Mount Tamalpais has the best hiking options in the North Bay hands down! Literally the entire mountain is covered in trails through 6,300 acres that take you from the sea to peak and all the way around. We have been on most of Mount Tam’s trails and still feel like there is so much more to discover. We opted to hike from Pantoll Campground down into Muir Woods and back up this time and were completely floored how gorgeous the lower part of Bootjack trail is!
Pantoll to Dipsea to Ben Johnson
Setting our alarm for a somewhat early Saturday to wake up to make it to the Pantoll parking lot located about halfway up Mount Tam before it filled up was definitely difficult to do after a late Friday night out but it was oh so worth it! We reached the parking lot with a few spots to spare and found our trailhead. Well, sort of. If you were to look closely at our AllTrails map you would see the recording of us wandering around the Pantoll campground trying to find the TCC trail that would lead us to the Dipsea trail. 🙂 Hint, go straight up from the bathrooms at the parking lot and drop down on the other side and you will find the trail to your right!
We picked this hike for the shade and the views from the trail and we loved every step of it! Leaving the hustle and bustle of the full Pantoll campground on the TCC trail we gently hiked downhill with bays arching over the trail and a lush forest floor below.
Once we hit Dipsea, the trail widened but was still a nice gentle grade downhill. We started running into more and more people along here. Dipsea is a main trail that most people take from Muir Woods up to Coastal Trail and beyond. A few people asked for directions and we always try to give them the best trail advice and show them the maps as well as ask how much water they are carrying with them. It is a big mountain with a ton of trails and one can easily get lost. Since it is so close to the city Mount Tam receives a lot of out of town visitors wanting to enjoy her beauty but maybe not realizing how expansive she really is.
Hiking the Dipsea trail was short-lived and we dropped down onto Ben Johnson trail which became a lot steeper and a lot more crowded! Dropping down into Muir woods from above sort of feels like a secret entrance into a magical place. The forest turned from lanky bays to strong redwoods as we descended the trail and the feeling of tranquility set in. The air became cooler as we got closer to redwood creek and more and more people were on the trails in complete awe of these gorgeous giants.
Muir Woods National Monument
We feel so fortunate to have so much protected land so close to us. Did you know Muir Woods became a national monument in 1908? Thanks to William Kent for purchasing land and handing over part of it to the federal government for protection. Amazing to have the forethought to do this and keep one of the last groves of old-growth forest that was spared from logging in the bay area.
Trails through Muir Woods National Monument are wide, well-maintained and a treasure to walk on! The water was flowing through Redwood Creek as we hiked Hillside trail that followed the curves of the creek. The sound of the water mixed with the incredibly fresh air…lovely! On Hillside trail you are above the trails on the ground floor of Muir Woods which gives you great views of the entire forest. We dropped down near the visitor center and took a moment to pause and enjoy the flushing toilets and grab some stickers from the gift shop. Having a quick break before heading back uphill was such a good idea! It was a bit crowded there but definitely worth the stop.
From the visitor center, we took Fern Creek trail into the forest and along the boardwalk. It’s hard to not look up while in the presence of redwoods. They are just so tall! Fern Creek meanders along the creek for a while and is a nice wide trail to allow for everyone to easily walk along. Eager to leave the crowds, we quickly found Bootjack trail and started our climb back up to Pantoll.
Once we took Bootjack trail we left the crowds behind and were able to enjoy the sound of water falling over boulders and under downed trees just the two of us. Muir Woods seems more groomed while the rest of Mount Tam is more natural and rugged. We like both but definitely lean toward the natural and rugged a little more!
We have been on the upper portion of Bootjack trail that leads you up to the mountain theater on Mount Tam but this lower portion really blew our minds! The steeper 15-30% grade didn’t bother us too much because we had plenty of opportunities to pause and enjoy the beauty around us…pretty much all to ourselves. We didn’t see many people on the trail at all so we could take out time and soak it all in.
The trail signage on Mount Tam is usually pretty good and most of the trail was marked perfectly for us but there were a couple of spots where it looks like some have created unofficial trails that sort of through you off. Or it’s just the deer creating these trails to mess with us humans. 🙂 You cross Redwood creek a couple of times. Enjoy the bridges! Seriously, having the sounds of water flowing makes any hiking so much better! Your booty may be feeling the climb up but your mind will be totally calm!
Once we saw the Troop 80 Spur trail we knew we were getting close to the top and our legs started moving a little more quickly. The trail also leveled off to a slight incline so that helped too!
There were moments when we thought Bootjack trail would kick our booties but we made it and it was a beautiful hike! We haven’t had sweat pouring off of us like that in a while, good-bye any toxins that may have been in our bodies!
Looking for other trails on Mount Tam? Check out our Stroll Through Muir Woods, or our hike on the backside around Lake Lagunitas, or one of our favorite sides of Mount Tam with views of the ocean along Willow Camp Fire Road, or are you waiting to go when it is cooler weather? Phoenix Lake has beautiful fall colors!
Pantoll is $8 per day, flushing toilets at the Pantoll parking lot, and Muir Woods visitor center, no dogs on most of the trails due to the forest and wildlife. We were in shade the majority of the hike. Moderate to hard hike, 7.4 miles with 1,588 elevation gain/loss.
Things We Love
The hubs has been loving his Marmot Conveyor short sleeve tee. It’s also great because I can find him in the green of the forest with the stand out red color! The fabric is soft, UPF30, quick-dry, and moisture-wicking. Perfect for this hike when it got warm on our way back up the trail! We both love our Marmot gear (not sponsored)! The quality, fit, and colors are great for us and very versatile. Click below to check it out on Amazon and see if they have a favorite color for you!
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