It’s hit or miss whether you’ll be able to get that gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge from atop the Coastal Trail in the Marin Headlands.
They have a little thing called fog over there, you know.
Two of the last three times I’ve done this 7.5-mile semi-loop, it’s been sunny. The other time, it was socked in. You take your chances. But even if the bay’s famous fog descends, the trails on the Marin Headlands are sublime.
Take the chert, for one thing. Who knew such a geologic and marine wonder is etched into the hills? Oh, you tell me scores of kids know that by middle school? Well, it’s never too late for a guy to learn. If you look closely at this rust-like sedimentary rock – really close, with something called a scanning electron microscope – you see the fossils of radiolaria, a single-cell plankton of various bulbous and conical shapes. An electron scanning microscope wouldn’t fit in my hydration pack, so I had to take the word of geologists on the GGNRA’s website.
Chert-colored walls can fascinate only so much but, fortunately, there are other natural wonders along the trails. You’ll descend into verdant Rodeo Valley, climb back up to the tree-lined ridge and follow it back to the trailhead near the bridge.
Weekend Hike: Marin Headlands Rodeo Valley Loop
Distance: 7.5 miles
Directions to trailhead: Take Interstate 80 to Highway 37 in Vallejo, to Highway 101 South. At the last exit before the Golden Gate Bridge toll booth (called the Sausalito exit), exit the freeway. Go left at a stop sign, right onto Conzelman Road, and then an immediate left into the parking lot at the base of the bridge.
Route: The Coastal Trail begins at the north end of the parking lot near a booth (look for sign). On the trail, cross Conzelman road at two-tenths of a mile and continue on the Coastal Trail. At 1.1 miles, go left at the junction to stay on the Coastal Trail. At 1.5 miles, cross McCullough Road, remaining on the Coastal Trail. Veer right at a dirt lot, through a gate and onto the Coastal Trail fire road. At 3.1 miles, go around a white gate and, tenth of a mile later, cross Bunker Road. Turn left on a dirt path paralleling the road for 100 yards until you see a parking area at the trailhead on the right. Cross the bridge and turn right onto Rodeo Valley Trail. Go about 1.5 miles on Rodeo Valley Trail until you turn right on the SCA Trail. Follow that 1 mile to the Coastal Trail. Turn left and retrace your steps to the parking lot.
Difficulty: Moderate (two moderate, extended climbs), but the wind is something to contend with.
Toilets: None at the trailhead, but there is one on the Coastal Trail after crossing McCollough Road.
Parking fee: No. But parking is limited because of tour groups stopping at the Golden Gate Bridge.
Call The Bee’s Sam McManis, (916) 321-1145. Follow him on Twitter @SamMcManis.