High on the Ridge

Marin Headlands - Part 2

At the ridgecrest, you come to a trail junction where Ridge Trail hikers should take the right fork (northwest) on the 0.8-mile SCA Trail, built by the Student Conservation Association. The left fork is the Coastal Trail, which goes up over Slacker Hill, then descends west to Rodeo Lagoon. If the day is clear, the views around the compass from this ridge are dramatic. It is here that you first see west across the Marin Headlands to the Pacific Ocean and northwest over the vast expanse of open land that comprises the 12,000-acre Marin Headlands in the Golden Gate NRA.

These lands were once part of the 20,000-acre Rancho Saucelito, granted by the Mexican Governor of California to the Englishman William Antonio Richardson in 1841. Richardson was forced to sell his land to Samuel Throckmorton in 1860 to cover his debts. In 1855 the U.S. Army bought the tract that now serves the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, and in 1873 the Army began installing fortifications there, the last of which was a Nike missile site dismantled in 1974.

Continuing northwest on the SCA Trail, climb up a slope where rattlesnake grass and oats blow in the wind, and you come to a sign that states,"Hikers, Private Property. Turn west here." The Ridge Trail turns farther west here as a singletrack trail contouring the hillside at the head of a canyon below a row of houses. From this trail you can look 600 feet down into Rodeo Valley and see the west entrance of the tunnel that cuts under the ridge you have just walked along.

Along a grassy slope, accented by jagged outcrops of white rock and flowery in spring, the narrow trail climbs gently, passes through a small eucalyptus grove, and continues for a half mile before turning up to the ridgetop. Here, high above Sausalito, it meets the Rodeo Valley Trail, the Bay Area Ridge Trail equestrian route, which has climbed northeast from the Bunker Road trailhead.

Now hikers and equestrians continue past a private road on the right, go left around a white metal fire-protection gate onto the Alta Trail, and then round the east side of a wooded, antenna-crowned hill. Here the trail passes the half-mile Morning Sun Trail, a connector trail that rises on 300 feet of railroad-tie steps from the Spencer Avenue exit off of Highway 101 in Sausalito. At this exit there is trailhead parking, a telephone, and Golden Gate Transit bus connections.

Hikers and equestrians on the Bay Area Ridge Trail continue northwest from the Morning Sun Trail intersection along an oak-shaded hillside, where there are occasional views of the Bay, and patches of apricot-colored sticky monkey flowers grow on the banks. In about a half mile, you near the convergence of five trails known as "Five Corners" to fans of the Marin Headlands trails, although no sign identifies it as such. Watch carefully for this junction — on foggy days it may be hard to see. Do not continue straight ahead at this junction. Instead, jog about 30 feet left (west) to meet the Bobcat Trail, the Bay Area Ridge Trail route for bicyclists, which comes up from Gerbode Valley. A sign "Bobcat Trail" identifies this trail, on which you turn right (northwest) and then continue toward Tennessee Valley.

Equestrians begin at a trailhead off Bunker Road at the junction of the Coastal and Rodeo Valley trails in the Marin Headlands. At this trailhead there is ample parking for horse trailers and water for horses. Start your trip by crossing the ridge trailsigned wooden bridge over willow-bordered Rodeo Creek and head north along the lower slope of the hill between Rodeo and Gerbode valleys. In spring, the field above the creek is bright with yellow mustard and the air is filled with the calls of red-wing blackbirds.

Head east along the Rodeo Valley Trail and continue along the edge of the valley past rock outcrops for about a mile. In some steep pitches and gentle grades, the trail continues for another mile, winding up to the ridgetop to meet the north end of the SCA Trail, where equestrians join hikers to share the trail to Five Corners.


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