Springtime Hikes: Waterfalls of Marin County

Rainfall in the Bay Area brings many wonderful things: snow in the mountains, wildflowers to the hillsides, and water to the handful of small but mighty waterfalls in Marin County. For those who enjoy a reward after a long hike, consider these four hikes around HI Marin Headlands and HI Point Reyes hostels and enjoy a gorgeous stroll through Marin County open space with a waterfall waiting at the end.

Alamere Falls, Point Reyes National Seashore

Alamere Falls is by far the biggest and most famous of all Marin waterfalls. The hike itself is about 8 miles roundtrip with sweeping views of Point Reyes National Seashore throughout. The fall is a 50-foot drop from a cliff into the sea, and it is one of the most spectacular spring waterfalls in the Bay Area. The hike is long but the views are worth it, and the waterfall is a wonderful bonus for those who make the whole trek. The journey begins on the Coast Trail in the town of Bolinas and then turns into the Palomarin Trail; while most of the trail is fairly wide, there are some dense poison oak areas and layers are strongly advised. Being one of the most popular Point Reyes hikes, there's a lot of information available about this particular hike.    

Cataract Falls, Bolinas Fairfax Road, Fairfax

Cataract Falls is known as one of the Big 7 waterfalls in Marin. This Fairfax hike is quick and easy compared to Alamere, and very popular with locals. It's about a 3-mile loop and the best place to start is off of the Alpine Dam side of the trail in Fairfax. (The trail is also accessible via Shoreline Highway in southern Marin County, but it starts at a higher elevation). From the town of Fairfax (approximately 23 miles from the HI Point Reyes hostel), take Bolinas Road west until you see signs for the Alpine Dam.  The trail is heavily forested and a potpourri of flora and fauna -- tanoak, bigleaf maple, redwood,  Douglas fir, ferns, wild rose, and huckleberry -- make this a nature lover's paradise (thus the popularity of this trail with Marinites). 

Morse's Gulch Falls, Shoreline Highway, Stinson Beach

This is a great southern Marin hike, just a couple miles north of Stinson Beach and easily accessible by car from HI Marin Headlands Hostel. It's a bit of a hidden gem, which on the plus side means it's a lot less crowded than other popular trails in the Mount Tam area, but of course that also means it's harder to find. The start of the trail is off of Highway 1, about 2.5 miles north of the Panoramic Highway on the righthand side. The trailhead is unmarked, but there's a pullout on the right with a "No Camping" sign.  The waterfall has a drop of about 50 feet, and the length of the hike is a little over a mile roundtrip. Find out more about how to reach Morse's Gulch Falls

Carson Falls, Pine Mountain Truck Road, Fairfax

Carson Falls in Fairfax is a very dramatic, 4-tiered waterfall with cascades of up to 35 feet. From the trailhead on Fairfax-Bolinas Road, the huge hunk of land just north of Mount Tam known as Pine Mountain is accessible to courageous hikers. Most of the trail is a fire road and thus popular with cyclists, but the hiking is great as long as you're willing to share the road. On clear days, there are views of Mount Tam to the south. This hike is a 3-mile loop that starts off of Bolinas Road in Fairfax.

While rainy days may not be fun, waterfalls are definitely a nice way to celebrate the arrival of spring in Northern California. This list is by no means exhaustive, and there are many great web resources for hikers -- so get out there and hit the trails!  

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