Cataract Falls Mt. Tamalpais - Strenuous

Loop hike including Cataract Falls on Mt. Tamalpais

Distance: About 10 miles

Elevation gain: About 2,400 ft. overall


A waiting list exists for this hike. If you do not plan to attend, change your RSVP so others can move up. Don't be a no-show!

This is always a nice hike, especially in Winter, but unless we get substantial rain between now and the hike, waterfall flow will be pretty low.

I would expect return to Sacramento to be about 7 PM.

Strenuous due to lots of up-and-down throughout, one very steep mile up and a steep descent at the end

Starting at Bon Tempe Lake on the north side of Mt. Tamalpais, we will take the Kent Trail along the shore of Alpine Lake, the Helen Markt Trail, and then follow the Cataract Trail as it winds steeply up alongside the falls. After having lunch on a scenic hilltop we take the High Marsh Trail, the Kent Trail, Stocking Trail and Rocky Ridge Fire Road back to our starting point.

Limited to 45 due to the parking availability at the trail head. Please carpool for this one. As this is water district land, dogs are OK but MUST be kept on leash. I don't recommend it because the trails are narrow.

Forecast of heavy or steady rain will cancel. If light rain predicted I may change the route and shorten this. Check here the night before for updates.

PLEASE NOTE: It is easy to get lost or take a wrong turn in this area. If you like to hike fast ahead of group do so at your own risk! It is always best to wait at intersections. Try to carpool with others about your own speed and hike within sight of your carpool group.

Bring: Plenty of water, lunch, snacks, small tarp or something to sit on ground for lunch, sunscreen. I recommend hiking boots as the trails are steep, rocky and slippery in parts. Poles are good if you have them.

Print and bring map and directions

Trail Map in Files section: BonTempe_Cataract_Loop

Hike Directions:

1. From trailhead gate, take fire road to Bon Tempe Dam and cross dam.

2. Turn right at far side of dam.

3. Keep to the RIGHT at the next split toward Kent Trail.

4. By the lake, the road becomes the Kent Trail.

5. After 2 miles on Kent Trail turn right on Helen Markt Trail.

6. After 1.7 miles on Helen Markt Trail you reach the Cataract Trail.

7. A waterfall into a large pool here, is a good spot to take a break and gather up group.

8. Optional waterfall side trip: Some of the most scenic falls are below this spot. To view, take Cataract Trail downhill, cross bridge and proceed down steps. At the SECOND wide viewing area, turn around and return up Cataract Trail.

9. Go uphill on Cataract Trail toward Laurel Dell Picnic Area (not all the way to it).

10. At about 1 mile, Turn LEFT on High Marsh Trail. THIS IS EASY TO MISS, as the trail sign may actually indicate High Marsh on the reverse side of the sign. WATCH CAREFULLY for it. If you get to the Laurel Dell Picnic Area you have gone too far.

11. High Marsh Trail crosses a steep grassy area, then as it rounds the edge of the ridge turn right up a fire road to a grassy knoll with a view for lunch spot.

12. After lunch, return to High Marsh Trail and continue on it for about 2 miles. Watch out for unsigned trail splits in this area. If you are ahead of group don’t know which way to go, WAIT.

13. Turn left on the Kent Trail.

14. After .6 miles, turn right on the Stocking Trail. Watch carefully for the trail sign.

15. There is an area on Stocking Trail that is easy to get lost. If you’re not sure, WAIT. The trail often disappears in big puddles here.

16. Turn left on the Rocky Ridge Fire Rd., returning to Bon Tempe Dam in 1.4 miles.

17. Cross the dam and return to parking area.


Driving directions to Bon Tempe Lake trailhead:

90 mi – about 1 hour 45 mins

Starting at: 11th St & P St, Sacramento

1. Head west on P St toward 10th St. - 0.7 mi

2. Take the I-80 W ramp to San Francisco - 0.8 mi

3. Merge onto US-50 W - 3.1 mi

4. Continue on I-80 W - 48.2 mi

5. Take the State Hwy 37 exit toward San Rafael - 0.7 mi

6. Merge onto CA-37 W - 20.6 mi

7. Take the 101 South exit - 0.3 mi

8. Keep left at the fork, follow signs for San Francisco/US-101/San Rafael and merge onto US-101 S - 10.2 mi

9. Take exit 450B for Sir Francis Drake Blvd., keep to right for Sir Francis Drake Blvd. WEST, to merge onto Sir Francis Drake Blvd (continue to follow signs for “Sir Francis Drake Blvd. – Fairfax) - 5.6 mi

10. As you enter downtown Fairfax, there is a road divider on left with trees and a large wooden "Fairfax" sign. Turn left here and immediate right on Broadway

11. Turn left at Bolinas Rd (Fairfax Coffee Roastery is on corner) - 0.4 mi

12. At a 3-way split in the road, keep left to stay on Bolinas Rd - 1.1 mi

13. Turn left at Sky Oaks Rd (sign says Lake Lagunitas and Bon Tempe) - 0.8 mi

14. Once past the entrance kiosk, watch for a sign for Bon Tempe, turning right onto a gravel road. Continue on road until you see a parking area on the left. Park here. If it is full, there is an overflow lot a little further down the road. Trailhead is the wooden gate. There is a porta-potty at parking area and another along way at far end of the dam.

Parking is $8 per car (bring cash to feed ticket machine)

Carpool riders please pay drivers $15 each, plus share the parking fee.

GPS coordinates for trailhead:
Latitude 37°57'33.05"N
Longitude 122°36'35.32"W

Steve G contact no.:[masked]

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  • SUKI

    Steve, hope you feel better,,this Hike was great workout too

    February 26, 2013

  • Steve G

    One spectacular day on Mt. Tam! I'm sorry I wasn't feeling well and had to turn back, but glad everyone had a great hike.

    February 25, 2013

  • Bryon C.

    Fantastic! Love this hike, these people and the great outdoors!

    February 25, 2013

  • SUKI

    thanks also for taking pictures you guys awesome..

    February 24, 2013

  • SUKI

    thanks steve..

    February 24, 2013

  • Bryon C.

    Beautiful place..challenging hike...awesome experience! Thanks Steve, incredible day.

    February 24, 2013

  • Bonnie R.

    Great hike! Beautiful views, I loved going down to the lower falls and to edge of the lake. It was nice to new and familiar faces. Thanks Steve, I hope your cold passes quickly.

    February 24, 2013

  • Carmen

    Hi Steve, I hope you are feeling better today. Loved this hike and thank you for posting it. Claudia, I would like to thank you again for driving and stopping at that awesome Italian restaurant. Robin and Ron, it was very nice having you two as carpool company. For the rest of the members that completed this hike with me, thanks for being such good sports. Hasta la vista amigos!!

    February 24, 2013

    • Robin

      Thanks Carmen...loved the pictures especially the 1st one you posted. Great profile picture of you. Hope you had a good night out.

      February 24, 2013

  • David V

    Excellent hike! Steve - thank for organizing.

    February 24, 2013

  • William

    Great hike! Thanks Steve for the new (to me) variation.

    February 24, 2013

  • Tom

    Sorry for the late cancelation. Woke up with a bug. Ugh!

    February 23, 2013

  • SUKI

    Where is car pool please text[masked]

    February 23, 2013

  • SUKI

    Wait for me

    February 23, 2013

  • Nan

    SO sorry to cancel so late ! unexpected circumstances

    February 22, 2013

  • chris k.

    Will meet Anneli at Mace in Davis..see u at trailhead..other Davis people welcome to ride..

    February 22, 2013

  • Steve G

    Just come to the carpool location and we will work out carpooling there.

    February 22, 2013

  • Jamila

    My bff and I would like to carpool with someone. Does anyone have two seats available?

    February 21, 2013

  • Bryon C.

    I'll be meeting at the trail head. See you there.

    February 21, 2013

  • Bonnie R.

    See you at the trail head! Looking forward to it, I've been hearing its pretty awesome!

    February 20, 2013

  • Paul P.

    Unexpected visit prevents us from going :-(

    February 20, 2013

  • Lee K.

    So sorry to have to change plans...hope to see you all on another hike soon!

    February 20, 2013

  • DOC

    somthing came up. Sorry!

    February 19, 2013

  • Robin

    This hike has priority, but I am way down on the waitlist. If I don't get to go on this hike, I want to be sure I get on another hike. When I am for sure on this hike I will cancel the other hike. (BTW there is no limit on the other hike).

    February 18, 2013

  • Steve G

    Please check and make sure you haven't double-booked yourself with another event, and adjust your RSVPs if you have.

    February 18, 2013

  • Steve G

    I want to point out the way the auto-wait list works. As single spaces open up, those with single RSVPs move into them. If you RSVP with guests for a wait list, you'll only move up if the required spaces open up simultaneously, or if the count drops enough to provide the spaces.

    February 18, 2013

  • Victoria & D.

    With attending a concert on Friday night, I'll opt for a slower pace get away such as a local yoga class, and nature reserve hike. Next time Ok!!

    February 17, 2013

  • Donna

    Over committed :( Next time.

    February 16, 2013

  • Will L


    February 15, 2013

  • Dave H.

    Can't make this time

    February 14, 2013

  • Shannon B

    Darn! Something came up.

    February 13, 2013

  • Rose

    Sorry to miss ~ Chorus tryouts.

    February 11, 2013

  • Lorrie L.

    Unable to make it-got a new puppy and have to switch up our plans for now!

    February 10, 2013

  • Lori


    February 10, 2013

  • Lee M.

    I'll be at the Park and Ride

    February 2, 2013

  • Tom §

    Prior Obligation....

    January 31, 2013

  • Will L


    January 23, 2013

  • Chico O

    Sorry to miss this! I have a family function to attend.

    January 18, 2013

  • Jin

    It will be the 2nd time for me to visit Mt. Tamalpais. Look forward to it :)

    January 14, 2013

  • Andy B

    This one of my favorite hikes, almost as nice as Steep Ravine.

    January 7, 2013

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