These days, Muir Woods is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Bay Area, and as a result, it's generally mobbed with visitors, leaving few opportunities to enjoy the peace and solitude that a primal Redwood forest should provide. But don't worry, there is another Marin gem that can offer up the serene magic that a walk in the woods should provide.
The hike up to Dawn Falls from the trailhead is only 1.1 miles; however, you may not find parking ( there are only six spaces). An attractive alternative for those who have the time, is to park in downtown Larkspur. You'll double your distance, (about 4.5 miles roundtrip), and enjoy ambling through this historic town, passing by former vacation cottages that are now million-dollar-homes. Afterwards, you can enjoy a leisurely lunch or dinner at some of the fine restaurants found there.
How to Get to Larkspur
1. From San Francisco, take Hwy. 101 and exit at Lucky Drive
2. Turn right on the frontage road, then right again on Wornum Dr. at the stoplight to go under the freeway.
3. At the next stoplight, (note the excellent view of Mt. Tam from this vantage point), turn right onto Tamal Vista Dr.
4. At the following stoplight, turn left onto Fifer Dr. then continue left with the flow of traffic onto Lucky Drive around Redwood High School.
5. At the T- intersection stoplight, turn left onto Magnolia Ave. into downtown Larkspur. A municipal parking lot (blue dot on the map at the bottom of the post), across the street from the Historic Blue Rock Inn, is accessed with a left turn onto Ward St.
* Marin Transit and Golden Gate Transit offer bus access via routes 117 and 22 respectively.
The Walk Through Larkspur
1. Once you're on foot, continue south on Magnolia Ave., passing some interesting shops and restaurants, as well as the locally famous (or perhaps infamous) Silver Peso bar.
2. Proceed one block past the stop sign at city hall (there's a drinking fountain in front and rest rooms inside), then turn right onto Madrone Ave., the main access road for Baltimore Canyon.
3. In the small park among the redwoods there are more restrooms (this is your last opportunity).
4. Continue up Madrone as it meanders westwards—in many place the sidewalk on the north side rises high above the road. Continue until your reach the end of the road and the trailhead for the hike.
The Dawn Falls Trail, (the red lines on the map), begins after crossing the bridge to the opposite side of the creek and climbing the steps. On the left is the Piedmont Trail, your route back (the orange line on the map).
From here on out it's just over a mile to the falls, (although there is a tempting detour, the Ladybug Trail to King Mountain Loop Trail that intersects the DF between the twin bridges). You'll pass by the remains of a dam, where a sawmill was once in operation more than one hundred years ago. In places, you'll find the lichen-covered second-growth redwoods, dense and tangled bay laurels are interspaced with miniature meadows, making for a great interplay of light and shade.
The switchbacks up to the falls can be a bit dicey when it's very wet or very dry, so hiking poles are not a bad idea. The falls themselves are just a trickle in the summer, but come December they are bombing. Further exploration above the falls is easy, as the flat Southern Marin Line Fire Road runs for three miles above the canyon between Kentfield and Corte Madera.
The return is just as delightful, and continues if you opt for the Piedmont Trail to return downtown. Just after the trail joins Piedmont Rd. there's a shortcut over to Shady Ln. which then opens onto West Baltimore Ave. where you'll proceed right, soon ending up on Magnolia Ave.
Turn left to return downtown or cross and go another two blocks down beautiful Baltimore Avenue. At the foot, there was once a railroad station, where tourists coming from the Sausalito ferry would embark to stay in the former summer cottages you passed earlier on Madrone Ave. From here, take the bike path (the former railroad route) back into downtown.
A Marin favorite is the Left Bank, located in the Blue Rock Inn, which serves country French fare. It's hard to beat the ambiance here whether dining inside or out.
Immensely popular Picco, across from the City Hall, also offers outdoor seating as well as a pizzeria next door.
Terrific pastries, desserts, espresso, and other delights can be found at Emporio Rulli, and those seeking something really different and/or a carb load, should try Avatar's Punjabi Burritos – a fascinating blend of Indian and Mexican favorites.