Friday, January 23, 2009


Maybe it's because there aren't any signs, but a first trip to Carson Falls feels like traveling to a storybook oasis. Find this 100-foot series of cascading waterfalls just outside Fairfax in Marin County. But get there soon, because this beauty only awakes during the rainy season. Start the 1.5-mile jaunt (one-way) by climbing wide, rocky Pine Mountain Fire Road. While ascending, be sure to stop and turn around: the gently sloping spine of Mt. Tam comes into view, as do panoramas of San Pablo Bay and the Richardson Bridge. Leave the fire road and follow an unmarked trail into the forest, down a series of switchbacks until the falls come into sight. On a clear day, even in the winter, people will be relaxing on large rocks among the waterfall's multiple drops and pools. Look closely and you might even catch a glimpse of the fall's special residents: yellow-legged frogs. Pucker up!

From Highway 101 in Marin, exit Sir Francis Drake Blvd. toward San Rafael. Go about 6 miles to the town of Fairfax. Turn left on Pastori, immediately right on Broadway, then left on Bolinas Rd. Follow this 3.8 miles (go past the turn-off for Bon Tempe Lake and past the golf course). Park in the large pullout on the left (it fits about 20 cars). Cross the road, go through the rusty gate and up the fire road; this is Pine Mountain Fire Road. After 1 mile the road levels, turn left onto Oat Hill Fire Road. Hike .25 mile to an offshoot trail on the right. Follow this down .25 mile to the falls. Dog-friendly!

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