Shady Loop on Mount Tamalpais

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Shady Loop on Mount Tamalpais

This mostly shady 5-mile loop takes in redwoods, Douglas firs and chaparral. From the parking lot opposite Mountain Home, cross Panoramic Highway and head uphill toward the fire station. Turn right and continue on Hogback uphill 0.3 miles to the Matt Davis trail.

Matt Davis lived on the mountain in the 1920s and ’30s and worked as a trail builder for the Tamalpais Conservation Club, founded in 1912. From its inception, TCC members have striven to be the Guardians of the Mountain. The TCC called Matt Davis “the dean of trailworkers.” The trail that bears his name is just one of many trails he labored to build on Mount Tamalpais to enhance the experience of hikers.

The mostly level Matt Davis trail is interesting as it alternates between chaparral and redwood/Douglas fir forest. Plants in the chaparral community are often on south-facing slopes, and have adapted to rocky, often nutrient-poor soils. They have special adaptations that allow them to survive the hot, dry summers in these conditions. Some, like chemise and indigo bush, have small leaves that conserve water better than broad leaves. Manzanitas often have vertical leaves so the leaves are less exposed to ultra-violet rays.

Some plants deal with the strong sunlight with gray-green leaves, waxy leaf coatings, or hairy leaves and stems. Others have special chemicals they put into the soil to inhibit competition from other plants. As Douglas firs invade chaparral, the adaptations that evolved to prevent them from getting too much UV become a liability. Look in the transition zones for the skeletons of dead manzanitas under Douglas firs. When you see areas of thriving chaparral with scattered Douglas firs coming up, imagine what they might look like in a few decades if fire suppression continues and no other control measures are taken.

Some plants grow only in areas where the stream crosses the trail. You’ll see horsetails, considered living fossils since they are the only genus in their class to have survived from pre-dinosaur times. For over 100 million years they dominated Paleozoic forests. Some grew in the understory while others grew to be almost 100 feet tall. Chain ferns and Western azaleas also grow at the creek crossings.

Shady areas on the mossy banks of the Matt Davis trail are good places to look for the turrets of turret spiders. These spiders, related to tarantulas and trapdoor spiders, build a structure of plant material, dirt, and spider silk that can be an inch tall. Often there are conifer needles sticking out, that act as trip lines, sending the spider waiting in the burrow below a vibration announcing a possible dinner. If an insect doesn’t happen by, they can wait months for a meal. Young spiders tend to build turrets near their mother’s burrow. Since the turrets are enlarged each year, it is easy to compare the dime-size openings of older spiders and the tiny turrets of young ones.

The Bootjack picnic area, with restrooms and picnic tables, is a convenient stop. Cross Panoramic Highway and head downhill. Turn left to cross a bridge. When Alpine Trail forks, take the left fork and in 0.2 miles turn left on Troop 80 trail. (The righthand fork goes to Van Wyk Meadow.)

The Ingleside Boy Scout Troop from San Francisco built this trail in 1931. The shady trail parallels Panoramic Highway. It crosses Rattlesnake Creek, Spike Buck Creek, Laguna Creek and finally joins the Alice Eastwood Road at Fern Creek. Turn left on the paved Alice Eastwood Road, and a short uphill brings you back to the Mountain Home trailhead parking lot, completing the loop.

The parking lot is across from Mountain Home Inn, 810 Panoramic Highway. From Highway 101, take the Stinson Beach/Highway l exit in Mill Valley. In two-thirds of a mile turn left, staying on Highway l. After 2.6 miles, bear right at fork, onto Panoramic Highway (sign says Mount Tamalpais). After one mile, at four-way intersection, take the high road, Panoramic (sign says Mt. Tam). Go two miles to the parking lot on your left.

Wendy Dreskin has led the College of Marin nature/hiking class Meandering in Marin since 1998, and teaches other nature classes for adults and children. To contact her, go to

source Marin IJ