Antony asked if I’d like to go on a hike to Cataract Trail to see the waterfalls. I’m glad I was able to go!
If you Google “Cataract Trail waterfalls” you’ll find several references that claim it has the best waterfalls in the Bay Area. After seeing it I’m willing to believe it.
We went on December 27 – a dry day after a week of daily rain in the Bay Area. The waterfalls lived up to their billing.
We started out at the trailhead on Bolinas-Fairfax Road above Fairfax, CA. The road zig-zags through pretty country above town; eventually the road goes over the dam holding back Alpine Lake, a beautiful spot. The day we went the dam was spilling impressively. Drive just a minute or two beyond the dam to a sharp 180 degree hairpin in the road; if it’s rainy season you’ll probably find cars parked in every available nook near the corner. You’ve arrived at the trailhead.
The trail heads up the hill at a reasonable rate past a few little rivulets running down the hill. They give just a hint of what’s ahead. After a few minutes the trail turns steeper, more of a staircase than a trail … gaining 1000 feet in 1.4 miles. The trail ascends the hillside straight up, following the course of the Cataract Creek.
The creek, lacking stairs to follow, has made waterfalls instead. Dozens of them. Some a few feet high; others 50 feet high or more. I lost count of how many there are … ten? Twelve? Fifteen? Plus other smaller waterfalls which join the party as various smaller streams race into the Cataract.
The sound is incredible. This video of just one of the waterfalls should give you an idea of what’s in store.
After the waterfalls we made a loop out of the High Marsh Trail, Kent Trail and Helen Markt Trail, returning back to Cataract for a second look at many of the falls before heading to the car. The loop was nice, but somewhat unmemorable in most ways. The High Marsh trail does indeed go to – and through – a marsh. Waterproof boots were quite helpful.
A couple of things were quite cool, though. First, we crested a couple of ridges, where the forest suddenly changed from deep dark forest into dense thickets of small madrone and manzanita, all covered with moss. I love manzanita, and it was nice to have the surprising change of pace.
But the best part of the hike was the mushrooms and fungi! The forest was so dense and so wet that the fungi were going mad. Every available log or branch was covered. I’m not even going to try to categorize them, but the more we hiked the more ‘shrooms and fungi we saw. Here are some photos to give you an idea.
In short – GO! Pick a day after some impressive North Bay rains and invest in the drive to Marin. Sure, we did a 5 hour hike and it took more than 12 hours (including the drive, a nice lunch in Fairfax, and a tour of SF due to me missing an exit). But it was still a great experience!
The GPS track and more photos are here!