This week our family headed out to explore some of the less traveled and more challenging trails just outside of Fairfax. Old Sled, Little Carson Falls, Big Trees Camp and Nail Trail offer up challenging climbs and descents, numerous flowers still in bloom, beautiful places to explore or relax, and vistas all around.
The Oat Hill area near Alpine Lake gets little use and has a wonderful remote feel that you don't get in most other parts of Marin. The trails here are steep and not well maintained. They are narrow with close-in bushes in spots, but still easy to follow. They require sure feet and an adventurous attitude.
We started our hike heading up Old Sled Trail, which starts one mile past the parking lot to Pine Mountain. The trailhead is unsigned and can be a bit tricky to find, but luckily the Bolinas-Fairfax Road has mile markers at various spots on the road. If you set your trip meter to zero at the corner of Bolinas Road and Broadway, near the, and watch for the white markers, the trail is at marker 4.83 on the Bolinas-Fairfax Road (we included a picture of marker, so you know what to look for). This spot is at the second hairpin turn after the Pine Mountain parking area. There is a place to park off the road just after the turn.
Old Sled Trail is a historic Marin trail. According the Barry Spitz in "Tamalpais Trails," the trail was originally built in the late 1800s and was used to bring dairy products down from the pastures of the old Liberty Ranch. The then-wide trail is now much eroded and narrow, but the broader cut is still visible in many places. This is a steep rocky climb starting along a small but lively creek and then heading up through grassland and chaparral to Oat Hill Fire Road.
We choose to go right along the Oat Hill Road until we reached the much newer Carson Falls Trail. At this junction we were thrilled to find numerous wild flowers still blooming. Fields of deep pink Clarkia, yellow Mariposa Lily, pink Buckwheat and California Poppies. Carson Falls still have a nice flow of water. Here, between the upper and lower falls, there are native Azaleas still in flower with showy white multi-blossoms.
Carson Falls Trail skirts upper and lower Carson Falls and then descends steeply to Big Trees Camp. The trail is very steep, with loose rocks, so be careful. Along the bottom the trail flattens out as the canyon opens up. Big Trees Camp is aptly named for the huge redwood trees living in this glen along the creek. These trees were spared from logging because the land was used for a private hunting camp. There is a side spring in addition to the main creek and an amazing field of Horse Tail Ferns with blooming Leopard Lilies popping through. It is an unusual sight. The kids had a great time traversing bridges made from huge fallen redwoods and playing in the cavities at the bases of the huge trees.
Just past the camp the trail travels into a patch of grassland. Here, the unsigned "Nail Trail" goes up to the left. There are a few clues to know if you miss it. One indicator is that just past the junction the trail widens into a very old two track road. And, another 0.25 miles beyond is a large dirt road and Kent Lake. Nail Trail is a steep trail up a redwood gulch and back to Oat Hill Fire Road. At Oat Hill Fire Road go left to go back to Old Sled Trail. At Old Sled Trail you head right, back the way you came.
This is a remote area with no cell coverage. Be sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, and sturdy shoes. The trail is overgrown in places so be ready to push your way through. There are also lots of ticks, and there is an active bee hive along Old Sled Trail.
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.