Where in Marin can you do an easy outing to the beach and also do a fun summer camping adventure? Tennessee Valley, located just off Highway 101 in Mill Valley (Tam Valley to be precise), is the place! For most Marin County residents this is the closest outer-coast beach access in the county.
The direct and gently graded 1.5 mile walk, run, bicycle or horseback trip is fairly easy and very popular. The main trail is good for all ages. If you need more distance there are two overlook hikes to the bluffs overlooking the water to the north and south. About a mile in, the Coastal Trail, which starts at the Golden Gate Bridge, crosses the road and heads north, providing views along the bluffs and valleys of coastal Marin all the way to the tip of Point Reyes.
The Haypress walk-in campground, just 3/4 of a mile in from the parking area, is open year-round and is a great place for that far-away feel close to home. The sites are free and tent only. Be sure to plan ahead, as there are only five sites available and you need a reservation with the GGNRA.
The beach at the end of the trail is hemmed in by cliffs on both sides and only several hundred feet wide. The cliff on the north side of the beach has a stone archway high up the wall, which was created by waves millions of years ago. The sand is also a unique dark color and has areas of colorful polished pebbles to while away the hours while you watch the waves.
The trail, which is half paved road (no cars) and half dirt road, winds it way through the valley floor following the creek as it heads to the ocean. Coastal grasses and chaparral cover the hills, while fields of hemlock and mustard are down in the valley. Bobcats are seen frequently -- so frequently that there was a sign warning, "Please don't feed the bobcats!" That was a first. Hawk Hill is just to the south, and birds of prey are common in the area. Raptors do not like to cross open water and they "back up" waiting for the perfect moment to cross the water at the Golden Gate.
The beach and cove are named after the SS Tennessee that ran ashore in 1853 at the hands of Captain Mellus. He missed the entrance to the Golden Gate. If you coordinate your visit with low tide, depending on the season, you can see the engine of the shipwrecked Tennessee.
Be sure to plan out your trip. Parking can be very difficult all week during the summer. In addition to trail users, there is a horse stable with riding lessons near the parking area, which further increases traffic and use. We like to park out closer to the road or out at the elementary school and ride our bikes in. It is often foggy, so be prepared with a wind breaker and some extra layers. We like to check the Golden Gate Bridge Live Camera at the traffic or weather websites to see if the beach is foggy before we go.
See the book "Hiking Marin: 141 Great Hikes in Marin County" for more details. Click here to go the Marin Trails website, where you can find more information about the book.