What’s Best: A massive grassland mountain with several, easily reached trailheads leading to views of everywhere from Tam to San Francisco to Point Reyes National Seashore.
Parking: From Hwy. 101, take Sir Francis Drake Blvd. west of Fairfax. Park at right at top of hill past Bothin Youth Camp at MCOSD gate. Note: Additional parking in hiking descriptions. Agency: Marin County Open Space District
The broad, sloping shoulders of Loma Alta Tall Hill can be seen to the northwest from much of central Marin. Once the landmark where three Mexican rancheros met, the 1,592-foot-high peak is now the boundary between the urban, evergreen watershed of Tam and the sprawling, tawny ranchlands to the north. The preserve’s 509-acres were acquired by the MCOSD over a 13-year period.
To hike the Gunshot Road to Loma Alta, head through the gate, dipping around the upper part of a ravine, and veer left on the Gunshot Fire Road, which goes up within .25-mile of the trailhead. Gunshot contours right and then hairpins back left up a ridgeline on a relentless 700-foot ascent over .75-mile, a south-facing and almost treeless portion of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. Keep left at a junction with the Smith Ridge Fire Road, ascend switchbacks, and then keep right at a junction where the Loma Alta Fire Road goes left. The BART goes another almost .5-mile and 200-feet of elevation top of Loma Alta. More Stuff: From the summit, the BART joins the Loma Alta Fire Road and continues about 2 miles to the Big Rock-Lucas Valley trailhead; see page 246.
LOMA ALTA MAP SAN FRANCISCO Photo Gallery
More Stuff: The straight-ahead route, to the right at the start of Gunshot Fire Road, is a continuation of the Old Railroad Grade. This old North Pacific Coast Railroad route, which ran from 1874 to 1904, contours 1.75 miles around the base of Loma Alta and connects to Fox Hollow, described below. Also: Loma Alta can be reached via the Oak Manor Fire Road. Parking: Turn right on Oak Manor Drive, before Glen Drive.
The Fox Hollow loop is a down-low, kids’ nature stroll. Parking: From Drake Boulevard west of Fairfax, turn right on Glen Drive, which is past Oak Manor. Drive past the White Hill School to an MCOSD gate at road’s end. Take the Fox Hollow Trail to the left, dropping into a shaded creek that the kids will like. The short Fox Hollow Trail leaves the creek and reaches the Old Railroad Grade. Go left. After .5-mile on this woodland tree tunnel, drop down to your left at a spur trail that comes out behind White Hill School; from there walk Glen Drive to trailhead parking.
Bike: For an ambitious view ride about 1,500 feet of gain, over less than 5 miles try the Loma Alta loop. Begin at the primary parking on Sir Francis Drake. Just down from the trailhead, keep right on Old Railroad Grade. You’ll curve around the base of Loma Alta, encounter a steep dip above Baywood Canyon, and then round the toe of the mountain on a gradual decline into the woodlands of Fox Hollow. From there, go left up the ravine on Glen Fire Road, connecting with Smith Fire Road on its steady ascent toward Loma Alta. Then backtrack to Gunshot Fires Road. Then hang on for dear life on the way down to trailhead parking. More: The MCOSD’s new 680 Trail (named for its elevation gain) covers 3 miles and connects Loma Alta to the Sleepy Hollow-Terra Linda preserve, making it possible for cyclists to get from central Marin to West Marin mostly on dirt. Using the hiking directions above to Loma Alta, veer right before the summit (in the saddle with the lower peak, Lomita). The 680 Trail crosses the Solstice Trail (a.ka. Indian Warrior), a steep single-track down to San Domenico School in Sleepy Hollow. It then contours around to join the Luiz Ranch Fire Road.