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Bolinas, California, United States

Cataract Trail Loop in Marin County

See Marin County's most scenic waterfalls. 7-mile moderate hike

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 (97 votes, 34 reviews)
Difficulty: Moderate
Length: 7.7 miles / 12.4 km
Duration: Half day
Overview: Cataract Creek Trail offers a perfect excuse to play hooky from work or spend a vacation day in the woods. The creek's waterfalls provide a spectacular anchor for a 7-mile loop through the scenic lands of the Mount Tamalpais Watershed. You could just hike a mile and a quarter to the top of the Cataract Creek Trail and return, but I figure if you're going to drive this deep into the Marin County backcountry, you may as well get a few hours of hiking in. The loop includes scenic vistas stretching to the Pacific Ocean, narrow single-track into the wooded hillsides into forests of young redwood and Douglas fir. Marin County has over 500 miles of trails; these are among the best.

Tips: Use extreme caution near the waterfalls: slips could be deadly.

Footing is tricky along the Cataract Trail, which is short but steep. Beginners can tire easily.

Parking is very limited; best to go on a weekday.

Poison oak is common along narrow sections of trail.

What to bring:
A map (download a PDF here)
Layers -- the climb will warm you up, but much of the hike is on even terrain so you'll cool back down.
Water and snacks -- you'll need the energy and hydration.
A camera and tripod if you're into photography.

Driving Directions:
From Highway 101 in Marin County, take the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard West exit and turn west. Stay on Sir Francis Drake for about five miles till you reach the town of Fairfax. Turn left in the turn lane just past the Valero gas station, then take an immediate right turn onto Broadway. Go about a block and turn left on Bolinas Road. Stay on Bolinas Road for about eight miles; you'll cross a dam and a find a small parking area at a sharp hairpin turn. The trail starts here.

Points of Interest


Cataract Creek

Cataract Creek Trail starts out tracking Alpine Lake but starts climbing quickly. You'll hear the first waterfall long before you see it, but once you do, prepare to be awed.

The climb is pretty steep for the first half-mile. Soon you'll see a junction with the Helen Markt Trail -- don't turn yet, this will be the return link on your loop.

Keep climbing and enjoying the cascading water and wildflowers (in springtime) along the way. At 1.4 miles you'll come to a junction with the High Marsh Trail. You could shave a mile off this hike by turning left here, but I prefer to hike about another half-mile to the Laurel Dell picnic area, where I rest up from the climb and get back on the trail.

High Marsh Trail

If you stop at Laurel Dell, retrace your steps back to the High Marsh Trail junction and turn right. High Marsh is a delightful single-track through open hillsides and thick forest. It tracks along a hillside so there's not too much up and down.

High Marsh Trail goes 2.1 miles to the intersection with Kent Trail. Turn left there and start heading down the hillside. This is a steep downgrade, so take your time and watch your footing.

Kent Trail to Helen Markt Trail

Kent Trail continues for a mile and a half down to the shore of Alpine Lake, where you turn left on the Helen Markt Trail. You might want to rest near the lake before you take on Helen Markt: it climbs about 600 feet as it traverses multiple gullies.

Helen Markt Trail goes for 1.7 miles, where you return to Cataract Trail, turn right and return to the trailhead -- and enjoy a few more waterfall views before you're done.
Pictures in this guide taken by: tommangan, onnow, ilya_ktsn, gkoffler, wooac, rkaikini, prathmann
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Visited 4 days ago

by annisacahayawe 3 days ago
amazing place thank you
Visited 5 days ago

by medecanhair 4 days ago
Prepare for lots of stairs and uphill climbs.

There was one medium sized waterfall and a few tiny ones. This hike is moderate to advanced in my opinion.

The beginning was a little hard to find but we asked a biker and he pointed us to the correct way.

Visited on Nov 07, 2015

by MeghanDanielle on Nov 11, 2015
Oh, I want to leave my daily routine and go there!!!

by Praska on Sep 11, 2015
Really fantastic hike, but it is definitely strenuous, not moderate! Beginning is very steep and then there is a lot of up and down climbs after the steep ascent. I have done several other 7 mile trails rated anywhere between moderate and strenuous. This was definitely one of the most strenuous hikes that I've done.

Scenery was really fantastic. Even though there is a drought, the stream and waterfalls were still very beautiful. You cross through all different types of terrain and surroundings - redwoods, marsh, dry scrub, etc. The lake view between the Helen Markt and Kent Trails was beautiful and very peaceful. My friend and I were the only people there for a good 15 minutes. While hiking on the Kent and High Marsh Trails, we literally only passed one other person. Definitely a great loop to do if you want some solitude (though the beginning at the Cataract Trail is very popular).

Also definitely take more water than you think you might need!!

Visited on Sep 06, 2015

by Winshoe on Sep 07, 2015
Cataract Trail Loop is really great trail to be on. One my favorite one, Covered all most the times, exposed towards top multiple times.

Several small water fall and creek running all the way. Very pleasant hike. Lake side view at Kent Trail to Helen Markt Trail is great place to hangout and have food. You can meditate with emptiness of nature over their.

Good Shoe is shoe highly recommended , trail is sloppy and not well managed so be careful while walking.

Every bit is enjoyable. Falls, Mountains, RedWood, Herb Tress, Across. You will also cross are where their mark of past wilf fire.

Visited on Aug 16, 2015

by firebug on Aug 20, 2015
Bức tranh thiên nhiên hùng vĩ
Visited on Aug 15, 1999

by hientyt2007 on Aug 17, 2015
i really love this place
Visited on Apr 07, 1993

by CeciliaDurham on Jul 30, 2015
Well worth the wait really loved the view. One of the earth's greatest sites!
Visited on Jun 01, 2015

by shanteday on Jun 03, 2015
nice place........... :)
Visited on Feb 02, 1992

by EmilyConnor on Jun 02, 2015
Very beautiful - worth a visit!
Visited on Jul 12, 2014

by yahire on May 15, 2015
The West Ridgecrest Blvd was closed at Rock Springs Parking Area when we reached there at 8am. The sign says it's open from 9am to sunset. Plan accordingly if you are taking this road.

We ended up hiking the Cataract trail back and forth from Rock Springs Parking Area instead of this loop. The first half was sunny and the second half was pretty good with the little waterfalls all over. It gets crowded by noon.

Visited on Mar 29, 2015

by suryathesun on Mar 30, 2015
Started early around 7-8am It was an overcast day and they said partly cloudy and showers in the afternoon. Great trail! Tons of stairs and waterfalls along the way up. Be careful. Wear good hiking shoes. Bring snacks and water. A light workout coat if your going early. You'll eventually take it off. Great leg workout! If your into photography or even posting pictures for your friends and family on facebook and instagram. Get ready there are tons of waterfalls and great scenery to capture!
Visited on Feb 28, 2015

by LCorpuz419 on Mar 03, 2015
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Visited on Feb 03, 2015

by Super99 on Mar 02, 2015
very nice place i would love to go there oneday
Visited on May 06, 2008

by asrologer on Feb 20, 2015
Totally awesome :) I highly recommend it
Visited on Feb 04, 2014

by Oceanside on Oct 02, 2014
It was awesome trail with beautiful waterfalls . Loved it
Visited on Aug 09, 2014

by mksmahathi on Aug 11, 2014
nice waterfall/.............. love it
Visited on Mar 03, 2008

by Sukhjinder on Aug 04, 2014
a must visit place... very adventures

by inqueba on Jul 17, 2014
Awesome place... amazing waterfalls

by hairtransplant on Jul 17, 2014
The place was awesome and very relaxing waterfalls.
Visited on Jul 12, 2012

by edongzki on Jul 08, 2014
great waterfall. i will come there once more time if i have a chance :)
Visited on Mar 02, 2012

by AloTrip on Jun 09, 2014
We did this trip yesterday. I would rate it as strenuous mainly because you drop back down to water level and then hike back up to be able to hike down. The upper part was the most picturesque.

The distance in our device registered almost 10 miles.

We modified it a bit by taking the fire road from the picnic area. We turned left off the road at the fist opportunity and came out on a Knoll that was spectacular. Then we hooked back up to the trail mentioned in this write up.

Next time I'll try making a loop from the top section only.

Visited on Apr 06, 2014

by Milt on Apr 07, 2014
This trail is one of the most beautiful ones I have done in the recent times. We started out very early in the day. We reached the cataract trail starting point by 7:45AM. There were not many visitors yet. We got the parking quite easily.

I would not recommend this to beginners. It is quite strenous and would recommend some practise before attempting it.

There are lot of waterfalls and water streams along the path. The path is good to do even on hot summer days given the fact that the path is mostly covered with huge trees and thick forest.

Make sure you enjoy the path at every phase of it. I highly recommend this trail to people who love nature. Last but not the lease, stop and take a look at the Alpine Dam which is nearby.

Happy Hiking !

Visited on Mar 22, 2014

by kshirol on Mar 23, 2014
The hike is beautiful - after recent rains, it felt like all of the Cataract part of the trail was one huge continuous waterfall. It is a challenging hike, so bring water and plan for a full day if you are doing the whole loop. Hiking poles are a good idea on this trail if you usually use them. There are not a lot of people here due to the small parking area, and it is a good idea to go on an off day, not the weekend.
Visited on Mar 07, 2014

by mira.brower on Mar 07, 2014
Amazing waterfalls! I would love to be there.

by gawinalun on Jan 05, 2014
Good thing I came across your blog. Great Article Thanks!
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Visited on Jan 02, 2009

by popculturez13 on Oct 16, 2013
Awesome place! must back there soon
Visited on Aug 10, 2012

by mariuszturecki on Sep 26, 2013
Wonderful hike! Thanks SO much for sharing.
Visited on Aug 07, 2013

by on Aug 07, 2013
Great hike! The beginning is steep but the waterfalls make the climb worthwhile. I finished my entire camelpak (50 oz) which I did not expect on a hike of this length so definitely plan to bring extra water.
Visited on May 15, 2013

by emilyegiles on May 20, 2013
Great, vigorous hike. Beautiful woods and waterfalls. So glad I brought extra water (like someone else suggested) and also sooo happy to have my hiking poles!! Not as many vista points as I was expecting, but the woods and waterfalls provided plenty of beauty.
Visited on Feb 22, 2013

by rfrankle on Feb 23, 2013
This hike is indeed beautiful. I love the views of other mountains, the lake and of course, the waterfalls! I did not, however, expect that it be a serious climb... BOTH WAYS! Our GPS reported that we climbed almost 2400 ft in 7.9 miles- that's a lot for me. There are very few times during this hike where I actually felt like we were on flat ground. The steep decline (the same steep incline with lots of stairs in the beginning) on the way back felt treacherous since by that time my legs were fatigued.
Visited on Feb 16, 2013

by joywithin on Feb 20, 2013
Just starting a review here, as I have not hiked the whole trail yet. Let it be known, that the first part of the trail, is not for the faint of heart. Intense, steep ascent.
Visited on Jan 27, 2013

by dborkowski on Jan 28, 2013
Wonderful hike! Thanks SO much for sharing. Bring extra water, Be sure to take Alpine Trail once you've completed Helen Market to return to the beginning!
Visited on Jul 10, 2012

by nicole2012 on Jul 12, 2012

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