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Cataract Falls Hike at Mount Tamalpais

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 hiking trail follows Cataract Creek as it cascades down Mount Tamalpais and flows into Alpine Lake. The Cataract Falls hike 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.) because there is a parking lot and there’s less of a scene on this side of the trail.

The trail to Cataract Falls 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 Cataract Falls hiking 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.

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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.

The trail begins in a meadow, crosses a creek, and winds through the trees before arriving at the Laurel Dell Picnic Area. Follow the trail through the picnic area as it begins to descend into the canyon. The trail narrows and becomes steep rock stairs that can be slippery in wet months. When you reach Alpine Lake you'll know that you're close to the turn around point. 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.

Other Details

Trail Safety

Like all outdoor pursuits, hiking can be dangerous. It is up to you to assess your fitness level and education yourself about any potential dangers. While I try to regularly update these hiking guides, you should always research trail conditions before heading out.

Being prepared means arriving at the trailhead with water and some basic provisions. Each and every time I hit the trail I bring a backpack with more water than I think I need, a small first aid kit, and a snack. I also share my itinerary and plans with friends or family and I carry an InReach so I can summon help if needed. If you want to know what I carry in my pack during day hikes check out my blog post about essential gear for day hikers.

Stay safe, enjoy the trail, and soak up the magic of nature!

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