The hiking book: Hiking the San Francisco Bay Area

The distance: somewhere just under 7 miles

The CityGirls rating: 8

It’s been a while since we went hiking, what with the holidays and all, but we got back in the swing of things this weekend with a great hike around Mt. Tamalpais in the Marin foothills. The hike started about 2/3 of the way up the mountain, dipping down to a big open meadow, then back up to loop around past Middle Peak and East Peak before heading back down via the West Point Inn and the Mountain Theater amphitheater.

We’ve hiked Mt. Tam before, from the Mountain Home Inn to the East Peak. It was hot, sunny, and crowded. We made it up to the East Peak, with a stop at the West Point Inn, only to find it swamped with tourists who had driven to the top then dragged their crying, unhappy children up the short but steep path to the peak itself. The view was amazing, but somewhat marred by the wailing children.

Even with the crowds, Mt. Tam is fast becoming one of our favorite Bay Area hiking locations. If you choose the right trails, you still have stretches of solitude, and most impressively, hiking on Mt. Tam can feel like hiking in the middle of the wilderness. A wilderness that happens to sit in the middle of a growing urban area, but up on the mountain, it feels quiet, secluded, peaceful. It’s amazing, especially so close to the city.

We made a few changes from the hike as written in the book. We started at the Rock Spring parking lot so we could do the uphill first and end with the downhill instead of starting at East Peak as the book said. In fact, we skipped the last little spur trail to East Peak entirely, — taking the spur up to the Middle Peak instead. Even without consideration for the grade, we think that’s the better way to do the hike — it ends with the West Point Inn and the Mountain Theater Amphitheater.

The West Point Inn is a great story. When there was a tourist railway going up Mt. Tam, the West Point Inn was a stopover where travelers would spend the night on the way to or from the coast. Today, there’s a non-profit association that maintains the Inn. The Inn is open for overnight guests, and they maintain the front room for hikers to stop in and rest. It’s a super cute little place with great views out over the Bay.

Then there’s the Mountain Theater Amphitheatre. Okay, officially it’s the Sidney B. Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre. But really it’s an awesome stone amphitheater, pretty big, built by the CCC in the 1930s. The amphitheater was built for an annual theater production held on Mt. Tam, which is still going today. We just might have to go see the Mountain Play next summer. Where else can you hike up a mountain to see a musical?