Samuel P. Taylor Park and the surrounding area offer a great place for a hike or bike ride. There is a long, flat, and safe biking and hiking path for families. The park's deep woods and riparian habitat with giant ferns and lush greenery give it a Jurassic period feeling.
The park is also a historic site where the Camp Taylor Hotel was built in 1874. Passenger service on the North Pacific Coast Railroad began in 1875 and roughly followed the current route of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Once through Fairfax the train used the tunnel near White's Hill to travel into San Geronimo Valley and wind its way to Camp Taylor and beyond.
We decided to give a few of our favorite options for exploring this beautiful area. A family bike ride or an easy hike are described.
Family or Short Hiking Option
Distance: 3.5 Miles
Elevation: 300' with moderate grade
Start at the entrance to the park. You can park just outside the entrance for free by the side of the road, or pay the entrance fee and park just inside. Follow the main road in the park across Lagunitas Creek. You come to a "T" (Junction 1) bear left to go past the group picnic area. On the right, or uphill side, you will see the signed Pioneer Tree trail, which starts by following Wild Cat Canyon and the creek. This is a beautiful redwood forest with ferns and large trees. 1.6 miles in you will come to Pioneer Tree. Notice the ring of redwoods around the main trunk. Redwoods sprout new growth from root and burls, especially after a tree has been damaged. If possible, look inside the hollowed-out section of the tree. It has a double cavity. 0.2 miles farther there is a small trail to the right that goes 50' to a view spot. At 2.2 miles you meet up with the Cross Marin Trail at the old train bridge (Junction 3). It's a nice place to let the kids play for a bit. Once ready to leave, go left (not over the old train bridge) along the Cross Marin Trail, which is more of a road until you reach the starting point for Pioneer Tree trail. Go right across the parks' main bridge and back to where you parked.
Family Biking Option
Distance: 6 Miles
Start at the entrance to the park. You can park just outside the entrance for free by the side of the road or pay the entrance fee and park just inside. Follow the main road in the park across Lagunitas Creek. You come to a "T" (Junction 1). Start by going right along the road, which is known as the Cross Marin Trail. You will travel through the parks service area and just beyond at about 1 mile you will come to the site of the old Paper Mill historic marker (Junction 2). Stop and look around, read the plaque. The Cross Marin Trail continues for another 2.5 miles on paved paths. It's fun to ride, but not much of a destination for the kids.
Turn around and ride back the way you came. Continue past the entrance bridge until you come to the old train bridge (Junction 3). You will have ridden about 2.5 miles at this point. If your kids are mostly done we recommend you play here for a bit, then turn back. If you want more riding, continue across the bride and follow the dirt road along the creek for 1.5 miles until you reach the foot bridge at the Ink Wells. The Ink Wells are deep pools of water in solid bedrock. This is a very popular place on hot days for swimming and playing and makes a great destination for the kids. Stay and play for a bit and, when ready, backtrack to where you parked.
OPTION Extra 2.5 miles and 200' of climbing. If you want a longer and harder ride, you can cross the foot bridge to Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Cross the road to Shafter Bridge (Green Bridge). Here take the fire road going up the left (east side) side of the creek that comes out of Kent Lake. The road leads to Kent Dam and Lake. The distance is about 1.25 miles and climbs about 200 feet in elevation. Kent Lake has no path around it and has a remote wilderness feeling to it. There are many dead trees sticking out of the lake. The lake level is low in the fall. Not many people make their way up to the dam. This is a nice place to picnic before heading back the way you came.
Getting there: From Hwy 101 go west on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard for about 16 miles passing through Ross, San Anselmo, Fairfax, and San Geronimo Valley. Park on the road just outside the entrance to the park or pay the fee and park inside.
For more information, see the book Hiking Marin by Don and Kay Martin at marintrails.com.