Now is the best time to hike Mount Tamalpais’ Cataract Falls – SFGATE
The burn in my legs is real.
No, really. I still feel it as I type this. My calves and quads, more specifically, but I think you get the unflattering picture. The Cataract Falls Trail in Mount Tamalpais State Park is a must for lovers of waterfalls (and who isn’t) and now is the time to be there.
As Bill Hader’s Stefon would say: “This place has everything.”
Marin County’s hottest club has surging waterfalls, green moss and lots of steep staircases. I once did this trail with my wife a couple years ago during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. To say that the trip was muddy, slippery and crowded would be an understatement.
Even with the extraordinary rains that just dumped on California, this most recent trip was only somewhat muddy, and the fact that I visited on a weekday morning helped with competing hikers. A weekend visit will absolutely be more crowded, so plan accordingly.
This level of water hasn’t been seen in the watershed since February 2019. “The early January storms certainly made the Mount Tam watershed a popular topic (in the media),” Adriane Mertens of the Marin Municipal Water District told SFGATE. “The falls are quite active, the creeks are replenished and all of our reservoirs are currently full and spilling.”
Getting there can be a bit challenging. Bolinas-Fairfax Road, one of the main thoroughfares to the popular north end of the trailhead, remains closed for assessment following the most recent round of heavy rains. Google Maps took me up Highway 1 to Pantoll Campground, then up Pantoll Road to Rock Spring. If you’re looking for a slightly longer hike, simply park at Pantoll Campground, walk across the Panoramic Highway and catch the Old Mine Trail to Rock Spring.
It’s dog friendly, too, provided your furry friends are on a leash.
If you opt to start at Rock Spring like I did, it’s an out-and-back 5.6-mile hike that runs along open meadows and a lazy Cataract Creek at the start, then turns downhill with almost 2 miles of gorgeous, pumping waterfalls before the turnaround at Alpine Lake.
“You are standing on the spine of the Mt. Tam Watershed,” a Marin Municipal Water District sign at the top of the trail explained. Rain that falls at Rock Spring goes either to the Pacific Ocean or drinking reservoirs and eventually to Tomales Bay, it added.
“I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” an exhausted hiker said as I passed by Laurel Dell Picnic Area, situated just before the drop into the canyon. She was part of a larger group that I encountered on my way down the Cataract Falls Trail. When I next saw them, the group of 10 was still resting atop the steep trail almost 90 minutes later. If you’re looking …….