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

On a warm, sunny early summer day, we revisited Alpine Lake in the foothills of Mt. Tam. When we hiked this in late February last year, the highlight of the hikes was all the wildflowers, especially the Fetid Adder’s Tongue.

In early June, it’s a whole different hike, with dragonflies darting back and forth across the trail, the sun beating down, and an acrobatic troupe of ducks performing synchronized dive routines.


Synchronized ducks

As we made our way around the shore of Alpine Lake, we were struck by a duck with a red head floating on the water. We noted that we had never seen ducks with that coloring before, and when we looked back at the lake, four ducks sat where only one had been a moment before. Three more ducks popped up from under the water, and then the whole group dove, one after the other in quick succession, before surfacing in the same pattern a few yards away.


At this point, we were entranced. The ducks swam back into a tight group, then dove in succession again. They were under the water a long time—nearly 45 seconds—before they came back up, one after the other, more loosely grouped than when they dove, but still in close proximity to each other, and a short distance from where they had originally entered the water. The eats must have been good in this part of the lake; we watched the diving ducks slowly meander their way up the shoreline and then back down again.

 Where’s the water?

Alpine Lake and sister lake Bon Tempe are reservoirs for the Marin County Water District, and while Bon Tempe was at its usual level, the water in Alpine Lake was quite low.


About six feet of shore was exposed below the normal water line, and it had some interesting erosion patterns showing the gradual depletion of Alpine Lake.


It’s pretty early in the season for water levels to be so low, and from the grass growing in what used to be the shallow areas of the lake, it looked like the water level had been low for a while. Looks like we might be in for more drought conditions this summer.

Red dragonflies

We’d never seen bright red dragonflies before, and they were all over the trail and the lake shore. They were too small and too fast to get a good photo, but after doing some research on, we think the species we saw was the Cardinal Meadowhawk. They were big for dragonflies, and bright red throughout. The dragonfly guide says they’re actually fairly common throughout California, so we look forward to seeing more of these striking invertebrates. There were a bunch of the smaller, bright blue dragonflies plus a few that looked black and white spotted.

As it was such a warm day, we took the first and last bits of the hike a little faster than we had intended to, as we tried to minimize our time in the sun. Good thing we filled up our Camelbaks before leaving! And, you know, stopped for ice cream bars on the way home.

Ease of following designated hike: 8. We’ve done this one before, but even without that, it’s a straightforward trail to follow: go along the lake a ways, then take the left at each fork.
Best season to hike: Late winter or early spring. The hike was a little overly hot on a warm day in June, but our first hike on this trail in late February was just perfect.
Our hike time: 2.5 hours.
Solitude: 9. We saw a few fishermen and one or two other groups of hikers, but mostly we had the trail to ourselves.