Just a short 45 minute drive north of San Francisco, Mount Tamalpais State Park (Mt. Tam for short) provides ample trails and sights for hikers of all ability levels. Recently, we had some time to squeeze in a short afternoon hike, so we opted for the 3.8 mile Steep Ravine and Dipsea Trail Loop starting from Pantoll Station.
Steep Ravine & Dipsea Trail Loop
Start & End: Pantoll Station
Distance: 3.8 miles
Notes: Stairs / steps, ladder
Above: Guards at the Pantoll Ranger Station, Mt. Tam.
Hike Starting Point
We chose to start our hike at the Pantoll Campground & Ranger Station, located about halfway in on the Panoramic Highway. I’m prone to motion sickness, especially on mountain roads, so I preferred this trailhead to Stinson Beach 🙂 Pantoll is also one of the two walk-in only campgrounds in the park – the other is Bootjack Campground, located only 0.5 miles up the road. Several trails intersect and cross through Pantoll, which makes it a great starting point. It’s fully decked out with flushing toilets, potable water, bike racks and even a bike repair box.
Day parking passes cost $8 in the official parking lots at Pantoll and Bootjack – you can pay once you get there at the ranger station. Keeping in mind that several spots will be used by campers, there are only ~40 official parking spots available. On the weekends, you’ll see multiple cars on the prowl, looping the parking lot for a departing group. Many folks end up parking along the highway at turnout spots – we saw some precariously parked cars on the edges of the road – do so at your own risk.
We had no idea what we were doing, so we opted to hike Steep Ravine Trail first, followed by Dipsea Trail and lastly Old Mine Trail. There’s a nice bridge at the point where Steep Ravine crosses Dipsea Trail – we used this as our 15 minute lunch break spot.
Above: Mmm, combination pork banh mi from Saigon Sandwich in San Francisco. This is our go-to packed lunch for hikes near the city!
Steep Ravine Trail has a light to moderate incline with a few steps here and there. At one point, there’s a short rung ladder that you’ll need to climb to continue the trail. If you have a preference for climbing up or down ladders, this may influence your choice of direction. Since we started at Pantoll, the trail was downhill for the most part and required us to scramble down the ladder. It was very sturdy, so we had no concerns either way!
We then connected to Dipsea going inland, which starts out with a hefty series of stairs. It wasn’t too terrible, but if you have knee injuries, etc., something to keep in mind. The first portion of the trail remained nicely shaded in the redwood area, while the second half of the trail was more exposed. If you’re hiking mid-day, you may want to plan accordingly for the heat. However, that same exposure allows for amazing views – on a clear day, you can see Tiburon, San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean all from the trail.
Dipsea eventually connects with Old Mine Trail, which provides an easy, ADA accessible 0.5 mile path back to Pantoll Station. Don’t forget to check out the vista point and veteran’s bench – it’s a great place to rest and take in the views.