McKennan Gulch Trail to Bolinas Lagoon, Mt Tamalpais State Park - McKennan Gulch Trailhead, San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes, California

McKennan Gulch Trail to Bolinas Lagoon - 3.9 miles

Mt Tamalpais State Park - McKennan Gulch Trailhead

Bolinas Lagoon and Stinson Beach from the McKennan Gulch Trail

Bolinas Lagoon and Stinson Beach from the McKennan Gulch Trail

Round-Trip Length: 3.9 miles (unmaintained trail)
Start-End Elevation: 1,719' - 30' (1,719' max elevation)
Elevation Change: -1,689' net elevation loss (+1,712' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

McKennan Gulch Trail to Bolinas Lagoon - 3.9 Miles Round-Trip

The McKennan Gulch Trail is a short but physically and navigationally challenging route from Ridgecrest Blvd to Bolinas Lagoon. Bolinas Lagoon is a small, shallow estuary separated from the Pacific Ocean by Stinson Beach, a long spit which ends at the lagoon's mouth.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Estuaries are semi-enclosed coastal bodies of water with fresh water influx and a free connection to the open sea. Contributions from each make estuaries one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth.

Bolinas Lagoon covers 3,500 acres directly over the San Andreas Fault. It's 3.45 miles long and 1 mile across at its widest point. The lagoon supports several micro-habitats, including subtidal channels, eelgrass beds, rocky and mudflat intertidal substrates, salt marsh, and upland marsh.

Harbor seals, osprey, egret, heron, pelican, fox, migratory birds and many small fish depend on this delicate matrix for food and shelter. Bolinas Lagoon is one of just nine places in the San Francisco Bay Area used by harbor seals year-round.

Though neatly depicted on maps, the McKennan Gulch Trail is unmaintained and difficult to follow at times. Anticipate thick chaparral and poison oak. Prepared hikers will enjoy exceptional views, varied terrain, certain solitude and diverse wildlife:

The McKennan Gulch Trail leads out to an unmarked 4-way split (.1 mile). To the far right is a spur leading to a bench and overlook; the faint dirt path to its left is the correct trail. The two remaining choices climb a knoll, which should help you rule them out.

The correct path drops steeply on dirt, the remains of a dairy ranch road that offers a measure of guidance on the descent. The trail wraps around an outcrop and levels into a cluttered forest (.35 miles : 1,500'), where you'll be led by an old fence to the right.

The trail emerges from timber (.5 miles : 1,445') in a grassy slope with coastal views from Palomarin (north) to San Francisco Bay (south). On clear days the Farallon Islands can be seen 26 miles out. Purple iris, yellow poppies and the ceanothus shrub - known for its bright blue tufts - dot the grasslands. 

Survey the land, identify faint tracks in the grass and locate upper Stinson Gulch to the south before continuing. The trail dives down the open slope, edging away from Stinson Gulch and shifting quickly through an odd mix of coastal chaparral and diminutive pine. Patience is key through this ill-defined space.

Grade moderate (1.25 miles) through dense manzanita to a Hiker signpost pointing left (1.35 miles : 432'). Travel eases briefly on a more distinct path that leads into a doug-fir forest at the top of Stinson Gulch. The trail arcs over the gulch and opens up again on the side (1.7 miles : 210').

It pitches steeply down once more to the McKennan Gulch Trailhead off of Highway 1 (1.95 miles : 30'). The trail ends in the driveway of an old barn just off highway. An adjacent, uncommonly large cactus patch will draw your attention. Bear right in the driveway and follow it to Highway 1 and Bolinas Lagoon (2.25 miles).

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N37 55.464 W122 38.407 — McKennan Gulch Trailhead on West Ridgecrest Blvd
  • N37 55.274 W122 38.778 — .5 miles : Emerge from forest on open coastal slope
  • N37 55.024 W122 39.165 — 1.0 miles : Trail edges away from Stinson Gulch
  • N37 54.822 W122 39.355 — 1.35 miles : Trail forks left at Hiker Signpost
  • N37 54.641 W122 39.226 — 1.7 miles : Descend down east side of Stinson Gulch
  • N37 54.579 W122 39.177 — 1.95 miles : Trail ends at barn and cactus patch

Worth Noting

  • Long pants and sleeves are highly recommended. Poison oak, stinging nettles and other barbed shrubs are prevalent on the McKennan Gulch Trail. Autumn is an ideal time to visit, when skies are clear and dried foliage reveals a clearer path.

  • The McKennan Gulch Trailhead signboard on Ridgecrest Blvd indicates the trail is only .12 miles long. This is a newer sign aimed at leading visitors to the stone bench and overlook area. Follow it as directed to the unmarked 4-way split (described above) and proceed accordingly.

  • Estuaries are semi-enclosed coastal bodies of water with fresh water influx and a free connection to the open sea.

  • Bolinas Lagoon information provided in part by Bolinas

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.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs and Bikes are not permitted on the McKennan Gulch Trail.

Directions to Trailhead

Mt Tamalpais State Park is located north of San Francisco in Marin County. The McKennan Gulch Trailhead is located 12.1 miles from Highway 101 on Panoramic Highway. The McKennan Gulch Trailhead is located 3.5 miles northwest of Pantoll Ranger Station on West Ridgecrest Blvd.

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 West Ridgecrest Blvd. Turn left on West Ridgecrest and travel 2.2 miles to the McKennan Gulch Trailhead and parking area on the west side of the road. Spaces are limited.

Contact Information

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

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"CAUTION! McKennan Gulch Trail has been closed for several years. The route is overgrown with poison oak and shoulder high growth. Hikers are frequently having to be rescued in this area. "
Concerned Hiker  -  Marin County  -  Date Posted: February 22, 2018


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