Favorited on January 30, 2015

Mt. Tam- 4 Lakes Loop: Phoenix Lake to Cataract Falls

16.0 mi 

As part of getting going for the New Year, my dad John has pledged to do one longer day hike per week of at least 12 miles. The past few weekends have been at his favorite Point Reyes National Seashore, but this weekend I tagged along for a 16 mile hike in the Mount Tamalpais watershed.

I had ridden my mountain bike through some sections of our route, but had never hiked extensively in this section of Tam along the Northwest flanks of the mountain. Working from Gaia Maps online (see the route) we sketched out a route that we thought would be 12-13 miles and that we could hammer out in 6 hours or so. We just signed up for Gaia’s premium features, meaning we could create a route on their website and then sync and follow it on our phones, which was helpful.

Our Mt. Tam 4 Lakes Loop Hike- Totaling 16 Miles
At 6:30am we headed out through Ross to the parking area below Phoenix Lake. We could of started at the higher Bon Tempe Lake area and cut off a fair amount of to and back distance, but if memory serves, the MMWD rangers open the gates a sunrise. There was no one in the Phoenix Lake lot and we were waiting for the sun to rise as we prepped our day packs. I thought this hike was going to be a walk in the park, no problem. Well of course, my eyes are frequently bigger than my stomach in this regard. The map is not the territory, and I had as usual slapped together a great loop based on what I wanted to see, not the terrain. We started at around 100′ elevation at the parking lot and would climb from the MMWD lakes up the Cataract Trail to 1,700′, and the back down, taking just a hair under 8 hours, with a morning’s break for brunch.

The scenery at the lakes was beautiful, especially the first half of the hike. All the lakes were spilling thanks to December’s storms. January’s lack of rain has started to dry things out a bit, but the major streams were still following well, and Cataract Creek was still putting on quite a show. The hike back paid the loop penalty, there were some interesting sections, but a lot of drier pines and dead understory along the High Marsh trail in particular. The trail conditions were also not great for some of these trails, especially the Stocking Trail on the way back.

Mt. Tam 4 Lakes Loop Hike
Distance: 16.0 Miles
Trails: Phoenix Lake -> Fish Grade Fireroad -> Sky Oaks Road -> Shady Side Trail (Bon Tempe Lake)-> Kent Trail -> Helen Markt Trail -> Cataract Trail -> High Marsh Trail -> Stocking Trail -> Rocky Ridge Fire Road -> Lake Lagunitas Dam -> Return via Fish Grade to parking lot below Phoenix Lake
Total Time: 7:45
Ascent: 2896′
Ave. Speed: 2.0 mph

See more on our hiking blog Wilderness Hikers: http://www.wildernesshikers.wordpress.com