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January Places to Sit and Contemplate a New Year

Our first installment of Happy Trails for 2024 introduces you to two perfect places to sit and contemplate the possibilities for a new year.

Owl Trail to Muir Beach Overlook

Most Marin Horizon families have visited Slide Ranch at some point. (And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?) A quick 20-minute drive from Marin Horizon, Slide Ranch is a magical place. A working farm, an education center and day camp, and a sustainable living experiment, Slide has something for everyone. It’s open every day (and free!). Kids can explore organic gardens, visit with goats, sheep, and chickens, and even check out some tidepools (at low tide, of course). But not everyone knows that there is an easy, two mile out-and-back hike that starts behind the Slide Ranch goat barn and leads to the spectacular Muir Beach overlook. The well-marked Owl Trail more or less parallels Shoreline Highway and offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean as waves crash on the rocky shore below. It ends at the parking lot of the Muir Beach Overlook, one of those places that everyone has driven past but few have actually been. Do yourself a favor and walk down the stairs to take in a panoramic view from Bolinas to Pacifica. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a few whale spouts in the distance. (Pro tip #1: This is an ideal hike to take with out of town visitors because it’s a low-effort/high-reward trail that offers a perfect non-verbal response to your in-law’s passive-aggressive “I just don’t understand why anyone would pay this much to live here!” carping. You're welcome.)

Mill Valley to Old Railroad Grade to Temelpa Trail to Sitting Bull Monument

On the opposite end of the spectrum, this challenging hike begins innocuously enough in downtown Mill Valley. Grab some sandwiches from the Mill Valley Market deli. (Pro tip #2: order online in advance to have your lunch ready when you are.) From there, walk the redwood-shaded streets of Blithedale Canyon to Blithedale Summit Trailhead. (Either Corte Madera Avenue or West Blithedale will get you there eventually. You can also drive to the trailhead directly, though parking is limited.

From the trailhead, take Old Railroad Grade for about 3.5 miles. This is a gentle climb, mostly in the shade, on a well-trafficked fireroad. Watch out for mountain bikers zooming down. You’ll emerge onto Summit Avenue, a paved road at the tippy top of the Middle Ridge neighborhood of Mill Valley. Where Summit Avenue meets Fern Canyon Road, keep your eyes peeled for a small trail on the right. This is the Temelpa Trail.

(For a scrambling alternative, you may want to deviate earlier from Old Railroad as it crosses Galena Creek. This is especially fun after a rain, when the creek is flowing and burbling through a dense redwood grove. There are some pretty easy-to-find paths along the creek bank. This detour will put you out on Hoo-Koo-E-Koo Trail. Make a left here and follow the path past Wheeler Trail until you reach a junction with Temelpa Trail.)

Temelpa Trail is not for the faint of heart. It’s a steep ankle-turner and calorie-burner that will help you earn that Mill Valley Market hoagie. Just about the time you're cursing us for sending you up this route, you’ll spot a giant boulder to the left of the trail. With a little help or grit, you can climb the boulder and take in a truly gorgeous view of Mill Valley, Richardson Bay, and the entire expanse of the SF Bay Area. At first, you’ll find yourself thinking about how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place. And then, if you’re anything like us, you’ll find yourself wondering what this all might have looked like in, say, 1848, when indigenous people outnumbered European settlers and San Francisco’s population was about 1000. It’s then that you’ll reflect on the plaque that is affixed to the boulder on which you're sitting. It contains an excerpt from a speech that Chief Sitting Bull gave at the Powder River Council of 1877.

It is clear that Sitting Bull sees the same beauty, the same glory of nature that you can see from this spot. But when Sitting Bull wrote these words, San Francisco’s population had ballooned to over 200,000 in under 20 years and he recognized the consequences of this change. He pulls no punches and makes no mistake about who is to blame for what was and will be lost. His words are humbling. 

For super ambitious hikers, Temelpa Trail continues all the way to East Peak where you can arrange a pickup. Or simply turn back, head down the mountain, and take a few miles to contemplate the beauty of our planet and the ways in which you can protect it for future generations. 


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