The hiking book: Hiking the San Francisco Bay Area
The distance:
5 miles
The CityGirls rating:

We went on an absolutely beautiful hike over the weekend with our friends S&J. We were up in the foothills north of Mt. Tam at Alpine Lake and Bon Tempe Lake, a couple reservoirs for the Marin Municipal Water District. It was a sunny, crisp, but warm winter day of the kind that we still marvel at after years of Midwestern winters.

The hike starts out by crossing the dam between the two lakes. There’s a spillway for when the upper lake (Bon Tempe) gets too full, but we were stumped by the lack of any other means for water to flow from Bon Temple Lake down into Alpine Lake.

The mystery was solved as our trail headed around Alpine Lake. Turns out, the water is pumped from Alpine Lake into Bon Tempe instead of flowing the other way. This pumping system also adds a little something to scenic Alpine Lake—the lovely pipe and buoys arcing through the lake. Ahhh, nature.

But really, apart from the buzz of the pumping station and the view of the pipe and buoys in the lake, this is a very peaceful, secluded, quiet trail. We felt like we were truly out in the wilderness—in a good way. We passed quite a few other hikers on the trail, but it never felt crowded.

One of the fun parts of hiking with S&J is their interest in noticing and identifying the flora and fauna along the trail. While we saw a great variety of plants and small animals, the most exciting was the fetid adder’s tongue, a small black and white flower with mottled gray and green leaves. It was the leaves that first caught our eye before we noticed the delicately gorgeous flowers. The flowers were only in bloom along a short stretch of trail along the lake where it was cool, damp, and relatively dark.

Though S&J were pretty good at identifying plants, none of us knew the flower when we first saw it, but we happened upon some locals out trail running later in the hike, and S was so excited to tell them about the flowers we had seen.

Sure enough, one man knew just the flowers we were describing and told us all about them, including their excellent name. Turns out they only bloom for about two weeks in late winter, so we count ourselves lucky to have been in the right place at the right time.

The hike wound its way through a surprising number of biomes, from lakeshore populated by water birds and dense forest with a carpet of ferns to manzanita barren and an open, scrub-covered hilltop with views across the bays.

(What’s a manzanita barren, you ask? Yeah, we were wondering that too when we read the description in the hiking book. For your edification, it appears to be a transitional area between forest and open hilltop populated exclusively by the twisty, peeling, red-hued manzanita.)

As we left the manzanita barren for the open hilltop, we emerged to sweeping views of the North Bay and Mt. Tam. We made sure to point out to S&J the east peak of Mt. Tam and say, “We’ve been there!” Of course, as they live in the Bay Area, S&J had been there too, but they drove to the top and we hiked, so we still got to feel hardcore.

All in all, this was a lovely hike with some lovely people on a lovely day. We’ll definitely be back.