I spent the morning hiking up Barnabe Peak in Samuel P. Taylor State Park, following the 9-mile loop route recommended by Jane Huber on her always-outstanding BAHiker.com. Sir Francis Drake Blvd. winds through the redwood forests along Lagunitas Creek as it traverses the park, giving no indication of the magnificent views that can be had just above the treeline, and it was almost startling to find myself looking out over forests I've ridden and driven through dozens of times. (As usual, more shots in my San Francisco album. Start from there and click on "Previous" to see them all.)
Taking the fire road up the southeast side of the mountain, you cover 1,200 vertical feet in about 2.5 miles. And at the moment, I'm feeling every foot. But so worth it. Be sure to go the additional 0.2 mile or so up to the fire lookout station. Not to be missed.
Bill's Trail is a very easy, winding alternative to the fire road down the north side--shady, lots of switchbacks, minimal grade--but it's a little repetitive, too. I actually got bored and ran about 2 miles. Stairstep Falls is a nice half-mile diversion about 2/3 of the way from the peak to the fire road in Devil's Gulch. (Audio bonus: Stairstep Falls (.wav file, 30 seconds), running pretty strong for mid-May. See for yourself.)
Note that the last section of this loop can be a little confusing. Jane insists on calling the "Riding and Hiking Trail" the "Cross-Marin Trail," but none of the signage follows that convention. The official park map uses a few names you won't see on any signs, either (e.g. "Gravesite Fire Road"). Whatever. If you have a decent sense of direction, just follow your instincts and don't worry too much about the trail names.
I was dragging ass as I neared the end, so I opted out of the last section of Jane's loop--for the most part, it appears to be flat fire road running along Sir Francis Drake and the ample picnic sites near the park entrance, so I don't think I missed much. Instead, I cut down through the Madrone Group Camps and crossed Sir Francis Drake to hit the North Creek Trail, which leads right back to the park entrance. With the fire lookout and Stairstep Falls, my route appears to be about 9 miles.
After a pretty solitary day (not a single soul on the fire road to the summit, about a dozen people coming up Bill's Trail as I descended, six people lounging around Stairstep Falls, and no one on the lower fire roads after Bill's Trail), it was jarring to be surrounded by so many picnicking families in the redwood groves near the park entrance. Everyone was having fun, and it reminded me of being a kid--family outings, field trips, etc. It was nice, but at the same time, I think I'd go a little stir-crazy if I spent a day in the woods and never left sight of the trailhead. I'm no wilderness type--my hiking expeditions need to end with a hot shower,
a cold beer several cold beers, and a night spent on clean sheets--but I do need to get out and stretch my limbs a bit.
I'm just so grateful that even though I live in a big city, I'm less than an hour away from places like this, and I have the opportunity and ability to get out there and enjoy them. Now, where's my beer?