The hiking book: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles (San Francisco)* and our brand new and very exciting Mt. Tam trail map
The distance:
6.5 miles
The CityGirls rating:

We were back on Mt. Tam again this weekend, this time for an actual hike with good friends S&J.

We started out at the Rock Spring parking lot and set out downhill via the Cataract Trail. It was a warm day, and we were thankful that we’d filled our trusty Camelbaks almost to their three liter capacities. The sun was out in force and the parking lot was crowded with hikers, but we soon plunged into tree cover, shade, and relative solitude.

The Cataract Trail is known for its 12 waterfalls, but water level in the creek was looking pretty low, especially for this time of year, so instead of rushing waterfalls, we mostly saw dry rocks with a trickle of water running down them.

Instead, we entertained ourselves with some deep philosophical (or maybe sociological) discussions of race, perceptions of color, and why Mitt Romney  would spend any time campaigning in the Bay Area.

After the descent through cool forest, we emerged onto the stunning golden hillside and  gem-bright blue sky of Bare Knoll.

It was the sort of hill just begging to be rolled down… well, except for the abrupt stop at the treeline at the bottom. The grass flanking the trail was waist high, with pretty little wildflowers peeking out here and there.

We even made a new friend on this hike, a great little lizard that was sunning itself on the trail sign on Bare Knoll. In fact, this was quite the reptile-filled hike. After admiring our new lizard friend for a while and introducing it to some other hikers who came by, we continued on our hike, seeing three or four more lizards along the path, a small garter snake, and some sort of significantly larger snake that slithered across the path in front of us right near the end of our hike (don’t worry, it was not a rattlesnake—we got a good enough look at its tail to confirm it was rattle-free).

For most of the hike, the trail moved in and out between patches of forest and grass-covered knolls, but we also had one stretch in a Manzanita barren, below, one of our favorite ecosystems because it just has a really cool name. Also because Manzanita is a really cool plant. Its bark peels off to expose this gorgeous, smooth, deep red surface underneath. It’s hard to resist running your hand over it as you walk by.

And of course, we kept an eye out for a nice sunning rock where AM could have her mid-hike mini nap. Because, as we’re sure you know, sunning is an important part of hiking (well, unless it’s raining or snowing, though AM has been known to “sun” in the fog).

Time: 3.5 hours.
Ease of following designated hike: 9. The hike is pretty much two easy-to-follow trails the whole way.
Solitude: 4 on Cataract Trail, 8 on High Marsh Trail.

*Yeah, so, we realized we’d hiked almost all of the North Bay trails in our original trusty hiking book, Falcon Guides’ Hiking the San Francisco Bay Area, but we still wanted to go play on Mt. Tam this weekend, so new hiking book it was. It has a number of the same trails, but also some new ones that look pretty exciting.