This is one of the most enjoyable hikes in the Marin Headlands, featuring spectacular ocean views from the blufftop Pirates Cove Trail, a descent into the very pretty Muir Beach area, and a stroll through the Green Gulch Farm and Zen Center.
The route starts at the Tennessee Valley trailhead and crosses over Coyote Ridge to reach Muir Beach. The most scenic parts of the hike are on the Muir Beach side and could be seen on a shorter, 5.5-mile loop starting at the Muir Beach trailhead. However, Tennessee Valley is a lot easier to get to, especially in the summer, when traffic to Muir Beach slows to a crawl. But combining the two parts of the park also makes for a more satisfying, full-day hike.
Start at the Tennessee Valley trailhead. Like most trailheads in the Marin Headlands, it can be hard to find parking here, but you can usually find a spot with a little hunting around.
The very popular Tennessee Valley Trail is a wide, flat paved road that runs through a chaparral-covered valley to Tennessee Beach. It’s worth a 1.2-mile detour to see the beach, with its sea stacks, high bluffs, and little pond.
The Coastal Trail climbs steeply out of the valley, offering some views of the beach. After a long climb you reach the intersection of the Pirates Cove and Coastal Trails, where there’s a spectacular view of the rugged bluffs to the north.
The trail descends steeply toward Pirates Cove. There’s a little side trail that leads toward the cove, but it ends after a few yards. There’s no safe route to the cove, although I’ve seen people reach it by scrambling down the steep hillside.
After passing by the cove, the trail climbs again, offering increasingly scenic views of the coast.
The trail ends at the intersection with the Coastal Fire Road. Descend on the fire road. The views of chaparral-covered coastal bluffs are replaced with strikingly different views of the wooded green hills and wide beach of the town of Muir Beach.
Look for and take the overgrown, rough Muir Beach Trail to your left. Although the trail isn’t in very good condition, it’s much more scenic than the road, offering great views of the beach.
Pass by the bridge to the Muir Beach parking area (there’s a possible detour to the very popular Pelican Inn, which is usually open for drinks on weekends). When the trail ends at a dirt road, turn right, following the signs for the Middle Green Gulch Trail. Let yourself into the Green Gulch Farm through the imposing wire mesh gate.
The road passes by rows of crops and eucalpytus windbreaks. Skip the Middle Gulch Trail; the Green Gulch Trail has much better views. Passing through another gate, the road enters the Zen Center, with its new octagonal guest house and welcome center. Follow the signs for the Green Gulch Trail, which direct you onto a dirt road that passes a yurt and loops past the guest parking area.
The Green Gulch Trail climbs out of the valley, offering views of the traffic creeping along on Highway 1, the Green Gulch valley, and Muir Beach. As you approach the top there are some nice ocean views.
Reaching the ridgetop, you can either turn left and descend on the Miwok Trail, or turn right and descend on the Fox Trail. The Miwok Trail is more scenic but requires more climbing and is a half-mile longer. In either case, the final descent to the Tennessee Valley is the least scenic part of the hike.
As it descends back into the Tennessee Valley, the Fox Trail provides an odd little glimpse of San Francisco, the Transamerica pyramid and a few other buildings incongruously floating in a little gap between chaparral-covered hills.
© 2016 David Baselt