It’s not the easiest waterfall hike in Marin County, but Cataract Falls, on the north flank of Mount Tamalpais, is easily the Bay Area’s most popular waterfall destination. It roars and gets really big after a spring rain, spouting nine silvery cascades, some 50 and more feet high, plunging down the Cataract Creek streambed. The surrounding forest, with its moss-covered rocks, ferns, tan oaks and coast redwoods, can seem a kind of emerald-green, fairy-tale kind of place.
The hike to the falls, one of many dog-friendly possibilities within the Marin Municipal Water District, can be approached in several ways. The shortest is a 2.6-mile out-and-back hike rated strenuous because of its unrelenting grade. You’ll have plenty of company on weekends, when it seems like every hiker is accompanied by a canine companion (please note that dogs are required to be leashed; not easy to manage when climbing, but still…).
You’ll both have to stop and pant as you tackle 750 feet of elevation gain in just a mile. Wooden stairs and bridges ease the climb in several places, but you’ll still have to scramble over and around random roots and boulders. Be sure to pause along the way to admire and listen to the many small waterfalls and rapids along Cataract Creek.
For directions to the trailhead, which begins at Alpine Lake, click here. The Laurel Dell picnic area at the top of the gully is a great place to celebrate the climb.