One of my favorite Mt. Tam trails is the spectacular Cataract Trail, which we hiked on a cool spring day with my friends Howard Rheingold, Marshall Smith and Priscilla Wheeler.
Cataract Trail follows a rocky stream in a lush canyon that goes down from the heights of Mt. Tam to Alpine Lake, with amazing cascades in the winter and spring. We like to start from a small parking lot right above Laurel Dell, on W. Ridgecrest Blvd., about a mile north of the Rock Springs parking lot.
Here are the directions on Google Maps:
It’s a beautiful hike that is off the beaten track and full of lovely surprises. You park near the ‘Mt. Tam Watershed’ sign, head down the fire road to Laurel Dell Rd for a half-mile, cross the Cataract stream, go past the flat meadow on your right, make a left turn 500 ft. later in the shaded woods onto Bare Knoll trail, then zig zag down to the Cataract pools at the bottom of the canyon. Then hike back up the canyon until Laurel Dell and retrace your steps back up to the parking lot.
The directions above are for a simple loop that’s a couple miles long and takes a couple hours to hike, with a good amount of elevation. If you want more, you can go further up or down the Cataract Trail, which you intersect first on your way down, then again at the bottom of the canyon.
There are many ways to hike the Cataract Trail: some people start up at the Rock Springs parking lot and go down, others start at the bottom by Alpine Lake near Bolinas and go up.
This SFGate article gives you more info on that trail:
And here is a menu of my photos from this lovely hike: