I have stayed overnight in a little lean-to that the people at West Point Inn have the effrontery to call a “cabin” despite a lack of a bathroom, heat, or, come to think of it, a real wall on the structure’s south side. And I have awakened the next morning to throw open a pair of doors to see the grand green swells of Mount Tamalpais, the rooftops of Mill Valley–and the distant wedding cake skyline of San Francisco. It is the most glorious view on earth, and I would forgo having a furnace and a flush toilet to see it on any morning of my life. The only obstacle is getting up there.
There are two ways to reach the inn, situated just below Mt. Tam’s East Peak (elevation 2,574 feet): bike or hike. The other day my friend Tina and her dog Sadie and I got sandwiches from the Mill Valley Market, parked our car near the Throckmorton Ridge fire station, and headed uphill at a brisk pace.
Round trip, the hike takes about an hour and a half if you are with Tina; allow an extra 30 minutes if you are hiking with anyone else or to eat lunch on the inn’s porch. There you can enjoy the view and congratulate yourself for making it up the steepest parts of the Nora Trail.
Do you have a favorite hike you’d like to see us feature in a future Hike of the Week? Tell us about it in the comments section.
Photographs by Michelle Slatalla except where noted.
Above: Photograph by Patti Roll via Flickr.
The historic West Point Inn, a survivor from a sweeter, more innocent era of tourism when something called the “Crookedest Railroad in the World” chugged to the top of Mount Tam and attracted hordes to its gravity cars, is preserved in pristine original condition (think: gas lights, no insulation, and a wraparound porch). In its heyday, you could ride in a stagecoach to the inn–and you still could, by the way–but you will have to leave your car far below in a parking lot.
Above: After you reach the inn, signposts (L) guide you back downhill. Sadie, you found such a nice stick (R). But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Above: The first stretch of our walk was along the Matt Davis Trail; to reach it, park near the Throckmorton Ridge Fire Station. Walk past the fire station and along the fire road to the trailhead.
Above: The Matt Davis Trail is scenic: dappled light, ferns, bubbling creeks, little bridges. The grade on this section of the trail is fairly flat, with gentle ups and downs.
For another Bay Area hike, see Hike of the Week: San Francisco’s Best Kept Secret.
Above: When you reach the signpost for the Nora Trail, take a sharp right–uphill. Sadie stopped to help Tina get a pebble out of her hiking boot. Unfortunately, Tina took off her hat and forgot it on a rock.
Above: There are about a million microclimates along the trail; here we passed through a mossy hobbit land.
Above: After about 20 minutes’ steep climb, the Nora Trail suddenly spews you out onto a flat, sunny knoll where the West Point Inn is perched.
Above: Photograph by Karl Schultz via Flickr.
The inn, maintained by a non-profit association of volunteers, is open to visitors during the day. Inside are pamphlets and maps and hot chocolate. On the porch are picnic tables and a grand view. There are a number of bedrooms inside the inn, and I have slept there as well as in one of the adjacent “cabins.” I have to say I prefer the lean-to, despite the lack of amenities, because it feels wild and far from civilization out there under the stars (even though it’s only about a 20-foot walk to the first lean-to).
Above: The view from the porch. You can see San Francisco, about 12 miles south, in the distance.
Above: Sadie can read; this is her idea of a joke.
Above: While we ate our sandwiches, Sadie waited patiently in a dogs-allowed area.
Above: Good news, on the way back down Sadie found Tina’s hat waiting on the rock.
Above: Here’s a trail map, courtesy of West Point Inn. We started and ended the hike from the fire station near the Mountain Home (R) and followed the dotted lines to reach the West Point Inn. A less steep route (but still very pleasurable) is to park at Pan Toll (L) and walk up the old railroad grade (designated on the map by a broken double line) to reach the inn.
For another Mt. Tam route, see Hike of the Week: 7 Miles to Stinson Beach, CA.