Cataract Falls and Alpine Lake, Mt Tamalpais State Park - Rock Spring Trailhead, San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes, California

Cataract Falls and Alpine Lake - 5.4 miles

Mt Tamalpais State Park - Rock Spring Trailhead

One of many cascades and pools along the Cataract Creek Trail

One of many cascades and pools along the Cataract Creek Trail

Round-Trip Length: 5.4 miles
Start-End Elevation: 1,965' - 768' (1,965' max elevation)
Elevation Change: -1,197' net elevation loss (+1,438' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Cataract Falls and Alpine Lake - 5.4 Miles Round-Trip

Cataract Falls is located 1.75 miles from the Rock Spring Trailhead in Mt Tamalpais State Park. The trail closely follows Cataract Creek to a series of falls along its path, and continues on to the redwood-lined shores of Alpine Lake. This popular trail features diverse ecology, numerous cascades, and fishing at Alpine Lake.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Winter visitors will see Cataract Creek at its most voluminous, while spring-summer visitors will enjoy green trailsides, an array of wildflowers and more stable trail conditions.

The Cataract Trail passes through Rock Spring Meadow to the Benstein Trail split (.07 miles) and veers left down a corridor of fir, laurel, oak, buckeye, maple and redwood. Look for deer, fox, coyote and turkey moving about the forest fringes.

The trail crosses small tributaries several times before aligning with Cataract Creek - still quite tame - at .4 miles. Keep straight past a bridge leading to Laurel Dell Road (1.0 miles : 1,711'). The Cataract Trail eases to the Mickey O'Brien Trail split (1.25 miles : 1,685'), circles the top of Laurel Dell (1.4 miles : 1,678'), and crosses Laurel Dell Road into the Laurel Dell picnic area.

Pass through the picnic and rejoin Cataract Creek, which plunges through a deep gorge and sequence of tumbling falls and swirling pools. Immense fir, oak and redwoods line these banks.

Newly built rails and stairs help negotiate steep, oft-wet and rugged sections past the High Marsh Trail split (1.7 miles : 1,648') to the first of several cordoned viewing areas for Cataract Falls (1.75 miles). A second flight drops to a wide cascade and deep pool (1.85 miles : 1,580'), one of the trail's best views, and good turnaround point for those with limited time.

The trail continues downstream to the Helen Markt Trail split (2.4 miles : 1,156'), just past which it crosses Cataract Creek on a wide bridge. A rugged, twisting course resumes between redwoods and the creek to Alpine Lake's inlet (2.7 miles : 768').

For many this is the final destination, but you may continue on considerably milder grades and explore the widening lakeshore another .3 miles to the Cataract Trail's northern terminus at Fairfax-Bolinas Road.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N37 54.654 W122 36.766 — 0.0 miles : Rock Spring Trailhead
  • N37 54.706 W122 36.803 — .05 miles : Cataract Trail - Benstein Trail split
  • N37 54.841 W122 37.191 — .5 miles : Gentle descent along Cataract Creek
  • N37 55.121 W122 37.490 — 1.0 miles : Bridge leading to Laurel Dell Road split
  • N37 55.311 W122 37.570 — 1.25 miles : Mickey O'Brien - Barths Retreat split
  • N37 55.404 W122 37.620 — 1.4 miles : Cross Laurel Dell Meadow and Road
  • N37 55.462 W122 37.740 — 1.7 miles : Cataract Trail - High Marsh Trail split
  • N37 55.866 W122 38.122 — 2.45 miles : Cataract Trail - Helen Markt Trail split
  • N37 56.027 W122 38.168 — 2.7 miles : Alpine Lake

Worth Noting

  • Anticipate steep, slippery and muddy trail conditions beyond Laurel Dell picnic area, especially in the rainy season. Sturdy footwear is recommended.

  • Cataract Creek is born from a natural spring located near the Rock Spring Trailhead. It's illegal to disturb the spring or swim in Cataract Creek and Alpine Lake.

  • The banks of Cataract Creek are highly susceptible to erosion. Help prevent erosion and trail degradation by staying on the maintained trail and using designated viewing areas.

  • The Rock Spring Trailhead - and Cataract Trail in particular - are among Mt Tamalpais State Park's busiest. Arrive early to secure parking and solitude.

Camping and Backpacking Information

Backcountry camping is not permitted within Mt Tamalpais State Park.

Pantoll Campground

  • The Pantoll Campground is located on Panoramic Highway adjacent to the Pantoll Ranger Station. It has 16 campsites, each with a table, rock barbecue, food locker and space for a tent. Phones, faucets, firewood and flush toilets are nearby. There are no showers. Sites are first-come, first-served.

Steep Ravine Environmental Campground

  • The Steep Ravine Environmental Campground is located on a coastal terrace off Highway 1, one mile south of Stinson Beach. It has nine rustic cabins and seven primitive campsites. Each cabin has a wood stove, picnic table, benches, sleeping platforms and outdoor bbq.
  • The cabins do not have running water or electricity. Primitive toilets, faucets, and firewood are nearby. Primitive campsites are located a few hundred yards from the parking area. Each site has a table, fire pit, food locker and space for a tent. Primitive toilets and water faucets are nearby. There are no showers at Steep Ravine Campground.

Alice Eastwood Group Camp

  • Alice Eastwood Group Camp is located off Panoramic Highway on Alice Eastwood Road. It has two campsites. Site A holds up to 50 people; Site B holds up to 25 people. Both sites have tables, flush toilets, water faucets with sinks, bbq grills and a large area for tents.

Frank Valley Group Horse Camp

  • Frank Valley Group Horse Camp is located 1.5 miles West of Muir Woods National Monument on Muir Woods Road. It has 12 pipe corrals, water faucets, watering troughs, picnic tables, fire rings and a pit toilet. The minimum group size is 2 horses; the maximum size is 12 horses.
  • To reserve a campground visit or call 800.444.7275. For specific camping and campground questions, call Pantoll Ranger Station at 415.388.2070.

Fishing Information

  • All seven lakes operated by the Marin Municipal Watershed District (MMWD) are open to fishing year-round, including Alpine Lake.

  • Bass, bluegill, crappie and catfish can be caught in all of the lakes except Lagunitas.

  • State fishing licenses are required for all fishing in MMWD lands. Lake Lagunitas is managed under a special program for trout and has different fishing regulations from the rest of the reservoirs.

  • Lagunitas Creek between Alpine Lake and Kent Lake is open to fishing from the last Saturday in April through November 15. All other streams on MMWD lands are closed to fishing year-round.

  • Call 415.945.1194 for a recorded message with the most current fishing information.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs are permitted but must be leashed at all times.

  • Bikes are not permitted on the Cataract Trail.

  • Fishing is not permitted on Cataract Creek.

Directions to Trailhead

Mt Tamalpais State Park is located north of San Francisco in Marin County. The Rock Spring Trailhead is located 9.9 miles from Highway 101 on Panoramic Highway. The Rock Spring Trailhead is located 1.4 miles north of Pantoll Ranger Station at the Pantoll Road and West Ridgecrest Blvd intersection.

From Highway 101, exit Stinson Beach - Highway 1 and follow the exit ramp west .6 miles to the Highway 1 - Almonte Blvd intersection.

Turn left on Highway 1 toward Stinson Beach. The road winds up the mountain to the Panoramic Highway split (3.2 miles) - veer right on Panoramic Highway (anticipate this quick turnoff). Remain on Panoramic Highway and follow signs for Mt Tamalpais State Park to the Pantoll Ranger Station (keep straight at the Muir Woods - Mill Valley fork at 4.0 miles).

From the Pantoll Ranger Station, veer right up Pantoll Road and continue 1.4 miles to the Rock Spring Trailhead parking area.

Contact Information

Mt Tamalpais State Park
801 Panoramic Highway
Mill Valley, CA 94941

Marin Municipal Water District
220 Nellen Avenue
Corte Madera, CA 94925-1169

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