Tam It All

Hike to Cataract Falls on Mount Tam in Marin

The hills have gone green just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, and this 7.5-mile lollipop loop hike passes through some of Mount Tam’s lushest spots, with bridges, creeks, a waterfall, and big views.

woman walking dog through mount tam

woman walking over bridge in woodland

Woman walking dog over hills

Start your hike on the Cataract Trail from the Rock Spring Trailhead. The trail quickly dips into the moss-covered forest and meanders the upper section of Cataract Creek. Take a right at the junction of Cataract and Barth’s Creeks onto the Mickey O’Brien Trail. Barth’s Creek gives a soothing ambiance to the forest as you climb into a clearing at Barth’s Retreat. Continue up the ridge and take a right onto the Laurel Dell Fire Road for open views of foothills below.

Woman hiking at Mount Tam to Cataract Falls

After a quick descent into Potrero Camp, keep left and hop onto the Kent Trail. After a short distance, stay to the left to take the Cross Country Boys Trail. The trail changes from forest to manzanita-lined paths and offers glimpses of the valleys below from time to time. At the small pond known as High Marsh, take a left onto the High Marsh Trail, which will lead you back to Cataract Creek. As you approach the creek, you’ll burst out of the forest into a grassy ridgeside. This beautiful section should offer up a mix of flowers in the coming weeks.

woman looking at waterfall

Man standing at Mount Tam vantage overlooking the San Francisco skyline

After dipping back into the forest, you’ll begin to hear Cataract Falls. The sound of water is a constant companion even if you don’t yet see the falls—the first of which is reached immediately at the bottom of the steps. To see more and add some distance to the hike, keep going down the steps to see deep grottoes created by the multi-flowing tiers. After getting your fill of the falls, make your way back up the canyon and steps to continue along Cataract Trail to the Laurel Dell picnic area, an oasis in its own right, shrouded in redwoods and green ferns. Continue past the restroom to resume your hike alongside the creek.

Bonus: Once you have returned to the parking lot, cross Ridgecrest Boulevard and hike up the small hill. From this vantage point, you’ll have the Golden Gate spires, San Francisco, the Pacific, and the East Bay in your sights. 

The hike begins at the Rock Spring Trailhead off Ridgecrest Blvd. The parking lot offers ample parking; however, we recommend that you begin your hike early due the popularity of the falls. No water is available at the trailhead. Restrooms available. Dog-friendly!

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Up Umunhum

    Rising from the Santa Cruz Mountains, Mount Umunhum is one of the Bay Area’s highest points, reaching an impressive 3,486 feet. With the new 7.4-mile (round-trip) addition to the Bay Area Ridge Trail, locals can finally step up to its peak.

    View
  2. Napa's Wild Side

    It’s wine country’s Amazon. Cutting 50 miles through the famous Napa Valley and emptying into San Pablo Bay, the gentle Napa River is an ecological—and recreational—delight. And Napa Valley Paddle helps you enjoy it.

    View
  3. Strolling With Sam

    Most people come to Samuel P. Taylor State Park for the beautiful creekside campground and picnic areas. But the hiking here can be pleasantly peaceful on a short trail featuring old-growth redwood trees.

    View
  4. Sponsored

    Four Ways to Fall for North Lake Tahoe

    As vivid autumn colors start to line the sky and crowds begin to dwindle, North Lake Tahoe’s breathtaking secret season takes over and is a favorite among locals. With turning leaves, crisp air, and 12 towns to explore, North Lake Tahoe is the place to disconnect.

    View

Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Apple of Your Eye

    That fall feeling is definitely in the air and on display at the Oak Glen Preserve. Apple orchards and colorful leaves are a bonus, as are the apple cider donuts and slushies you can enjoy post-hike.

    View
  2. Secluded Royale

    Panoramic coastal views and a killer leg workout combine on this 2.7-mile (round-trip) out-and-back hike to secluded Coast Royale Beach in Orange County

    View
  3. Rock Star Hike

    The sandstone giants of Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park might be the coolest damn formations in SoCal. Explore the craggy slabs on a 2.5-mile hike.

    View
  4. Clarity in Claremont

    The majority of Claremont Hills Wilderness Park is inaccessible, rugged terrain but there’s a 4.9-mile moderate loop that’s well-maintained and feels gloriously far away, despite being close to the city.

    View