Mount Tam just can’t help itself; it’s a natural beauty that always delivers the goods. Every spring, wildflowers burst onto its slopes in spectacular form: bold, bright, and beautiful. For a 7-mile loop that mixes a rainbow of flora with commanding views, hike the western flank of the mountain, starting at Pantoll. Beginning on the Matt Davis Trail, saunter through bay laurel trees; purple hound’s tongue—named for its broad leaves—borders the trail. After a mile the forest gives way to bouncing green grasslands festooned in flowers. Goldfields and milkmaids garnish the 1,500-foot-high view to Stinson Beach and slinky Bolinas Lagoon. Keep hiking high on the Coastal Trail, looking for hang gliders floating across the sky. Cross over to woodsy, picnic-friendly Laurel Dell and take a 10-minute detour to check out Cataract Falls. The second half of the loop on Cataract Trail is one of the best places to spy the enigmatic Calypso orchid, identified by its deep fuchsia hue. This charmer’s a trailside highlight, just be sure not to step on one! Finish on the Old Miner’s Trail. That’s a walk on the wild(flower) side.
Begin the loop at the Pantoll Ranger Station parking lot off of Panoramic Hwy. (map), where you can pick up a trail map. Parking is $8. Take the Matt Davis Trail to the Coastal Trail. Go right on the Coastal Trail and follow it 1.7 miles to Willow Camp Trail; turn right and ascend the fire road toward Ridgecrest Blvd. Look for a side trail cutting left. This takes you to Ridgecrest Blvd., cross it and take the Laurel Dell fire road. At Laurel Dell you can turn left on the Cataract Trail to Cataract Falls (10-minute detour), or turn right on the Cataract Trail. At Rock Springs parking lot, cross the lot and veer left following the sign to the theater. In .1 mile, take the Old Mine Trail down. This takes you to the Old Stage Road where you’ll turn right to return to Pantoll. No dogs.