Wildflowers on the Dias Ridge Trail

Looking for a gentle hike with spectacular views and a rewarding destination? The Dias Ridge Trail in Mount Tamalpais State Park, a few miles north of San Francisco, meanders just 3 miles from Panoramic Highway down to the Pelican Inn and Muir Beach.

As I hiked the trail last weekend, I discovered a few of the 20,000 or more coastal and grassland plants transplanted by volunteers before the trail opened in 2010.

Trail on hillside

Yellow and orange California poppies, pink wild geraniums, purple lupine, white iris, red Indian paintbrush, and even white wild strawberry blossoms brightened the trail.

I made way for the mountain bikers, runners, and faster hikers and dodged the abundant poison oak growing thickly among its look alike, the blackberry plant.

Shiny green leaves pf three

I stepped carefully to avoid a black beetle and watched him scurry across the dirt trail.

Black beetle near green sneaker

I listened to the sounds of rattlesnake grass when shaken by the wind and discovered that the blooming cow parsnip really does smell like warm corn tortillas.

After stunning sights of the Pacific Ocean and the ridge of Mount Tam on this warm April day, we stopped for lunch (fish and chips and a ploughman’s lunch) at the Pelican Inn.

View of Pacific Ocean in distance beyond green hills

White inn in distance at end of trail

Return to your car for a 6-mile (and more rigorous) round trip hike or send someone back up the trail to get the car, as we did. Muir Beach is only a short hike from the Pelican Inn.

If you go, follow Shoreline Highway from the Mill Valley/Stinson Beach exit off Highway 101. Turn right onto Panoramic Highway and park in one of the dirt pullouts just ahead. Follow the trailhead signs to reach Dias Ridge Trail.

Trip taken April 2013

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Hopping the Pools at Muir Beach

Hugging  the damp and slippery rock, I stepped carefully on its narrow ridge, avoiding the crashing shallow waves beneath my feet. Only three steps and I was safe; I jumped onto the dry sand and squinted. The tide was low at Muir Beach where Redwood Creek separated the tide pools from the main beach.

We hopped between pools of salt water among the rocks, searching for treasures of sea life. As we gazed, rewarded more often than not, sudden waves threatened to soak us with their sprays. Blues and reds, starfish and sea anemones and crabs held our fascination. We pointed and laughed and danced among the rocks before climbing the slippery trail back to safety, away from the crashing and encroaching sea.

We hadn’t planned on a visit to Muir Beach that day, but the parking lot at Muir Woods was full and as we drove down the road looking for a place to park, we continued nearer and nearer to the beach. It was the Sunday after Christmas, the sun was out and the temperature was in the 50s.

Now with wet jeans and shoes, we left the beach for the Pelican Inn. With its Tudor style building, its long wooden tables and fireplace, the Pelican Inn offers a British respite from the fog and trees and beach. We sat at the tables, laughing and sharing stories over pints of ale and mugs of hot cider, a sampling of cheese, apples, and a plate of chips before arriving at Muir Woods at dusk.

The giant redwoods loomed bigger in the dimming light. The salmon weren’t spawning, but the crowds were gone, and the woods were still. We walked quickly along the paved paths, smelling the damp mossy air, the blend of bay leaves and pine and bark, reveling in the magnitude and majesty of the trees, before leaving just as the rangers locked the gate behind us.

Trip Taken December 2009