Devil's Gulch Trailhead, Samuel P. Taylor State Park,
California State Parks,

Marin County
In brief:
4 mile out and back past the old pear orchard at Samuel P. Taylor State Park.

Distance, category, and difficulty
:
This 4 mile out and back hike is easy, with about 150 feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is about 110 feet, and the park's highest elevation is nearly 1500 feet, so there's plenty of opportunity for more difficult hikes.

Exposure:
Mostly shaded.

Trail traffic
:
Light.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt fire roads.

Hiking time
:
1 1/2 hours.

Season
:
Nice all year.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Marin County, exit San Anselmo/Sir Francis Drake and drive west on Sir Francis Drake about 15 miles to Samuel P. Taylor State Park. The main entrance is on the left side of the road. For this featured hike, continue 1 mile further west on Sir Francis Drake to the roadside parking area across from the signed Devil's Gulch Horse Camp entrance.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/432

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 38 1'46.96"N
Longitude
12244'12.40"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phones, restaurants, and stores about 5 miles northwest, in Point Reyes Station, or about 10 miles southeast, in Fairfax. The park has good individual campsites.

Trailhead details:
Parking for about 15 cars. No entrance or parking fees (entrance fee charged when parking inside the park). No maps available. Pit toilets located about 0.3 mile inside the park, at the horse camp. There is no designated handicapped parking, and this is not a wheelchair friendly trailhead. Golden Gate Transit bus #65 services the park (weekends and major holidays only) from the bus station in San Rafael: visit the Transit Info website for details.

Rules:
About half the trails are multi-use. Some trails are designated hiking only. Dogs are only permitted in the developed parts of the park (campground and picnic areas) as well as on paved park roads and on the dirt "bike path" from the Redwood grove picnic area east to Shafter bridge, and always must be on leash.

The Official Story:
CSP's Samuel P. Taylor page.
Park office 415-488-9897

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
• Download the park map pdf from CSP's website.
• Point Reyes by Jessica Lage (order this book from Amazon.com) has a good map and descriptions of trails at Samuel P. Taylor.
Trail Map of Point Reyes National Seashore, by Tom Harrison (order from Amazon.com) also shows the trails of Samuel P. Taylor.
• Don and Kay Martin's Hiking Marin has a good map and park description (order this book from Amazon.com).
North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub, has a detailed, but partial map, and park descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).




Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page


Out-and-back hikes fail to make top ten lists for most hikers. Photo of the trailhead on Sir Francis DrakePerhaps it's the desire for newness that a turn-around jaunt denies; after the half-way point, you feel bored, like you always know what is around the corner, or what the next stretch of trail portends. I sometimes grumble to myself as I hike down a steep slope, thinking, I'll be hiking back up this stupid hill in a little while, so what's the point? I suppose in a perfect world, or in heaven if it exists, all trails would connect in perfect loops. This doesn't mean we should discount out-and-back hikes like this featured hike. For one thing, I'm always surprised at how different everything looks when I am walking in the opposite direction. And after I've navigated the initial stretch, the return leg can be spent daydreaming (more than normal) or thinking; my legs go on autopilot. All-in-all, I'm resolving to give out-and-back hikes, like one at Samuel P. Taylor State Park, more respect.Photo of a pear tree
        Samuel P.Taylor State Park was created in 1946. Papermill Creek runs through the park, along Sir Francis Drake, and in the winter after storms, you may see silver salmon and steelhead trout returning upstream to spawn in the pools of the creek. From the main entrance you can take a self-guided nature tour through some of the historical features of the park, including the grave of Samuel P. Taylor and the remains of the redwoods cut down to build the papermill which stood on the banks of the creek. Barnabe Peak (named after Taylor's mule!), at 1,496 feet, is the highest point in the park. You can hike a nearly six mile loop from the main entrance to Barnabe Peak by combining the Bike Path, Riding and Hiking Trail, Ridge Trail, Barnabe Trail, Riding and Hiking Trail, and back on the Bike Path. Photo of Devil's Gulch TrailIf you plan on using the main entrance of the park as a trailhead, keep in mind that it is not always staffed, but admission fees are always charged (through self registration). Bring exact change, or try parking on the side of the road just to the east of the entrance. Other hikes can originate from the roadside parking pull outs which are sporadically sprinkled along Sir Francis Drake from the signed entrance to the park (about 2 miles east of the main entrance, near a bridge) to Platform Bridge Road. Consult the recommended map or Don and Kay Martin's Hiking Marin book for more ideas.
        For this featured hike, carefully cross Sir Francis Drake and walk down the paved fire road next to the sign for Devils' Gulch Horse Camp. (By the way, don't let the Devil's Gulch name scare you. For years, every time I passed this sign, I envisioned a harsh, steep climb through dry, hellish terrain. After all, they got Mount Diablo's name right. Instead, Devil's Gulch is a gentle, relaxing saunter through grasslands and alongside a peaceful creek. I would love to know the origin of the name.) In the summer, and on weekends, expect a lot of horse traffic. In the winter when the weather is chilly, you may have the trails to yourself, especially on weekday mornings. Photo of a meadow punctuated with pear treesThe paved fire road follows a stream which feeds into Papermill Creek. A small trail sets out from the right side of the road at about 0.1 mile. Stay on the road. 
      At first it seems this will be a hike under cover of trees, but after 0.2 mile, the trees thin and the trail enters grassland. Deer Point Fire Road begins at a gate on the left side of the trail and climbs through the grassy slopes to almost 700 feet in about 0.5 mile. Continue on the road, or stop here on the right side of the trail to use the pit toilets, if need be. Just past this area with the toilets and picnic benches, a gate marks the transition from paved road to dirt trail. Here it is safe to begin calling this Devil's Gulch Trail. You'll pass another bunch of picnic tables and horse camps. On the right side of the trail signed Riding and Hiking Trail sets out to the south. Continue on Devil's Gulch Trail, which crosses several seeps flowing downhill to meet the creek. These damp spots are marked by willows. Coyote brush stands out in clumps along the edges of the dirt road. Photo of Devil's Gulch Trail
        With creek and woods to the right, and grassy slopes to the left, the trail climbs a bit and crosses through a field with a few rickety-looking fruit trees, including a pear tree which still bears fruit in the fall. Although you are less than 1 mile from the road, the silence along the trail may be broken only by the chiding call of a blue jay or the shriek of a hawk circling above. The tree on the left side, closest to the trail, is a nice place to sit and contemplate the quiet. You can walk through the field to check out the other trees, but the ground surface is bumpy and irregular, so be careful not to twist an ankle, and then remember to check yourself for ticks afterward. At the edge of this meadow an unsigned small trail cuts through the brush to the right. Stay on Devil's Gulch Trail. Just past this junction Devil's Gulch Trail narrows as it ducks beneath California bay and oak trees. In the understory you may see elderberry, poison oak, and honeysuckle. Deep ravines crease the hillside on the left side of the trail, as the creek continues to burble on the right.Photo of the end of the hike, at the obvious, but closed off junction
        Devil's Gulch Trail climbs almost without your notice, winding through the trees. In autumn, fallen bay berries crunch underfoot, and patches of fern sit bleached by the sun on the north slopes of the hill. A few redwoods stand tall among the oak and California bays. Many small streams cross the trail on their journeys to the creek. At about 1.7 miles, a gate marks the edge of the state park land. You can turn around here, or walk a bit further through GGNRA property. If you decide to venture forth, duck down the path to the right and go through the gate. The trail seemed unmaintained and gets rutted and very muddy in the winter (cows graze here). After crossing through a meadow, Devil's Gulch Trail returns to the woods and meanders a bit more until you reach a small, flat open area at about 2 miles. An obvious trail (it appears on Tom Harrison's map as a fire road) to the right is closed off by a fence (see last photo). This is as good of a place to turn around as any. The trail enters private property about 0.3 miles ahead. Retrace your steps back to the parking area.

Total distance: about 4 easy miles
Last hiked:  Monday, November 3, 1999