1.2 mile loop hike at the top of Mount Tamalpais, with some steep sections
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 1.2 mile loop hike is easy. Trailhead elevation is about 2400
feet, and Plankwalk Trail reaches Tam's highest point, 2571 feet. Plankwalk
is somewhat steep, narrow, and very rocky. Verna Dunshee is very easy and
almost flat, although the trail is not well-suited to wheelchairs, as it
has no bumpers.
Dirt trail and one paved trail.
Less than 1 hour.
Nice all year, although hot (or foggy) in summer.
From US 101 in Marin County, exit CA 1/Mill Valley/Stinson Beach and drive
on Shoreline Highway to the junction with Almonte, about 1 mile. Turn
left, remaining on Shoreline, and drive on Shoreline about 2.5 miles to
the junction with Panoramic Highway. Turn right on Panoramic and drive
about 1 mile to the junction with Muir Woods Road; stay straight on Panoramic
(right lane). Continue about 4.5 miles to the junction with Pantoll Road. Turn
right onto Pantoll, and drive about 1.5 miles to the junction with Ridgecrest.
Bear right and drive the remaining 3 miles to the trailhead at the end of
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
The nearest gas station is about 12 miles back at Tam Junction. Restaurants
and stores in Tam Junction or Stinson Beach, which is a few miles west of
the Pantoll/Panoramic junction on CA 1. There is a walk-in campground
Large paved parking lot. $8 day use fee (self register). There are several
designated handicapped parking spots, and Verna Dunshee Trail is wheelchair
(and stroller) friendly. Facilities include wheelchair-accessible restrooms,
pay phone, drinking water, snack bar (seasonal), and small visitor center
(open weekends). There's a map under glass, but unless the visitor center
is open, there are none to take with you. On the way to the trailhead, you
can stop at Pantoll Ranger Station (at the junction of Panoramic and Pantoll)
for a map. There is no direct public transportation to this trailhead; on
weekends and major holidays cyclists can take Golden Gate Transit bus #63
to the junction of Pantoll and Panoramic, then ride uphill to the trailhead:
visit the Transit
Info website for more details.
Park is generally open from 7 a.m. to sunset, when the gate at the Pantoll/Panoramic
junction is locked. During high fire danger, access to the summit is restricted
24 hours a day. Bikes are not permitted on the two main paths at the trailhead
(Plankwalk and Verna Dunshee), but cyclists can ride many other trails that
depart a short distance from the parking lot. Half of East Peak is owned
by Marin Municipal Water District, and the other section is State Park land,
so the rules regarding dogs are a bit confusing. Dogs are not permitted
on Verna Dunshee Trail, but in the adjacent MMWD lands, dogs are allowed,
on leash only. To be honest, if you're just visiting the summit to hike
Plankwalk Trail, this isn't a great place for dogs, as the trail is narrow,
usually crowded, and very rocky.
The Official Story:
Mount Tam page.
Pantoll Ranger Station 415-388-2070
map from MMWD (pdf)
Download the park
map pdf from CSP's website.
Barry Spitz's Tamalpais Trails (order
this book from Amazon.com), a book with a pullout map of Tam, is a great
Olmsted Brothers' map, A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of Mt.
Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands (order
this map from Amazon.com) is useful.
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 (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and trail descriptions.
The official State Park map is available (for a fee) at the Pantoll
View photos from this hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
two short trails on Mount Tamalpais's East Peak may
be the best spot to orientate bay area visitors and new residents. It's
also a superb destination from which to plan days and days of Marin County
hikes. With views of the entire bay area, and all of the Tam parklands
literally at your feet, simply bring a detailed guide, park yourself on
a bench at a viewpoint, and match up the visible trails with the routes
on the map.
Most people reach East Peak by car, make
the brief hike to the summit and leave. The parking lot is not known as
a trailhead, although several trails either begin right off the lot or
nearby, and there are opportunities for a handful of vigorous loops or
shorter-out-and-back jaunts. Taking Verna Dunshee Trail's circuit around
the summit as inspiration, you can skirt East Peak
on a combination of fire roads and tiny trails. String together Eldridge
Grade, Wheeler Trail, Hoo-Koo-E-Koo, and Old Railroad Grade for a 7 mile
challenge. A handful of other minor trails permit a curious hiker to thoroughly
explore the secrets of the East Peak slopes. Check out Barry Spitz's Tamalpais
Trails for detailed descriptions, or plan an excursion with the help
of the Olmsted Brothers' map.
Summer, Tam's busiest tourist season, is
also the time when views are most likely obstructed by smog. Visit on
an early winter morning when conditions are crystal clear, and you'll
be amazed by the vistas. Substantial snowfall closes the road to East
Peak, but you can hike uphill from lower elevations, and then gaze
at the snow-topped peaks to the north, east, and south. If you plan on
hiking further than the short trip to the summit, note that there is little
shade on East Peak's trails, although there is often a breeze. With few
maples and deciduous oaks there is virtually no autumn color, but the
weather is predictable this time of year. East Peak's hillsides are draped
with chaparral, and from late winter through spring you'll likely see
blossoms on a succession of shrubs, from manzanita and huckleberry to
chaparral pea and chamise, with golden fleece generally the last to bloom.
You can walk either Verna Dunshee or Plankwalk,
but both trails are short, so if you have the time, consider combining
both for an easy, but scenic 1.2 mile jaunt. Start in front of the
restrooms and look to the right for the signed start of Verna Dunshee
Trail. No bikes are permitted on the paved trail, which straight off features a switchback for wheelchair
users (you can shortcut the switchback on a set of stairs). Views south
are immediately stunning, and on clear day you'll be able to see downtown
San Francisco, the surf of Ocean Beach, and Montara Mountain. The level
trail is lined with an eclectic blend of plants: initially pine and Douglas
fir, but after a few steps chamise, coyote brush, poison oak, California
bay, shrubby oaks, and manzanita take over. In spring, look for blossoms
on pitcher sage, monkeyflower, and chaparral pea. Some massive boulders
jut up from the chaparral, and the trail even ducks under an overhanging
rock at one point. A small cluster of tanoaks provides a few steps of
shade. At 0.27 mile, Temelpa Trail departs to the right from a signed
junction. Continue straight.
Views shift to include Mount Diablo, the
east bay hills, and the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Chamise and manzanita
dominate the landscape, but you might also see chinquapin and toyon. Verna Dunshee
Trail curves to the left, following the contour of the hillside. Consider
perching for a few minutes on one of the occasional benches, where you
can soak up the views of the entire northern Tamalpais watershed. Lake
Lagunitas and Bon Tempe Lake are easy to pick out, as is Pine Mountain,
Bald Hill, and Pilot Knob. Veteran Marin County hikers should be able
to identify Big Rock Ridge, Mount Burdell, and Loma Alta as well. Clear
days permit views west to Point Reyes, and northeast to Mount St. Helena.
Coffeeberry, madrone, and golden fleece are common on the right side of
the trail. As you walk back toward the snack bar and the end of the trail,
check out the segment of railroad tracks on the left, a reminder that
trains used to run from Mill Valley all the way to the summit. When you
close the loop at the end of Verna Dunshee Trail at 0.62 mile, either
bear right back to the
parking lot, or turn left and head uphill on Plankwalk Trail.
At first, the hiking-only trail climbs
on a graded boardwalk, passing some shrubby oaks, madrone, manzanita,
golden fleece, chamise, yerba santa, monkeyflower, lupine, chinquapin,
and ceanothus. Before long, steps take over, and then too abandon the
climb, and leaving you to ascend on a very rocky narrow path. Although
it's hard to turn your attention from the unobstructed views north, watch
where you step, lest you turn an ankle. As Plankwalk curves right, look
on both sides of the trail for huckleberry shrubs, which produce edible
berries in late summer and early autumn. Birds and small mammals love
the tiny purple berries. Two switchbacks keep the grade manageable. The
rocks on the trail seem to loom even larger as you ascend, there is one
brief section where you must scramble up a few boulders. Shortly after,
you'll reach the summit and fire lookout, at 0.89 mile. There are a few
rough paths and boulders to explore, or you might just choose to lose
yourself in the view. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to
Total distance: 1.16 miles (or 0.54 mile for just
Plankwalk/0.62 mile for just Verna Dunshee)
Last hiked: Wednesday, September 27, 2001