Hiking & Backpacking / Outdoor Adventures

The Trail to Steep Ravine

California redwood tree in Steep Ravine

Even though I live in SoCal, NorCal (and more specifically, Marin) is like my second home. The hubby grew up in Marin, has family all over the Bay Area, and we head north several times a year for holidays, birthdays, and some such shenanigans (really, we need no excuse for a NorCal visit).

Though the Taylor property has unobstructed views out to Mount Tamalpais and even a local trail right off the driveway (built by father and son back in the day), we don’t often have time for even a day hike in between dinner dates with family and drives into the city to see friends.

But a few weeks ago, we saw a sign. In between the cold and rain and fog that usually comes with spring in Marin, one perfect afternoon emerged. It was uncharacteristically sunny and warm, and we had a few free hours to ourselves… so, we set out for the trail to Steep Ravine.

As far as Northern California hikes go, the Matt Davis to Steep Ravine loop is one of the jewels of Marin. Few trails are as diverse and beautiful as the seven miles that take you from mossy forests and rolling grasslands to sandy beaches and coastal redwoods in the course of an afternoon. In between all of that, you’re treated to creeks and cascades as you climb and descend a total of 2,500 feet by the time you come full circle.

We started on the Matt Davis Trail from the Pan Toll Ranger Station on Mount Tamalpais. The trail traversed the slopes of Mount Tam through stands of mossy oaks and barrels of California bay trees (the only time I could ever “surf” a big barrel!).

Mossy oaks

Mossy oaks

Hiking on the Matt Davis to Steep Ravine loop

An arc of California bay trees

Forest canopy

Mossy forest

After a couple of meandering miles, the path opened up to rolling hills with views of Bolinas in the distance. The grasslands were green and lush from all the recent rains, with blue lupine dotting the sides of the trail. This was one of those moments where you wonder if that picture in front of you is real.

Rolling green hills on the Matt Davis Trail

Verdant grasslands on the Matt Davis Trail

Peek at the Pacific from the Matt Davis Trail

Blue lupine

Matt Davis Trail

Matt Davis Trail

We soon found ourselves back under the canopy of the forest, hiking down a series of switchbacks until we reached Belvedere Avenue in the seaside community of Stinson Beach.

Here we had lunch, and I have to admit it felt somewhat strange to go from a heavily wooded forest, where we had utter solitude, right to a bustling little tourist town full of cafes and curio shops.

We took a few minutes to take in the sea breeze and sink our feet into the sand. Typically the beaches along this coast are foggy and cool, so it was a real treat to have a summery sort of day where the sky was cloudless and the air was warm… in April!

Beautiful spring day at Stinson Beach

Stinson Beach

Near the beach, we picked up part of the Dipsea Trail which ascended a grassy slope. At the crest you had views for days of the Pacific Ocean, Stinson Beach and Bolinas Lagoon.

Panoramic views on the Dipsea Trail

Dipsea Trail

It connected with the Steep Ravine Trail which, despite the name, was not as ominous as it sounded. Steep Ravine followed a steady uphill trail along Webb Creek, rising 1,000 feet in 2 miles. The climb was moderate and took us through a steep redwood canyon.

Steep Ravine Trail

Steep Ravine Trail

Misplaced crab

Crossings over streams and waterfalls, scrambles over fallen tree trunks, stone steps and footbridges were all part of the adventure. And let me tell you, those California redwoods are something else! Every time I find myself in the coastal redwoods, I feel so much love for this beautiful state.

Creeks and cascades

Fallen tree trunk

Stone staircase

Wooden footbridge


California redwoods

Afternoon light

Steep Ravine

And just like that, a little over four hours after we first set off, we were back at our car at Pan Toll. An afternoon well spent!

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring—all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »