiny body of water known as Foul Pool, and then runs along a surprisingly deep gorge formed by landslides and water flow. Although trees block good views, the creek is somewhat visible downhill to the left. You'll want to pay attention to the narrow trail as it barely clings to the side of the ravine. A metal pipe emerges from the ground, running parallel to the trail. This pipeline makes occasional appearances on the remaining miles of Kent Trail. Look for shrubby California nutmeg nestled among the Douglas fir and redwoods. Kent Trail turns away from the creek, and squeezes through a dense stand of huckleberry, manzanita, chinquapin, and Douglas fir. This sunny stretch is short-lived, for the trail soon returns to the forest. The grade steepens. You will probably see white and purple iris in spring. Suddenly, the blue sheen of Alpine Lake filters through the trees. Kent Trail meets Helen Markt Trail at a signed junction at 2.83 miles (a second spur joins Kent Trail a few steps later, and is marked by a sign affixed to a tree). Turn right, toward Bon Tempe Lake.Kent Trail and Alpine Lake
     This portion of Kent Trail is prone to storm damage. The water district has made improvements in the last few years, including bridges that eliminate scrambles across the two major creekbeds. Still, there are very short sections (a few feet at a time) that are steep, and fallen trees sometimes block the trail. Except for a few rerouted areas, the trail follows at a mostly level grade, very close to the lake. Redwoods and Douglas firs (including a few really large specimens) are common, with ferns, Indian warrior, and huckleberry in the understory. Look for coralroot in spring. You may hear or see fishermen, but most likely your only company will be the ducks floating along the lake. At the second bridge, Van Wyck Creek empties into Alpine Lake at a particularly scenic spot. This shaded location is a good place for a lunch break. Water spills downhill, over a few large boulders and cascades into the lake, practically begging a sweaty hiker to take a dip on a hot day (unfortunately, "water contact" is forbidden). Kent Trail continues, hugging the shoreline, but offers a break from the woods on a foray through rocky grassland. You might see clarkia, mariposa tulips, and false lupine in mid spring. Although the dam comes into view and seems a stone's throw away, the trail veers back into the woods one last time. At 4.19 miles, the path ends at a broad gravel road, and a signed junction. Bear right.Alpine-Bon Tempe Pump Fire Road
      In Tamalpais Trails, Barry Spitz refers to this stretch as Alpine-Bon Tempe Fire Road, but it's unnamed on the signpost. Douglas fir and coast live oak block Alpine Lake from view as the flat fire road winds back to the previously encountered junction with Rocky Ridge Fire Road at 4.68 miles. Bear left and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 5.05 miles
Last hiked: Friday, May 4, 2001