One of the waterfalls along the Cataract Falls hike in Marin

The dog-friendly, six-mile Cataract Falls hike near Mount Tamalpais is a waterfall wonderland. This is a stair-stepping, butt-busting challenging trail that rewards visitors with over 2-miles of waterfalls.

The trail follows Cataract Creek as it cascades down Mount Tamalpais and flows into Alpine Lake. This is a pleasant hike year-round, but its full beauty unfurls in the wet months. In winter and spring the ferns are lush, trees are fuzzy with moss, the waterfalls gush, and wildflowers are abundant. As the year progresses the vegetation recoils and the Maple trees glow with autumn hues.

This popular trail can get extremely busy on the weekends and parking at the northern trailhead entrance at Fairfax Bolinas Road is limited. I recommend beginning your hike at the Rock Spring Trailhead (where Pan Toll Road intersects with Ridgecrest Blvd.).

The trail starts in a small meadow before leading into the trees. The trail crosses the creek and winds through the trees before arriving at the Laurel Dell Picnic Area. Pass through the picnic area and follow the trail as it begins its descent into the canyon. The trail becomes narrow and much of the lower half of the trail is made of steep stairs that can be slippery in wet months. The trail comes to an end shortly after passing Alpine Lake. When you reach the end of the trail, turn around and retrace your steps. As you ascend over 700 feet in less than 1.5 miles you may be surprised at how suddenly this “easy” walk turns into a challenging hike.

The Trailhead:

Begin your hike at the Rock Spring Trailhead and follow the Cataract Falls trail until it dead-ends at Fairfax-Bolinas Road. Then, retrace your steps and climb back up the mountain.

The Route:

Follow the Cataract Falls trail out and back. The first half of the hike is all downhill, but remember what you go down you must go back up! The Marin Municipal Water District’s website has a map of all of the trails in the area.

Other details:

Parking: The Rock Spring parking lot can fill-up quickly on weekends. It is best to get to the trail early.

Fee: No fee

Restrooms: Port-a-potties are available on both ends of the trailhead and pit toilets are located in Laurel Dell Picnic Area, about 1-mile from the Rock Springs trailhead.

Hours: Open from 7am to sunset