Home > Golden Gate Ferries, Hike, North Bay > Secret Sausalito Stairways to the Marin Headlands

Secret Sausalito Stairways to the Marin Headlands

September 11, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Marin Headlands -- by Jen English

This hike takes you from the Sausalito Ferry terminal, up some of Sausalito’s hidden stairways, and into the Marin Headlands for a loop around Gerbode Valley. This is a great route for observing the hawk migration in the Fall, and for viewing wildflowers. An optional side trip to Hill 88 provides a look at the remains of Nike missile site radar towers left over from the Cold War and — in clear weather — amazing views.

Places visited: Marin Headlands (Golden Gate National Recreation Area), Sausalito stairways
Approximate Length:
9.7 miles (11.5 miles, with the side trip to Hill 88; shorter 3.5 mile option without the Headlands loop)
Hiking Time:
5-7 hours
Map:
Sausalito stairways route, Marin Headlands
Terrain:
Stairways: steep ups and downs; trails: mix of steady uphill and downhill, with some sections of level hiking.
Transit schedule:
Golden Gate Ferry, San Francisco – Sausalito
Start and end point:
Sausalito Ferry Terminal, Humboldt and Anchor Streets, Sausalito.
Getting to the starting point:

  • From San Francisco, take any of the many Muni buses servicing downtown San Francisco and get off at its terminus at Market Street (anywhere from 1st Street to the Ferry Plaza), or take BART or Muni Metro to Embarcadero station. Depending on where you get off, walk to the Ferry Building on Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street.  Head through the ferry building, purchase your ticket at the terminal, and take the ferry to Sausalito. (If you live near or are staying closer to Pier 39, Blue and Gold Fleet also has a ferry service to Sausalito.)
  • From the Peninsula and South Bay, take Caltrain to the Millbrae station. Transfer to BART heading into San Francisco. Get off at Embarcadero station, exit the station, and head 3 blocks down Market Street and across the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building. Purchase your ferry ticket at the terminal, and take the ferry to Sausalito.
  • From the East Bay, take BART to San Francisco. Get off at Embarcadero station, exit the station, head down Market Street to the Ferry Building. Purchase your ferry ticket at the terminal, and take the ferry to Sausalito.
  • From the North Bay (on weekends) take Golden Gate Transit (GGT) Route 22 (starts at the San Rafael Transit Center at 3rd and Hetherton, a transfer point for other GGT routes) or Route 10 (starts at Strawberry Village at Reed and Belvedere) to the Sausalito Ferry Terminal.

Notes:

  • The San Francisco Ferry Building has many food stalls, and even more food options on Saturday mornings with its large farmer’s market. Arrive early if you would like to shop for food before taking the ferry to Sausalito. Sausalito itself has many restaurants, delis, and other places to purchase food. Snacks and (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) beverages are sold on the ferry.
  • To allow plenty of time for this hike on a weekend day, I highly recommend taking the first ferry from San Francisco to Sausalito, which (as of this writing) arrives in Sausalito at 11:10 a.m. The last ferry leaves Sausalito for San Francisco at 6:30 p.m. There is reduced ferry service on certain holidays, so be sure to check the schedule if you are planning a trip on a holiday. If you would like to get an earlier start for this hike, take the Golden Gate Transit’s Route 10 bus from San Francisco; it has arrival times at the Sausalito ferry terminal just after 8, 9, and 10 a.m. on weekends.
  • If for some reason you miss the last ferry back to San Francisco, don’t panic! You can either catch the last Route 10 bus leaving a half hour later from Bridgeway just outside the ferry terminal, or (if you’re really late or staying for dinner) GGT 70/80 leaving up until 11:50 pm on weekends.
  • There are no restrooms at the Morning Sun trailhead or along the Headlands trails on this hike. Plan on using the restroom on the ferry or a public restroom in Sausalito.
  • Sausalito has other stairways beyond the ones described in this route. I have not yet located an accurate and complete map of the stairways, but you can explore on your own very easily without getting too lost (particularly because you can spot the water from most places up in the hills). The book Exploring Sausalito’s Paths and Walkways (Dorothy Gibson) provides nice details about the paths, but is out-of-print and difficult to find.

Directions:

  • After disembarking from the ferry, walk through the parking lot and past the fountain/plaza area to Bridgeway, the main thoroughfare. Cross the street and turn left on Bridgeway.
  • Follow Bridgeway as it curves slightly to the right, and then watch for a stairway and small park on your right. There is no easily visible sign identifying either the park (Tiffany Park) or the stairs (North St.).
  • Climb the stairs, passing benches and greenery.
  • At the top of the stairs, you will be at the intersection of Josephine and North streets. Head slightly left to continue on North Street.
  • At a sharp left curve in the road, look for stone stairs heading straight up, signed as Cable Roadway. Start up the stairs.
  • When the stairway ends, turn right (Crescent Ave.) and very shortly make a sharp left onto Sausalito Blvd.
  • Look for the continuation of the Cable Roadway stairs on your right. Continue on the stairs/path, taking care not to turn up private driveways.
  • When the stairs end, head up the paved road for a short distance, and turn left at the T intersection onto Prospect Ave.
  • Pass Channing Way on your right, staying on Prospect as it gradually curves to the right.
  • At the end of the road, take the stairway on the right side of road.
  • Pass a street that heads down to your right, as the stairs become a dirt path and as a road that passes over the freeway comes into view.
  • Although the freeway overpass goes directly up to the Headlands, do not take this road; you will see it is signed as private. Instead, you will be heading down and under the freeway underpass. To start in that direction, walk down the stairs to the right towards the fire station and intersection below.
  • Carefully cross the road towards the fire station when the stairs end, turn left onto the sidewalk, and make a right at then corner, which is Monte Mar.
  • No sidewalks here, so stay all the way over to the right shoulder, passing a bus stop and any cars parked on the side of the road.
  • Carefully cross the street to your left when you reach the underpass road. Cross onto the right side of the underpass road, which has a sidewalk.
  • Just after passing under the freeway you will see a parking lot to your right. As the road curves past the parking area, look across for the trailhead. Very carefully (cars exiting and entering the freeway use this road) cross the street to the Morning Sun trailhead.
  • Head up the stairs and switchbacks through lush foliage on the Morning Sun Trail for a little over a quarter of a mile.
  • At the T junction, turn left onto the wide fire road.
  • Shortly you will pass a large metal gate and come to a juncture with private property signs off to your left. Turn right onto a wide service road and then make a quick left onto a narrow trail, following the signs for the Rodeo Valley Trail.
  • Follow the Rodeo Valley Trail as it heads right and down into the valley. You will soon see the Bunker Road tunnel and road down on your left.
  • When the trail comes closer to the road, pass a trail to your left that leads toward an equestrian facility.
  • At the next juncture, take the short connector trail to the left (don’t go right, which heads up the Bobcat Trail). In a very short distance, turn right onto the Miwok Trail, which takes you away from the road and starts its climb up the hill.
  • After you have headed up the Miwok Trail for about a mile, pass the Wolf Ridge Trail on your left. Before continuing on consider the sidetrip described below.

———-
Optional side trip: Before deciding to take this side trip, note how long it has taken you to get here, which is around the halfway point. If you don’t have the time or energy (it’s a steep climb up to Wolf Ridge, and then another climb up the Miwok Trail after the sidetrip), save this for another day.

  • To start the side trip, turn left onto the Wolf Ridge Trail, and climb the trail as it head up and around the hill to the right.
  • After .7 miles, at the intersection with the Coastal Trail, turn left and up the paved road and through the gate to Hill 88. This is a good spot to take a lunch or snack break, admire the views from the hill (if it’s not foggy!), and explore the building and radar tower ruins.
  • Once you are done here, head back down the paved Coastal trail you came up, turning right at Wolf Ridge and back to the Miwok Trail.
  • Turn left to continue on the Miwok Trail.

———–

  • A little over a quarter mile after the Wolf Ridge Trail, pass Old Springs Trail on your left, and continue on the Miwok Trail.
  • Pass an unmarked side trail that heads towards a gated facility to the right.
  • After passing the facility, you will see other unmarked roads on your right servicing this facility. Head left, following the Bobcat Trail sign.
  • In almost a mile, the Marincello Trail comes in from the right to join your trail.
  • Pass a signed trail on your right that heads off to the Hawk Camp.
  • At the next juncture, turn left and then make a quick right onto the Alta Trail.
  • After a half mile, you will be back at the juncture with the Morning Sun Trail. Just before the turnoff to the Morning Sun Trail is a view spot where you may want to stop before continuing the hike.
  • Turn left to head down the stairs and switchbacks of the Morning Sun Trail.
  • Leaving the trail, very carefully cross the street, past the parking lot and onto the sidewalk of the underpass.
  • After passing under the freeway, carefully cross the street and turn right. As on the way to the trail, stay on the shoulder of the road.
  • At the fire station, turn left at the corner and carefully cross the street to the stairway on the other side.
  • Climb the stairs, follow the dirt path past the paved street to your left, and head down the stairs to the street.
  • Turn left at the street and follow the road around slightly to the left.
  • Turn right at the next block and then down the Cable Roadway stairs.
  • When the stairs end, turn left on Sausalito. Shortly, make the next sharp right onto Crescent Ave.
  • Look for the continuation of the Cable Roadway stairs on your left. Head down the stairs.
  • Continue straight on North Street once the stairs end.
  • Veer slightly to the left and onto Central Avenue.
  • Pass the Sacramento stairs on your left.
  • Stay to your right as you pass the Sausalito Women’s Club. The street becomes San Carlos Ave.
  • At the next intersection, stay to your left, Harrison Avenue. At the time of my visit, the street sign was rotated in the wrong direction, which was slightly confusing. Just stay to your left, which parallels the water, rather than heading down to your right.
  • Watch for a stairway on your right, signed Excelsior Lane. If you reach Santa Rosa Ave., you’ve gone too far. Head down the stairs.
  • When the stairs end, cross the street and go slightly to your left at the church and turn right, heading past a unique wood bench to continue on Excelsior Lane.
  • Head down the stairs, past the fountain and out to the water. You will be at the Sausalito Ferry Terminal. Congratulations, you made it!

Alternate shorter (approx. 3.5 miles; allow 2 1/2-3 hours) trip:

  • Follow the directions from the Sausalito Ferry Terminal up to the Morning Sun Trailhead.
  • Head up the Morning Sun Trail.
  • At the top, enjoy the view spot just off to your right.
  • When you are done, head down the Morning Sun Trail.
  • Follow the directions above from the Morning Sun Trail back to the Ferry Terminal.

This shorter route is a great option if you would like to spend time exploring the stairways and enjoying the views at the top. Keep in mind that it is still a challenging route with many stairs, so you will get some exercise. This would also be a nice option for visitors who would like a look at Sausalito beyond the shops and restaurants.

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  1. September 14, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    Amazing level of detail. Look forward to reading more of your car-free adventures.

  2. September 15, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    This looks AWESOME.

  3. September 16, 2009 at 2:13 am

    This is great – thanks! Just last week I decided to get off my duff and occasionally bike to my client in Sausalito instead of driving like I usually do, so the timing is great for me.

  4. September 18, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    This is a great idea for blog. I wish this was available when I was at Cal. I didn’t have a car back then.

    BTW, if you need ideas for new trips, I know there’s public busses that go to Fort Cronkhite/Rodeo Beach out at the Headlands, as well.

  5. Francis Kulaga
    June 30, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    My friend and I just did this hike today with a 3 mile extension (beginning in Marin City) and it was absolutely awesome! thanks so much for your great directions and excellent detail.

    Francis Kulaga

  6. Dave Hauslein
    July 1, 2010 at 7:51 am

    Francis and I had a great time doing this trail. The directions were perfect, and the extension was the best part!I look forward to exploring more of the trails you have posted.

  7. pennyprudence
    May 10, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Thank you so much for taking the time to post these routes. I’m always looking for more car-free hikes and am beyond grateful to you for sharing yours.

  8. martin
    November 30, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    I’ve done this route several times and the directions given here are perfect.!

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