Tam secrets

Marin County's best-known mountain still harbors a few mysteries

Lisa Taggart

Tam discoveries

Music Stand Trail. This short, little-used path has a surprise: a music stand placed by a Tam fan about 50 years ago. Moderate; 0.5 mile one way (2.2 miles one way from lot via Simmons Trail). Off Laurel Dell Fire Rd. or High Marsh Trail. Park at Rock Spring.

North-side trails. This side of the mountain, accessed via Fairfax-Bolinas Rd., generally sees fewer crowds. "In the old days, the worst thing you could say about someone was, 'Oh, he's just a south-side hiker,'" says Tam historian and advocate Nancy M. Skinner.

Plane wreckage. Along the Cataract Trail, about 1 mile from its beginning at Rock Spring, you can see the remaining engine from a two-plane collision that occurred in 1945. Park at Rock Spring.

Railroad history. Gravity Car Rd. follows the route of the Muir Woods leg of the Mt. Tamalpais & Muir Woods Railway, disbanded in 1930. Easy; Old Railroad Grade is 1 mile from Mountain Home Inn along Gravity Car Rd. Park across from the inn.

Tamalpais essentials

Mt. Tamalpais is about 10 miles north of San Francisco. Main routes to it from U.S. 101 are State 1 to Panoramic Hwy., and Sir Francis Drake Blvd. to Fairfax-Bolinas Rd. East Peak, Tam's highest point at 2,571 feet, is reachable from E. Ridgecrest Blvd.

Mt. Tamalpais State Park is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The 6,300-acre park has four campgrounds (sites from $12), one with primitive cabins. Pantoll Ranger Station, 3801 Panoramic Hwy., Mill Valley; www.parks.ca.gov or 415/388-2070. Parking ($6) is available at Bootjack, East Peak, and Pantoll.

The Mt. Tamalpais Interpretive Association leads free weekend hikes through the Volunteer in Parks program. www.mttam.net or 415/258-2410.

Favorite hikes

Cataract Trail. Waterfall-lined hike descends 1,320 feet. Difficult; 2.9 miles one way. Parking (limited) at Rock Spring or off Fairfax-Bolinas Rd.

Dipsea Trail. Scenic route from downtown Mill Valley to Stinson Beach, with a 1,200-foot elevation change. Difficult; 6.9 miles one way. Park in Mill Valley or at Stinson Beach.

Lodging and dining

Mountain Home Inn. Ten-room lodge and restaurant ($$$$; closed Mon–Tue) with great views. From $175. 810 Panoramic Hwy., Mill Valley; www.mtnhomeinn.com or 415/381-9000.

The Pelican Inn. Elegant rooms near the ocean; accompanying pub and restaurant ($$$; closed Mon) offer Brit classics. From $201. 10 Pacific Way, Muir Beach; www.pelicaninn.com or 415/383-6000.

West Point Inn. Lodge and five cabins with shared kitchen and bathroom; no electricity. From here, access Rock Spring Trail (moderate, 1.7 miles one way). From $35; closed Mon. Hike in (ask for directions when reserving);

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