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It’s hard to miss Mount Tam on any hike in the North Bay. Even if you’re not on it, it’s one of the better landmarks to spot in the distance. “Oh look, isn’t that Mount Tam?” is pretty much a line I’ve heard on any scenic hilly hike around here. But it’s a treat to hike on the mountain itself of course.

Tam, or Tamalpais, which is Miwok for ‘coastal mountain’ has literally hundreds of possible hikes, some rigorous, some quick, but all breath-taking in the views. On a clear day, I scan my eyes out toward the ocean hoping to see the Farallon Islands, about 25 miles off the coast. But the views of the coast, the bay and the City are all worthwhile, even if distant landmarks like the islands or Mount Diablo aren’t crystal-clear.

A favorite hike of mine is to head up from Stinson Beach, reach the Pantoll Ranger Station and head back down Steep Ravine and the Dipsea Trail, in a large loop. I’ve done it many times, with some variations, but it’s always strenuous and fun. Last weekend, I got to explore a combination of familiar and new territory across Mount Tam. I know lots of people hike different paths there, so I’ll spell out the trails that were followed.

The hike started at the Pantoll Station (parking fee, facilities, maps, picnic tables, rangers, etc.) and headed onto the Old Mine Trail. From there, the hike ascended to the Coast View Trail, which is exactly that, giving us a chance to get some climbing in and rise close to 1,400 feet above the ocean. That’s still a long way from the peak of Mount Tam, but it’s high enough to get a workout. From there, ¬†our group took a series of trails that formed a counter-clockwise loop through the southeastern swath of the park. This is the part that abuts the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and also allows for a brief connection with the Bay Area Ridge Trail, via the Dipsea Trail.

My favorite part was watching from a coastal hillside as fellow hikers navigated a long stretch of switchbacks (see photos 1-3 above), as well as the occasional redwood-covered bursts of climbing deep in the mountain’s interior that truly made it feel like we were far, far, far from urban life.

In any case, the Coast View Trail was followed to the Heather Cut-off Trail, and then the Redwood Creek, Dipsea, Ben Johnson and Stapleveldt trails. It’s not as complicated as it sounds (just keep heading left), but it helps that our group had some very wise leadership and a sense of direction. We’re on the verge of rain around here, but the bursts of summer heat these past few weeks make this a perfect time to be at the coast. Clearly. The park was filled with equestrians, cyclists, hikers and walkers, as to be expected on a gorgeous fall Saturday in October.