The Mount Tamalpias Watershed offers outstanding hiking with breathtaking views and choices of easy or strenuous hikes. My initial hike was on Kent Pump Road.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven through San Anselmo on my way to Point Reyes, thought it was a nice little town where I should stop for coffee one day, without realizing that just over the hill was the Tamalpais Watershed and some fabulous hiking. Click the directions button to see how to get to the Watershed.
The drive to the trailhead follows a twisting road that you must share with cyclists if you are there at the weekend. You find the trailhead immediately in front of you just before you cross the dam. Note that a couple of hundred yards previously there is another fire road going up the hill; this leads to a restricted area, however that entrance does offer some parking. Additionally, there is space for a few cars by the trailhead and a limited amount of parking on the side of the road next to the dam. In addition, there is some parking space on the other side of the dam.
As you approach the trailhead you find one of those oddities that seem to come with these dams. A couple of seats fabricated in the concrete wall, perhaps allowing hikers and bikers to recover after their trek.
Ducking under the gate you can look back on the dam to see its construction, and way down at the bottom Lagunitas Creek as it dribbles down to Kent Lake.
The path, a fire road to the end of the hike, winds alongside the creek mostly in the shade of overhanging trees that allow limited sunlight to dapple the path in front of you.
However, as is often the case in places where nature seems to rule, we occasionally find evidence of the underlying infrastructure.This header tells us of the underlying pipe structure that has been put in place.
Indeed as you follow along the fire road and enjoy the faintly babbling creek below (after all it’s August and the water is low), you occasionally find the pipe infrastructure emerging from the ground supported by these concrete trestles that look as though they would be more at home supporting a railway line.
Along the way I meet a fisherman returning from his day’s, or perhaps night’s, toil. He regales me with tales of fishing this lake for 40 years. He is keen to tell me how enthusiastic he is about catching trout but obviously has great disdain for bass. At one time or another he has walked the entire circumference of the lake, often sleeping at the side of the lake as night fell. He passes on his way muttering as he pushes his bike up the slight gradient that he is finding a challenge.
Eventually the path takes you beyond the creek and you start to get glimpses of Kent Lake through the trees. As a man-made lake you find a common occurrence – tree trunks that were once on a hillside now have their roots buried underwater. The dying trunks remain standing giving a rather eerie look to the lake.
Towards the end of the trail you pass buildings that probably represent the pumping station and finally you round the corner to get a delightful view of this corner of Kent Lake.
Several fishermen are still at their toils in spite of the growing warmth as the temperature increases. A convenient concrete block provides a seat for lunch where I can watch the fish swim by in the lake below me, watch bubbles rising in a trail across the lake – no doubt as a bass explores the bottom of the lake – but, most impressively perhaps, a turkey vulture land on the adjacent shore and then take off.
Another fisherman happens by and asks if I had any luck. I suppose the walking stick protruding from my backpack gives the impression of a fishing rod. He tells me the same story about the accursed bass and the lack of trout.
Eventually my time of contemplation feels complete and it’s time to head back. I came to this walk with an expectation of doing the round trip on the flat road, but as I’m walking back towards the junction with the Little Carson Trail a whim has me stop and look at the trail restoration work and next thing you know I’m headed up the trail.
This trail proves more delightful than the walk on the Kent Pump Road. The restoration work presents a few minor obstacles, and looking at this old bridge you can see why maintenance work is needed.
The trail will take you up 1000 feet in a strenuous climb but the effort is worth it. Much of the initial climb is alongside the creek on a single path. Since it’s August, the creek is not very active but nevertheless it’s still delightful – the sunlight filters through the trees, now and then you smell the fragrance from the bay leaves.
Enroute you will encounter a couple of wooden bridges – somehow making them from fallen tree trunks seems to make them less intrusive.
There are plenty of redwoods here, as there are all over this watershed.
Approximately 2/3 of the way up the trail you find Carson Falls.
In the spring I suspect this is a delightful waterfall but today there is just a dribble of water trickling over the edge. A hiking note here; if you follow the path in front of you it dead ends at the viewing point for the waterfall. Apart from danger from the rocks MMWD is trying to protect the Yellow Legged Frog and so the area has been cordoned off.
To continue on the trail from the waterfall, backtrack a few yards and take the stone steps up the hill.
After the waterfall you leave the trees for a few hundred yards crossing open country to reach the wood that covers the final ascent.
At this point having made a significant climb, you can look around and see the other side of the valley that makes up part of the watershed with the fog from the Pacific rolling in over the hills.
The country here is open affording great views of the watershed.
If you look to the south you can see the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge in the murky distance.
At this height you are alongside the turkey vultures, almost eyeball to eyeball:
The path continues on the fire road until you reach the junction with Old Vee Road which you need to take if you want to return to Kent Pump Road below you.
The fire road now becomes tree covered and offers a delightful walk down the hill albeit not as enchanting as the Little Carson Trail. At the bottom of the hill it’s left on Kent Pump Road and a few more miles back to the car. Since I went up Little Carson Trail I’ve seen only two hikers, but now I’m back on the fire road more people are appearing; still I’m surprised at how few people are hiking these trails. This is a wonderful location and I still have plenty of trails to explore in the future.