Hiking with Kids in Marin: Samuel P. Taylor State Park
Samuel P. Taylor State Park, located off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard just outside of the small San Geronimo Valley town of Lagunitas, is a favorite spot for outdoor recreation for Marin County families. Situated among towering redwoods, rushing creeks, and oak woodlands, the park really has something to offer for everyone. Samuel P. Taylor State Park boasts numerous family friendly trails, and some of the best and most accessible are located right near the park headquarters and main picnic areas.
The park is named after Samuel Penfield Taylor, who came to California during the 1849 Gold Rush, and went on to found the West Coast's first paper mill on the park site in 1856. The land that is now the park later—after the arrival of the railroad—played host to Camp Taylor, a popular resort that offered camping, a hotel, dancing, swimming, boating, and more to guests from the 1870s to the early 20th century.
Now it's a prime spot for outdoor recreation in Marin. Start your visit at the Camp Taylor entrance to the park, where you can purchase a day-use pass and get a park brochure and map. Then park your car and stake out a spot in the picnic area. The main Azalea picnic area here is sited in a delightful redwood grove along Lagunitas Creek, where Taylor's hotel once stood. Each site has a picnic table and a BBQ grill, and drinking water and clean restrooms are located close by. It's really a magical place to have an al fresco lunch or snack, especially if it's a warm sunny day. An added bonus: with all the shade, the park stays much cooler than other places in Marin on a hot summer day.
When you're done with your picnic, get ready to hit the trail. For families, we recommend either the Ox Trail or the Cross Marin Trail, both of which follow more or less the same direction and even intersect at points.
If you need to accomodate a stroller or bikes, the paved Cross Marin Trail is the one to take. It's wide and flat and parallels Lagunitas Creek and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, running along the route of the old North Pacific Coast Railroad. It's a favorite with cyclists, walkers, and joggers of all ages. Along the way, look for historical markers and information panels that tell about Samuel Taylor and his various entrepreneurial enterprises in the area, and take in views of the creek and redwood forest.
The Ox Trail follows the path of the road that Taylor's ox teams used to move goods to Bolinas for transport to San Francisco via schooner. This narrow path is for hikers only, and winds through redwoods and ferns. There are a few hills, although none are too steep, and is a great route to take for families with older children who enjoy more of a challenge.
To get to both trails, head out of the far end of the picnic area toward the Camp Taylor camping area. Cross the little bridge with the "Salmon Crossing" signs (salmon and steelhead trout both spawn every fall and winter in Lagunitas Creek), and turn right onto the Cross Marin Trail. Watch out here, though, because this section of the trail is open to vehicular traffic coming to and from the campgrounds.
To get to the Ox Trail, head west on the Cross Marin Trail past the Creekside camp ground, then walk up the hill on the road leading to the Orchard Hill campground (look for the sign directing you to sites 26–61). At the top of the hill where the road splits you'll see the entrance to the Ox Trail.
For an interesting and manageable family hike, take the Ox Trail to the site of the old paper mill (which burned down in 1916), then follow the Cross Marin Trail back to the picnic area. Another option for the loop is the South Creek Trail, which is currently closed for reconstruction, but should be open again soon.
Samuel P. Taylor State Park offers numerous additional trails, as well as campsites in several areas throughout the park. For more information, visit www.parks.ca.gov or call (415) 488-9897.
If You Go
Samuel P. Taylor State Park is located at 8889 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Lagunitas. To get there, take Highway 101 to the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard exit, then follow Sir Francis Drake Boulevard west through San Anselmo, Fairfax, and the San Geronimo Valley. You'll soon enter a redwood forest and see the signs for the park. Turn left into the entrance to Camp Taylor. The park is open from 8 am to sunset daily.
There's an $8 per car day-use fee to enter Camp Taylor; pay with cash or credit card at the automated kiosk near the entry booth. The camp hosts who live here and supervise the camping areas are really nice and are happy to answer questions you may have about the park. The park is open from 8 am to sunset.
Camping is available at tent and RV sites, as well as in the rustic Madrone Cabins. Tent camping costs $35 per night, cabins cost $100 per night. Campsites and cabins are available on a first-come, first-served basis from late September through March; reservations are required during the spring and summer.
Restrooms, drinking water, and picnic facilities are available in the park. Weather can vary in West Marin, so dress in layers and pack a fleece jacket or sweatshirt in case it's chilly in the woods. Most of the picnic areas and trails around Camp Taylor are shaded. You'll also see plenty of poison oak around the park, so stay on the trails to avoid contact.
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