Dawn Falls was kind of an unusual waterfalling experience for us in that it was nestled in a part of Marin County where there were numerous high-priced residences built amongst towering coastal redwood trees. Heck, even the road we took to get to its trailhead (see directions below) seemed out of place as we were driving on narrow residential roads flanked immediately by coastal redwoods (where some of their roots seemed to have grown beneath the pavement and made the street itself bumpy). We wondered if we were in the right place when we first showed up to do this hike early Sunday morning, but it didn't take long before we saw signage that indicated we were indeed in the right place. In fact, it quickly became apparent to us that the main attraction of the Dawn Falls Trail was the coastal redwood trees and the peaceful serenity of Baltimore Canyon. And as you can see from the picture at the top of this page, the 30ft Dawn Falls required some serious timing (i.e. almost immediately after some substantial rains) in order to see this waterfall perform, which further reinforced the notion that the trail had more going for it than the waterfall itself.
It turned out that there were a couple of starting points for this hike - one that was only a quarter-mile to the falls and another that was roughly 1.25 miles to the falls. We opted to do the longer 2.5-mile round trip hike amidst Baltimore Canyon, and it turned out to be a wise decision as the shorter trail could have caused us to miss out on the majestic coastal redwood scenery as well as the peace and quiet that really put us in a relaxed mood. Overall, this hike took us a little under 90 minutes to do the full hike from the bottom, and this is how we'll describe the trail experience on this page. The difficulty rating also reflects doing the waterfall in this manner, even though we recognize that there was indeed the shorter and probably easier (but less scenic) manner in which to reach the falls.
From the trailhead at the end of Madrone Ave, we followed the steps that left the pavement and descended towards Larkspur Creek. Almost immediately, we were surrounded by coastal redwoods, and when we saw there was water in Larkspur Creek, that gave us hope that Dawn Falls ought to be flowing. On the other side of the bridge traversing the creek, we then turned right and followed the now-signposted Dawn Falls Trail further upstream deeper into Baltimore Canyon. Throughout the hike, we were flanked by the majestic coastal redwood trees, and it became readily apparent that many of the Bay Area's place names like Redwood City further to the south were inspired by such trees. Anyways, we shared the relatively flat trail going slightly uphill with a handful of local joggers who probably use this trail for their morning run.
Roughly a half-mile from the trailhead, we encountered a trail junction with the Ladybug Trail. We kept left to remain on the Dawn Falls Trail, and a few minutes afterwards, we noticed a few feeder creeks coming from our left that would cross the trail and feed Larkspur Creek. Unfortunately, the further up Baltimore Canyon we went (beyond these feeder creeks), Larkspur Creek grew more and more quiet, and eventually by the time we reached the head of Baltimore Canyon (and an even denser grove of coastal redwood trees), it was almost as if Larkspur Creek went completely dry during our mid-May 2016 visit. Anyways, this was confirmed as we climbed steeply up the continuation of the trail as it left the floor of Baltimore Canyon and followed its contours towards the top of Dawn Falls, where it was indeed merely trickling. It was from this point that we realized that we probably could have gone another quarter-mile further up the canyon to the other trailhead (for the shorter way of doing this hike).
Nevertheless, we didn't regret our decision to do the longer way one bit, and when we went back down the hill and went back the way we came, we got to soak in the experience of Baltimore Canyon and its redwood forest once again.
The nearest town to Dawn Falls and the Baltimore Canyon Open Space Preserve was Larkspur or the neighboring Corte Madera, but we'll describe it from a few different directions - one from San Francisco to the south, one from Napa Valley to the northeast, and one from Richmond to the east. We figured that these would be the nearest or most relevant cities for directions whether you're visiting or if you're a Bay Area resident having to pass through at least one of these places anyways.
When we showed up, we actually drove down from Oroville by way of Sacramento (via the Hwy 70 for about 41 miles or 38 minutes then the I-80). We would then take the I-80 for about 63 miles to the I-580 connector (the neither our Garmin Nuvi GPS nor GoogleMaps seemed to recognize this I-580 connector in North Richmond), which then reached the I-580 crossing the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge (toll required) before exiting right after the bridge at Sir Francis Drake Blvd leading us to the US101 south. After briefly getting on the freeway due south, we then exited the freeway at Tamalpais Drive. We followed Tamalpais Drive for about 0.7 miles before the street curved north then split where we kept left onto Redwood Ave. Shortly thereafter, we turned right onto Corte Madera Ave (becoming Magnolia Ave) and followed this street north for about 0.6 miles to Madrone Ave on the left (just beneath a bridge). Next, we followed the narrow Madrone Ave between a series of coastal redwood trees before continuing on mostly single-lane residential roads all the way to its end about a mile later. There, we managed to find very limited parking (there seemed to be room for only 6 spots and many visitors and residents appeared to have parked here overnight). I suspect that trailhead parking here would be difficult without an early start or without coming on a weekday. Overall, this drive took us about 2.5 hours from Oroville.
From San Francisco, we'd go north on the US101 through the Golden Gate Bridge then continue north for roughly 8 miles before exiting at Tamalpais Drive. We would then follow the directions towards the end of Madrone Ave as given above.
From Napa Valley, we would have the option of taking the Hwy 29 south to the Hwy 37 due west (Sears Point Rd) for 22 miles then go south on the US101 for about 12 miles to the Tamalpais Drive exit. Then, follow the local driving directions as given above.
To get to the other trailhead closer to Dawn Falls, instead of turning off Magnolia Ave at Madrone Ave, we could have continued north on Magnolia Ave before turning left onto Woodland Rd (1.6 miles north of the Madrone Ave turnoff). Once on Woodland Rd, we'd drive for about 0.3 miles before making another left onto Evergreen Drive. We'd then follow Evergreen Drive for about a mile before its junction with Crown Rd to our left. The other end of the Dawn Falls Trail would be a short distance down Crown Rd.
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