East Peak Trailhead, Mount Tamalpais State Park,
California State Parks,
Marin County
In brief:
1.2 mile loop hike at the top of Mount Tamalpais, with some steep sections of trail.

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.

Exposure
:
Mostly exposed.

Trail traffic
:
Heavy.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt trail and one paved trail.

Hiking time
:
Less than 1 hour.

Season
:
Nice all year, although hot (or foggy) in summer.

Getting there
:
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 East Ridgecrest.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/408

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3755'38.37"N
Longitude
12234'48.18"W
(* 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 at Pantoll.

Trailhead details:
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.

Rules:
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:
CSP's Mount Tam page.
Pantoll Ranger Station 415-388-2070

Map Choices:
Trail 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 guide.
• 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 ranger station.

View photos from this hike.



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The two short trails on Mount Tamalpais's East Peak may be the best spot to orientate bay area visitors and new residents.East Peak parking lot  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. Verna Dunshee TrailA 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. View north from Verna Dunshee TrailWith 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. Steps on Plankwalk TrailThe 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. Plankwalk Trail 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. View from the summit 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 the trailhead.

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