Best Day Hike

Round Trip From Stinson Beach to Pantoll Ranger Station, via Steep Ravine and Matt Davis Trails

If you haven't yet hiked the extraordinary Steep Ravine Trail, you're missing one of the great scenic wonders of the Bay Area -- a lush, fern-shrouded redwood canyon of ravishing beauty. And Steep Ravine is only one of the natural wonders on this stunning seven-mile loop. The hike begins at ocean's edge in Stinson Beach. At the south end of town, at the junction of Highway 1 and Panoramic Highway, look for the well-marked head of the Dipsea Trail. Follow the path upward through a cover of mixed woods and onto an expansive grassy hillside with a sweeping view of the beach below and the great Pacific beyond. A little more than a mile into your hike, trail signs direct you left into Steep Ravine, one of the most gorgeous redwood glens on the Northern California coast. For two miles, the path meanders through a dark and magical realm of towering trees and luxuriant ferns, crossing several footbridges, where you are serenaded by a sweet and musical stream. In the sunlight filtering through the trees, backlighting the topaz and emerald foliage, this serene, angelic place becomes an enchanted forest. As you near the top of the ravine, the trail steepens, and the hike can be strenuous. If you're inclined, you can snack once you reach the Pantoll Ranger Station. Stronger hikers will want to make a day of it and continue on the Stapelveldt and Ben Johnson trails to the redwood cathedral of Muir Woods, which will add four miles and immeasurable joy to your hike. Otherwise, join up with the Matt Davis Trail immediately across Panoramic Highway from the Pantoll station. You'll descend nearly four miles back to Stinson, across open, tree-studded hillsides and through stands of thick woods perfumed by Douglas fir and bay laurel, which frame increasingly jaw-dropping ocean views. On your return to Stinson Beach, finish your lunch on the sand or grab a beer at a local cafe. But in either case, be sure to pause a moment and give thanks for the blessed Shangri-La we live in, which provides such remarkable beauty within an hour's drive of home.

 
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