Open space with a split personality
Baltimore Canyon
Marin County
Neil Wiley

The Mount Tamalpais area is a hiker’s paradise. West of Corte Madera, Larkspar, and Kentfield are trails through heavily forested canyons and up on ridges with excellent forest, mountain, ocean, and bay views. To see them, you can hike through four connected open-space preserves—Camino Alto, Bilthedale Summit, King Mountain, and Baltimore Canyon.

My introduction to this trail network was led by my daughter who lives in nearby Kentfield. She and her children often walk these child-friendly trails.

The 193-acre Baltimore Canyon is a particularly good choice because it has a split personality. You can choose from an easy walk along a shady, cool creekside or up on a scenic ridgetop.

From the Madrone Avenue trailhead, a usually narrow single-track trail follows Larkspur Creek through a canyon of lush moss-covered trees and rocks, little gurgling waterfalls, seasonal spring wildflowers, and autumn-colored maples. A popular destination is Dawn Falls. During the rainy season, the falls feature a 25-foot drop. Other falls are smaller but still interesting.

The canyon is a safe place for children and dogs to run, play in the water, and get out in nature. Changes in elevation are mild. You may find steelhead trout and giant salamanders in the deeper pools.
At one of the wide spots along the creek, we saw the remains of an old stone dam. In the 1920s it was dynamited after a drowning.

Dark shade is provided by madrone, California bay, second-growth redwood, and big-leaf maples. Occasional open areas display several species of berries and hazelnut trees. In winter and early spring, you may find mushrooms.
If you need a turnaround goal, stop at Dawn Falls, but if you want a longer walk or want to walk a loop, you can continue on past the falls to the Southern Marin Line Fire Road. Go left on the fire road. Another left at Barbara Springs Trail takes you back to Dawn Falls Trail.

To reach the Madrone Avenue trailhead from Highway 101, go west on Paradise/Tamalpais Drive about 8/10 of a mile, and turn right at the stop sign to Corte Madera. Drive about 6/10 of a mile (Corte Madera becomes Magnolia), and turn left on Madrone Avenue (across from the Lark Creek Inn). Drive about 8/10 of a mile to a small turnaround at the end of the road. (This road is very narrow. Be careful.)

If dark canyon walks aren’t for you, you can enter the preserve from the Crown Road entry, which takes you directly out to the views from the Southern Marin Line Fire Road. It’s a nice hike with scenic views, perfect for a sunny winter day, but perhaps too exposed in summer.
To reach the Crown Road entrance from Highway 101 in Larkspur, exit at Sir Francis Drake Boulevard west and drive 2.1 miles. Turn left on College Avenue (next to The College of Marin), right on Woodland Road, left on Evergreen Drive, uphill to the intersection with Ridgecrest, a short fifty-foot uphill left on Crown Road, and follow until the road ends. Park where you can on the street.

Both trailheads are popular so you may have to search for parking, especially on weekends. You should find a spot but you may have a little extra walk. Bikes are allowed on the fire roads but not on the single-track trails. Dogs are welcome, on-leash on narrow trails, on-voice command on fire roads. No drinking water, restrooms, or maps are available at either trailhead.

You can download a Baltimore Canyon pdf map from the MCOSD website.

Enjoy Marin. It’s like our mountains, just more crowded.