It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood so I drove up to Pan Toll Station on Mt. Tam and prepared for a run down and back up the mountain. Lucky for me, parking was abundant during the week in the parking lot, but the weekends you’re hovering like vultures waiting for a parking spot. There is a parking fee with self registration at the Rangers shack. Eight dollars for the day, seven dollars for seniors over 62 years old. Thank goodness they let us save a whole dollar for being a senior! It’s a very convenient starting and finishing point, as there are vault toilets and drinking fountains with great tasting Mount Tam water…cold and the taste is better than bottled, so tank up. The trailhead to Steep Ravine starts at the western end of the parking lot. It follows Webb Creek down the mountain, turning north near the bottom to pick up the Dipsea Trail before arriving at Highway 1. Steep Ravine lives up to it’s name, as it immediately starts down the hill with stairs, exposed tree roots and many switchbacks. The trail is shaded most of the way down, with bright green moss and ferns adorning the rocks and trees along your descent to the bottom. The serene scene is only broken by the sound of water trickling down the ravine on it’s way to the ocean below.
The route is not terribly technical, but with moss covered rocks for steps and moist earth that does not receive much sunlight, it can be slippery at times. The most technical part comes when you arrive at the “ladder”, for about 15 to 20 feet. For safety’s sake, go down the ladder the same way that you would go up…read it as “go down backwards”. It is far safer this way than trying to be macho and landing on you face at the bottom. After bottoming out the trail, it rises for a short distance to join the Dipsea Trail. At the trail junction where you have a choice of continuing straight or following the trail to the left, chose the left. (Continuing straight would bring you to the Panoramic Highway too far from the bottom of the hill, and would be a dangerous competition with you and the cars barreling down the road.) After a brief run on the trail, the view opens to the north, revealing the entire coastal portion of Stinson Beach and the town of Bolinas. The trail is used often throughout the year and is well maintained and marked. This section is a good place to really test your downhill skills as you can really pick up some speed. Turning east, the trail descends down several flights of stairs, switchbacking down the hill. Finally emerging from the shaded section you arrive at Panoramic Highway at Highway 1. Cross the road and regain the Dipsea that will terminate at the southern edge of town at a concrete bridge next to the Stinson Beach Fire Department. A short walk to the market for refreshments and a rest is welcome as your climb back to Pan Toll Station is straight up the hill along the Matt Davis Trail.
The Trailhead for the Matt Davis Trail is at the end of the street that goes alongside the fire station. Bear to the left after crossing the bridge to stay on the trail. Most of the trail is shaded up the side of the mountain, traversing what seems to be countless switchbacks, until you finally emerge from the shadows to a clearing. You can see the Coastal Trail above you, but your course is traversing the contour for about 100 yards until the Coastal Trail and Matt Davis Trail converge. In a little over one mile, you will return to the Panoramic Highway form whence you came, where the joyous sight of bathrooms and cold running water awaits you. Great hike/climb…running was minimal, but a very worthwhile trip.