It was a beautiful and sunny, clear Christmas Day in Marin County north of San Francisco. So many good choices of trails I could take today, but since we were blessed with some recent rains I headed to Alpine Dam to hike and run the Cataract Trail. For the first time in two years, water is overflowing Alpine Dam and into Kent Reservoir.
One way to connect with Cataract Trail is to drive to Fairfax in central Marin on Sir Francis Drake Blvd. to Bolinas Rd. Continue past the Meadow Club Country Club to Alpine dam. Immediately driving over the dam, begin looking for a parking spot off of the road. Once parked, continue walking west, to the hairpin turn. You will find the trailhead for Cataract Falls there. (Another picturesque, though longer drive to the trailhead is from Ridgecrest Blvd. from Pan Toll Station, to Laurel Dell Campground Parking area)
The trail starts off fairly flat, single track following the contour of Alpine Lake towards the narrowest, most western point where Cataract Creek flows into the lake. Once it starts to climb away from the lake, you’re in for a quad-busting climb past more than six cascading waterfalls.
Be careful, the trail, rocks and log bridges are very slippery. It is most dangerous when coming back down the ravine, so take it slow. There are several spur trails to get you closer to the water in places – it’s best to be happy with those and not bushwhack your own route over the slippery rocks. (ask the Marin County Fire Dept. how many times they have responded to hikers on Cataract Falls Trail)
After about 2 miles the trail opens up to a clearing and Laurel Dell Campground. It has picnic tables and BBQ’s for groups and small parties. Just past the access road there are vault toilets. The trail continues near the toilets. You can also take the service road towards Ridgecrest Blvd., but you may have to cross the creek and get your feet wet as I did. Only realized the route option on my way back down.
Either trail becomes a service road that terminates at Ridgecrest Blvd., with great views of the ocean, Bolinas Beach and Pt. Reyes. Walk across the road and hike up the hill to find the best seat in the house for those sights. Great spot for a picnic lunch if you have been saving it for the right moment.
My trip back down the mountain was not fun this time. My ACL on my right knee felt like a hot ice pick jabbing me with every step downhill. I tried to tough it out, but no dice…just had to take it slow and easy back down the trail back to the car. The trail down was steep and slippery, so I probably wouldn’t have gone much faster anyway.
Well, I took many good pics and videos of the waterfalls cascading down the hill, and had a wonderful day anyway out on Christmas Day. It’s always difficult to leave the trail or the forest, I just feel more at home there than I do at home.