Tam It All

Hike to Cataract Falls on Mount Tam in Marin

Woman at overlook watching 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.

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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.

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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!

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