Hiking with Kids in Marin: Baltimore Canyon Open Space Preserve
One of the best things about living in Marin has to be the Marin County Open Space District (MCOSD). With countless miles of trails crossing unspoiled open space and wilderness areas, there's never a shortage of great hikes, amazing views, and opportunities to get close to nature.
One of the MCOSD's jewels, Baltimore Canyon Open Space Preserve, is a fantastic place for a family hike at any time of year. Located in the foothills of Mt. Tam between Kentfield and Larkspur, this 193-acre preserve offers some of the best scenery in Marin, and is relatively easy to get to, making it a convenient place for a day hike with the kids.
Baltimore Canyon used to be home to one of the largest concentrations of Coast Redwoods in the Bay Area, and was the site of a steam-powered sawmill that began operating in 1849 and provided lumber to the growing city of San Francisco. The name Baltimore, incidentally, was bestowed upon the area due to the Maryland origins of the sawmill's owners.
The main route through the preserve is the Southern Marin Line Fire Road, which is popular with hikers, dog walkers, and mountain bikers, and is perfect for an off-road stroller. The fire road meanders through wooded areas populated by towering redwoods and Douglas firs, deep red madrones, lush ferns, and numerous stands big leaf maples, which offer Marin's version of fall color. Though not up to New England standards, there are plenty of these trees along the way, and in the fall they brighten the trailside with their deep yellow leaves.
On our last hike, the kids collected colorful examples of maple leaves, which we brought home and used for decorations and some fall craft projects.
The Southern Marin Line Fire Road is easily manageable by all ages, and those looking for a more strenuous hike can hook up with the Hoo-koo-ee-koo trail onto Mt. Tam, or take a side trip to Dawn Falls, a 30-foot cascade that really gets going during the rainy season. The hiking possibilities here are really endlless, and you can even hike all the way into Mill Valley if you wanted to.
Baltimore Canyon is truly an outdoor destination for all seasons: cool and shady during the summer and fall, and lush and green with waterfalls and a rushing stream during the spring and winter.
If You Go
When we visit Baltimore Canyon, we access it from the trailhead in the hills above Kentfield. To get there, take Highway 101 to the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard exit in Greenbrae. Head west on Sir Francis Drake and turn left on College Avenue, then bear right onto Woodland Road. Turn left onto Evergreen Drive and follow it uphill unitl you get to Crown Road, where you'll turn left. The trailhead is at the end of the road. Parking in the area is along the street.
There are no restrooms or drinking water available at the trailhead, so make sure you pack your own. While most of the preserve is in the shade, there are also parts in full sun, so sunblock and hats are a must.
Off-leash dogs under voice control are welcome on the MCOSD fire roads, so feel free to bring your canine pal along for the hike. Bikes are also allowed on fire roads.
To learn more about Baltimore Canyon, and to download a printable trail map, visit www.marinparks.org. Don't miss their online Open Space Field Guide, too.
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