Magazine article Sunset

Make Tracks While the Water's Falling to Bay Area Waterfalls

Magazine article Sunset

Make Tracks While the Water's Falling to Bay Area Waterfalls

Article excerpt

It's been a long time since they've looked this good

A FITTING WAY TO PAY homage to whatever rain gods so generously drenched coastal California watersheds this past winter is with a spring walk to a waterfall. The Bay Area has been blessed with a number of places to celebrate the beauty of fresh, moving water. We've selected four parks with walks representing different levels of difficulty.

Marin's Steep Ravine Trail, Santa Clara County's Uvas Canyon trails, and Big Basin's two paths to Berry Creek Falls all take you along conifer-shaded streams, where the cool air is pungent with bay. The rushing sound of unseen falls leads you on, as extra-full creeks move along their rocky beds, dropping as cascades wherever there's an abrupt elevation change. Streamside trails are thick with moisture-loving ferns, and luxuriant green mosses shine with droplets of mist. In spots with deepest shade, the damp forest displays surprising jewels: mushrooms in hues of amber and carnelian, ruffled belts of shelf fungus gleaming a brilliant coral.

Mount Diablo's Falls Trail, on the mountain's north peak, is different. Steep and sun-exposed, it leads to small waterfalls sequestered by low clumps of slope-hugging pines. Through April and into May, this walk may also reward you with a dazzling wildflower show: starry carpets of white, pink, and lavender ground pink; grassy ledges of delicately painted mariposa lilies; and moist patches of intensely colored crimson and blue larkspurs, set off by shocking pink owl's clover.

Marin County: Mount Tamalpais State Park. With a one-way bus option, this trail is a manageable adventure for families with young children, who can hide inside redwood-stump "goose pens" and sail twig boats in shallow pools. Weekend afternoons can get crowded, so go early.

From State Highway 1, take Panoramic Highway to Pantoll Ranger Station, where you can park (day-use fee $5) and pick up a map. Hike down 1.6 miles on Steep Ravine Trail to the Dipsea Trail; turn left, then left again on Old Mine Trail to climb back up to Pantoll (a 3-mile loop), or turn right and walk downhill another mile to Stinson Beach, where you can catch a Golden Gate Transit bus ($1.10) back to Pantoll on weekends.

Santa Clara County: Uvas Canyon County Park. An easy 1-mile loop nature trail (pick up a pamphlet at headquarters) leads up Swanson Creek to four beautiful falls: Little (not shown on the park map), Black Rock, Basin, and Upper. …

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