The Golden Gate National Recreation Area's Oakwood Valley is a perfect hiking spot for a variety of users. Easily accessible from both San Francisco and Marin, the secluded 1.5-mile loop combines a fire road and trail, and passes through mighty eucalyptus groves, verdant meadows, as well as strands of bay laurel and oak interspersed with lush ferns.
What You'll See
In spring, wildflowers abound with pale violet and yellow irises, wild sweet pea, golden poppies, and lupine aplenty. Summer brings out the sagebrush, fennel, and blackberry (and in fall, mouth-watering berries). A winter visit has its own charms with roaring wind in the towering eucalyptus and the creek engorged with rushing water. Seeing wildlife can be a bit elusive here, but coyotes, foxes, bobcats, rabbits, and squirrels are common to the valley. A careful scanning of the trail can often reveal signs of their presence, such as paw prints and scat.
How to Get There
Take the Stinson Beach exit from Hwy. 101 at the foot of the Waldo Grade and go about 1/4 mile past the two motels to the stoplight. There, just before the bridge over Coyote Creek, make a left turn onto the Tennessee Valley Road. At the .84 mile marker, not far from the last house on the left, is the Oakwood Valley Fire Road. One hundred feet beyond is the entrance to the Oakwood Valley Trail, alongside the large GGNRA Tennessee Valley sign. Roadside parking is usually available here.
Coming up the fire road you’ll see how intrusive the eucalyptus can be, however it’s dominance is short-lived – the National Park Service is hard at work cutting back the non-native trees which pose a fire hazard and displace native species (the oaks and bay laurel that serve as habitat for coyotes, butterflies, and other fauna). The former inhabitants of Oakwood Valley planted the eucalyptus trees to serve as windbreaks and designate the boundaries of their homestead.
You'll have hit the apex of the loop when you reach the bridge at the upper end of the valley. If time permits, stroll up the fire road a short bit to the seasonal pond. From there the trail continues up to the Alta fire road for outstanding views of Richardson Bay and Mount Tamalpais, should you want an invigorating climb. Crossing the bridge onto the Oakwood Trail, you'll soon pass into an enchanting arboreal tunnel that meanders delightfully among the dappled shade and lush, green fern grottos.
Since pets are permitted off-leash on the fire road section, Oakwood Valley is very popular with local dog walkers; however, pets must remain on-leash at the trail portion of the hike.
Other Things to Do
Food and refreshments are close by. There is a fruit stand at the stoplight and a notable Marin eatery, the Dipsea Café - famous for its breakfasts – is just across the highway bridge from the light. Further up Hwy 1, closer to Tam Junction, sits the newish Equator Coffee and Tea with it's California cool surf vibe. To add a few miles to your hike, park in this area and take the creek trail that parallels the Tennessee Valley Rd. Or join up with the Rhubarb Trail, located just across the road from the Oakwood Valley Trail – this will take you west up to the parking lot for accessing Tennessee Valley proper and the two-mile hike to the beach (detailed in a previous Ultimate Sunday Hike). Alternatively just drive up the road 3/4 of a mile to get there, but keep in mind that dogs are not permitted in Tennessee Valley.