Tennessee Valley,
Golden Gate National Recreation Area/Marin Headlands,
National Park Service,

Marin County
In brief:
3.5 mile Marin Headlands loop, with spectacular views from the surrounding Marin hills to San Francisco.

Distance, category, and difficulty
This 3.5 mile loop hike is easy, with about 800 feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is around 210 feet. The featured hike climbs to just over 1000 feet, then descends back to the trailhead. Grades are moderate with some steep sections.

Totally exposed.

Trail traffic

Trail surfaces
Dirt fire roads and one trail.

Hiking time

2 hours.

Good anytime.

Getting there
From US 101 in Marin County, take the CA 1/Shoreline Highway exit. After about 0.5 mile, turn left onto Tennessee Valley Road. Go about 1.5 miles to the parking lot at the end of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 37°51'37.69"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, and restaurants back near US 101 in Marin City. There are a few camping options in the Headlands, including small camps at Kirby Cove and Bicentennial.

Trailhead details:
Ample parking (still gets full on weekends). No entrance or parking fees. There's a map under glass at the information signboard near the start of the Tennessee Valley Trail. Pay phone and pit toilets available. There are designated handicapped parking spots, and one trail is wheelchair accessible. No drinking water. Gas, restaurants, and stores in Tam Junction, about 2 miles east along Shoreline. The Buckeye Roadhouse, adjacent to the 101 southbound entrance ramp, is a good, convenient after hike food stop if you're headed back into San Francisco. There is no direct public transportation to this trailhead, but Golden Gate Transit bus lines 3 and 4 stop on nearby Shoreline Highway. From the bus stop it's almost 2 miles to the trailhead.

Most trails are multi-use. Some are open to hikers and equestrians only. Dogs are permitted on some Headlands trails (they are not allowed on every trail on the hike featured on this page); ask the staff at the Visitor Center for current information, or check the Headlands map on the link below.

The Official Story:
NPS's GGNRA page.
Marin Headlands Visitor Center 415-331-1540

Map/book choices:
Map from NPS (download Marin Headlands map).
Southern Marin Trail Map by Tom Harrison Maps. (order this map from Amazon.com) is a great guide.
A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of Mt. Tamalpais and the Marin Headlands, by the Olmsted & Bros. Map Co. (order this map from Amazon.com) is my old favorite.
Hiking Marin, by Don and Kay Marin, features a good map and brief park description (order this book from Amazon.com).
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order this book from Amazon.com), has a decent map and descriptions of the Ridge Trail segment though the Headlands.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Tennessee Valley is the Headland's most popular trailhead. trailheadOne time I arrived at the parking lot around 10 am on a weekday, and did a mental double take; there were so many cars already there I thought maybe I'd missed a day or two and it was the weekend! There is a lot of activity here; great mountain biking on the fire roads, horses on most trails, group camping, dogwalking, and hiking. Because of the stables located on site, you'll probably see lots of equestrian. A few trails are designated hiking only, but you'll be sharing the trails a good bit.
        Tennessee Valley Trail curves along the valley floor to the ocean. It's an easy 4 mile out-and-back hike, and a great place to head for a picnic with friends. For more serious hiking, head uphill on one of the trails starting near the parking area. Marincello Fire RoadMiwok Trail (north) switchbacks up through eucalyptus trees to the ridge line and then meets up with Coyote Ridge Trail. Turn south on Fox Trail and then left at Tennessee Valley Trail for a nice 4 mile loop, with sweeping views of the ocean and Mount Tam.
        The trails at the western edge of Tennessee Valley Trail are the steepest. Coastal Trail (both north and south) is steep and rocky, but allows varied loop possibilities, and is quieter than the other ascending trails. If you go for Coastal Trail, you might consider a trekking poll during dry months.
     Begin at gated and signed Marincello Fire Road. The wide multi-use trail ascends, initially through shrubby grassland dotted with Monterey pine. Some tree trunks are coated with trentepohlia, an orange algae. Gradually, eucalyptus join the party, but they fade away with the other trees as Marincello Fire Road climbs into coastal scrub. Miwok TrailSome broom plants thrive on the right side of the trail, mixed through coyote brush, huckleberry, hazelnut, and some salal. If it's not foggy there are sweeping views east past Oakwood Valley to the bay. On my last hike all views were fogged in and I enjoyed the hush that fog brings to these hills. At 1.4 miles, Marincello Fire Road ends at a junction and the ridgeline. Turn right.
     Miwok Trail climbs just off the ridgeline, through an area with more rocks and dirt than plants. Stay to the right on Miwok Trail as two unmarked fire roads continue straight to a gate and an FAA antenna. Miwok angles across the upper reaches of the hill, featuring pretty views south to the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, and north to Tam. Old Springs TrailAn unmarked spur trail continues straight uphill as Miwok curves downhill. Remain on Miwok as it descends sharply. GGNRA installed water bars (AKA those clumps of dirt that would make awesome speed bumps) in 1999 on this section of trail, which is signed as closed to bicycles. Coyote brush dots the grassland, where you might see sunflowers and paintbrush in spring. There are also a few huckleberry shrubs and some shrubby oaks. At 2.3 miles, Miwok meets Old Springs Trail at a signed junction. Turn right.
        The multi-use trail heads down to the valley floor. Take care to look behind you frequently, as cyclists can zip down the hill pretty fast on this narrow path. There are numerous wooden bridges across springs and seeps, where almost any time of year there is something lush and green and/or blooming or fruiting. Old Springs TrailLook for lupines, checker-bloom, blue-eyed grass, California poppy, and California buttercup in spring. Water from a horse watering trough on the side of the trail hosts a show of common monkeyflower and watercress in spring and summer. It is very common to see deer munching on the sides of the trail. You might also see cottontails, jackrabbits, quail, and snakes. The trail passes a rocky outcrop, a good place to sit and enjoy the views of Mount Tam, the ocean, and Tennessee Valley. As you descend you'll see some old growth blackberry bushes, flanked by fennel, lizardtail, snowberry, sagebrush, and sticky monkeyflower. Old Springs Trail takes a sharp turn left and then descends through horse stables. Follow the gravel road to the north (left), past the junction with Marincello Trail back to the parking lot.

Total distance : 3.5 miles
Last hiked:  August 6, 2013