Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pantoll Trailhead

Pantoll Trailhead is on the West side of Mount Tamalpais at the Panoramic Highway before the road begins its descent to Stinson Beach. It's the perfect starting point for any hike!

The first people to live on Mt. Tam were the Miwok indians, who had lived in the area for about five thousand years before European explorers moved in in the 1700's. Although they lived in the area, the Miwoks never ventured to the top of the mountain because they believed an evil witch inhabited the area.

In 1770, two Spanish explorers named the mountain La Sierra de Nuestro Padre (which means The Mountain Range of Our Father). Eventually the name was changed to Tamalpais, also of Spanish origin. Tamal means a bundle of sticks, probably referring to Miwok structures, and pais means country.

In 1834 the Mexican government took control of the mountain and its surrounding land, doling out acres of Miwok land to pioneer ranchers. The area remained sleepy until the Gold Rush in 1849. With the huge influx of people the population of nearby San Francisco skyrocketed, and Mt. Tam became a popular recreation destination.

Shrewd entrepreneurs and real estate developers like Samuel Throckmorton (for whom a main street in Mill Valley is named) realized the potential of what is now Marin County for its scenic beauty, great weather, and isolation from the hustle and bustle of the rapidly urbanizing San Francisco. At the time, however, Marin, and specifically Mt. Tam, was as beautiful as it was inaccessible. So, a railroad was built. 

The Mill Valley and Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway operated from 1896 to 1930. The steam-powered railcars brought passengers along 8.19 miles of track from downtown Mill Valley to the top of the mountain where Fern Canyon Road and the Mountain Home Inn now stand. The railroad was affectionately known as "The Crookedest Railroad in the World." It had 281 curves in its short route! At the top, there was a restaurant called the Tavern of Tamalpais where visitors could enjoy refreshments and the breathtaking views, sometimes spanning 25 miles, of San Francisco, the bay, and the surrounding hills. About 50,000 tourists visited each year. Development, which had been the impetus for the railroad's creation, was also its destroyer: the automobile, the Great Depression, and a devastating fire closed the railroad in 1930.

In 1925 an automobile road was built up Mt. Tam. At the same time, developers began carving up the mountain for residential sale. The glorious Mt. Tam could have been covered in homes and high rises were it not for the efforts of dedicated conservationists. 

The Tamalpais Conservation Club, established in 1912, intervened and raised $30,000 to buy about 200 acres on the mountain in 1928. These were the first 200 acres of Mount Tamalpais State Park. By 1931, with the help of many more conservation leagues and private donations, the park expanded to the 6,300 acres it is today. Different sections of the park are managed by California State Park Rangers and volunteers. Other parts of the mountain are overseen by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Marin County Open Space District and the Marin Municipal Water District

Today, over 500,000 people visit Mt. Tam every year. The mountain provides hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails, rivers, streams, meadows, campgrounds, a mountain theater, an inn, and the most beautiful views on earth.

Why I Love It
First of all, I love that it's 100% accessible using public transportation. I love that this kind of beauty is available to absolutely everyone as long as we take the time to get there and experience it. 

And I love that it's arguably the most beautiful and enjoyable place to hike on Mt. Tam. The trails from Pantoll amble though forest, along exposed grass hills, and atop bluffs, all the while giving you the best ocean views of absolutely anywhere. The variety and scenery make this place one of my absolute favorites. You can hike down to Stinson Beach to get a smoothie, some food, and sit on the beach for a while marveling at how amazing and athletic you are. Or you can just circle around, staying high above the beach and looking out over the spit of sand to Bolinas. Honestly, the views from these hikes are unparalleled, and it's the greatest to have an awesome destination like Stinson Beach!

If you have to pick one of the Wonders to explore, let it be this one.


From the San Rafael Transit Center:
Take Golden Gate Transit Route 17 Southbound to Manzanita Park & Ride in Mill Valley
Route 17 Schedule:
At Manzanita Park & Ride, pick up the West Marin Stagecoach South Route 61
Stagecoach Schedule:
Get off at the Pantoll Ranger Station on Mt. Tam

And this is a satellite map of Pantoll Ranger Station:



  1. i like your pictures! a group of us are gonna hike the trail on sunday.

  2. Thanks for the info! If all high school seniors did a project like this, open to everyone on the net, then finding fun stuff to do would be a lot easier!

  3. Are you sure that's accurate. I was told Tamal means west or coast and pias means hill or mountain (west coast mountain) in Miwok.