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It’s my favorite time of the year for hiking…waterfall season, so Closet Granola and I decided to go chase waterfalls in Marin a couple weekends ago. Although lesser known than the ever-popular Alamere Falls in Point Reyes, the Cataract Falls trail is much closer and easier to get to from the city AND it boasts views of the waterfall for pretty much the entire hike, so it has an excellent cost-benefit ratio Alamere Falls, however, has the advantage of ocean views. Tough call.

This hike starts off flat near the lake, but rather quickly we came to the bottom of the falls. For the next 1.5 miles or so, the trail follows the waterfall straight up almost 1100 feet. There are a lot of stairs to help out, but the narrow trail isn’t too difficult for beginners, and nowhere as difficult as the Matt Davis trail. The trail is also dog-friendly, but the narrow trail doesn’t lend itself well to a pack of dogs and we didn’t happen upon any pampered pooches.

The beautiful trail was lush and very green, but had few wildflowers. The waterfall was set against a background of green and we found many places to stop and have our picnic. Every step of the hike, there’s a different view of the falls, ones with massive drops and ones with smaller ones. I absolutely fell in love with the Cataract Falls and this hike just shot up to top 3 on my list.

At the top of the falls, most people turn back, but we continued on to Laurel Dell and then kept going until we got to Bolinas Ridge. We crossed the street and climbed up the ridge. At the top we could see back to San Francisco and Oakland.

On the outbound part of the hike, we took very few pictures because we thought we would do this on the way back. But on the way back, the sun started to set and we were nowhere near out of there. So we started trail running, and since we had hiked all the way up, this meant we were trail running straight down. After a few minutes of “hoofing it” as Closet Granola so kindly put it, I rolled on my left foot and twisted my ankle. Ouch!

Well, it was a lot harder to get out on a very painful ankle and it was way after sunset by the time we did. We swore we would be back one day to take more photos. In the meantime, you all should get out there before those falls dry up.

Bonus: The drive out to this hike literally goes past “our restaurant”, Cafe Sorella in Fairfax. A delicious pasta dinner is mandatory after this hike, even if you’re in pain from a twisted ankle.

Overall Rating: Trailblazers

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

Coastline

Coastline

The weather this weekend was just glorious…one of those days where you’re so happy to be living in California and not somewhere in the Northeast. Notice how quickly we attribute 80 degree weather in San Francisco in the middle of November to living in California rather than global warming. Even the hippies can’t complain when the weather is this spectacular.

To take advantage of this unprecedented state of affairs on our one and only hike in the month of November, Closet Granola surprised me by suggesting a hike in Point Reyes. Normally, I am arguing for a Point Reyes hike and he is adamantly opposed, but even he believes that the weather will be nice up there. And it is!

Bear Valley Trail

Bear Valley Trail

I’ve been bugging him to go on this trail since April, but he’s always found an excuse to go somewhere else. The Bear Valley to Arch Rock Trail is also a bike-and-hike, but we weren’t certain if my cheap commuter bike with its thin road tires could handle the trail. After hiking the entire trail, we’ve decided it would have been fine. A mountain bike would be better, but my little bike could have made it.

With bikers and hikers and strollers, the trail can get very crowded. And since this is a really easy hike with only 300 feet in elevation gain, it doesn’t scare off the weaklings (like myself). This may have been the most crowded hike I’ve been on. Luckily, the trail is very wide for passing people as well as engaging your significant other in forced conversations regarding where the relationship is going. You may be in the great outdoors, Closet Granola, but there’s nowhere to run! <<insert evil laugh>>

Meadow

Meadow

But I digress…on the trail, we passed a meadow along the way, where we stopped to eat a little snack. We wanted to save the true picnic for when we reached our destination, Arch Rock. Incidentally, there are those dreaded toilets available if you need to make a little stop, but beware the horrendous odor. You’ve been warned.

The first leg of the hike is about 3.5 miles of a mostly shaded, sometimes muddy, but very well-kept trail. At the end of the bike trail, there’s a bike rack for parking your bike (so bring your lock if you plan to make this a bike-and-hike). After that, it’s less than a mile to the destination.

Coastal views

Coastal views

Arch Rock juts out into the ocean providing beautiful views of the coastline up and down from where we were. There are a few other rocks out at sea that make the views even more picturesque. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people also picnicking, but I’m pretty sure we had the best spread - bread, smoked salmon, four types of cheese, and turkey pepperoni. The scenery makes up for the lack of privacy.

At around 3:30, we decided to call it a day. Closet Granola was not going to be tricked into a night hike like Eagle Lake, so we packed up and headed back the way we came. A little over 9 miles total and four hours including picnic time, we were ready to head back to our city life.

Arch Rock

Arch Rock

On our way back to the city, we stopped for dinner at Guaymas in Tiburon.  We drank margaritas, snacked on tortillas and salsa, ate chile poblano and arroz con mariscos on the outdoor deck with a to-die-for view of the San Francisco skyline. It was the absolutely perfect ending to the perfect day.

Overall Rating: Heels for difficulty, flip-flops for length

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

Tip #1: A city girl’s necessity equals a hiking diva’s luxury. I’ve learned to dread hikes where the guidebooks mention pit toilets at the trailhead. Luckily, the restrooms at Bear Valley are not only clean with functional toilets and running water, but the hand dryers are Xcelerator. Nice touch! (or actually no touch!)

Tip #2: For more serious hikers, bike out to the end of the Bear Valley Trail and hike some of the more strenuous trails rather than sitting on your butt at Arch Rock like we did. When I’m back in shape, we might have to try that.

Women are better planners. Not all of them are better planners, but overall, we just kick men’s butts at planning. And that is why I’m letting you in on a little secret now regarding a hike I haven’t even been on yet.

Baby Elephant Seal by Chris Pearson

Baby Elephant Seal by Chris Pearson

I plan on going on the Ano Nuevo hike to see the baby elephant seals in late January or early Feburary. According to the California State Parks site, Northern Elephant Seals come ashore to mate and give birth from December to March. Although you can’t time it exactly, it sounds as if the best times to see the cute cuddly little babies are January and February. These tours are led by docents and must be reserved ahead of time. There are some first-come first-serve tickets, but you don’t want to drive all the way down there only to get turned away.

So take some initiative and plan for this hike if you want to see the cuddly little baby seals. The cost is $7 per person and you can book online 8 weeks in advance. Book your tickets now and look for my review of the hike in a couple months.

The View

The View

Most weekends we’ll flee the city in search of better weather and greener pastures, but when the weather is finally warm in San Francisco (usually September or October), the best we can manage is a quickie in Marin to satisfy the outdoors bug before heading back and drinking sangria at an outdoor cafe.

The warm weather and lack of fog in San Francisco made it an ideal day for otherwise windy and chilly Marin Headlands. We drove out to Rodeo Beach and had a long lazy picnic with sandwiches and wine. The beach was not overly crowded and we hung out for a while chatting and digging holes in the sand.

Stairs

Stairs

We took the Coastal Trail up to Hill 88. This was by far the most scenic part of the hike and also the most challenging. It’s basically a climb from sea level to the top of the cliff, with views of the beach, the coast and ocean, and the San Francisco skyline including Twin Peaks. We could see the fog start to roll in around Coit Tower. It’s definitely better to watch it roll in than to feel it roll in.

Hill 88

Hill 88

At the top of the ridge, we passed the junction with the Wolf Ridge Trail and continued to the top to see Hill 88. It’s easy to forget that this area used to be a military site, but along the trails, you’ll see some stark reminders. At the top of the hill, we took a break at the former radar station with its eerie abandoned buildings with graffiti.

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

We then turned around and walked back to the junction with Wolf Ridge Trail. This trail then meets up with the Miwok Trail. These trails go around the backside of the ridge and is less scenic. We also came across a snake, but at least this time it was slithering away from me, not towards me (like in the Alamere Falls hike). The Miwok trail took us around the Rodeo Lagoon and back to the parking lot.

If I were to do this hike again, I would probably turn around at the top of Hill 88 and do an out-and-back hike just on the Coastal Trail. The rest of the hike wasn’t scenic enough for me.

Overall Rating: Flip-flops

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

Shirley Lake

Shirley Lake

It’s always interesting to see what someone or something looks like without all the adornment - the fancy clothes, the makeup, the accessories, or in this case, snow. The naked Squaw Valley looks very different and less magical than the winter version with its beautiful white coat. Although, to be fair, Squaw looked a lot better than the other ski resorts like Homewood or Northstar.

Reflection

Reflection

After three hikes over two days and being so exhausted I could barely speak (and that’s true exhaustion for you!), Closet Granola said he would, in his words, “take it easy on me”. We would do a short hike before we headed back to the Bay Area. He chose a hike that was just 2.5 miles each way on an out-and-bike hike to Shirley Lake in Squaw Valley. On our way there, I read the description and practically hit the roof. His idea of “taking it easy” was to climb roughly 1,300 feet in elevation over 2.5 miles over rocky granite cliffs. This hike could barely be classified as a hike…it was more like rock climbing. I know I spent a good deal of time on all fours climbing over the rocks.

Shirley Lake Trail

Shirley Lake Trail

The first part of the hike was rather well-shaded, walking through a forest, climbing over fallen trees. In the spring, I would imagine that the creek would be full, but by September it was rather bare. In the winter, I would bet that this looks like one of Robert Frost’s poems about snowy woods on the way to grandmother’s house.

On our way out of the woods, we could hear a solo hiker mumbling about where the trail was. We soon learned why. The trail on the rocky section was extremely hard to find. I got my first lesson on looking for cairns (little stacks of rocks) and paint to find the trail. It was kind of fun and I was really bad at it, getting us completely off the “trail” many times. Good thing this wasn’t a night hike like Eagle Lake! While climbing up the rock, even if you’re scared of heights, don’t forget to turn around and look at the view. We could see Squaw Valley Resort at the bottom and it looked so small.

Shirley Lake

Shirley Lake

After 1300 feet in elevation, we arrived at Shirley Lake about an hour before sundown duringthe magic hour. The reflection of the granite boulders in the lake was perfect for photography. We spent about half an hour taking photos and hanging out watching the chipmunks before heading back down.

Tip #1: Labor Day weekend in Tahoe is a great time to stop at Tahoe Dave’s. They offer great discounts on demo skis from the last season. If you’re lucky, you’ll get great skis for a fraction of the price.

Tip #2: Stop by the Starbucks at Squaw Valley before heading out and you’ll have enough energy to get up the mountain and back.

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