Carson Falls

Mt Tamalpais, California, USA

About Carson Falls

Hiking Distance: 3.5 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 2.5 hours

Date first visited: 2010-04-09
Date last visited: 2019-04-21

Waterfall Latitude: 37.96995
Waterfall Longitude: -122.64443

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Carson Falls is another series of waterfalls (though not as extensive a series as the nearby Cataract Falls).

Because it sits near the top of the drainage around Pine Mountain and Oat Hill (part of the Mt Tamalpais drainage), I suspect this waterfall has a short season.

Carson_Falls_092_04212019 - One of the middle tiers of Carson Falls
One of the middle tiers of Carson Falls

Both times I’ve been to this waterfall, I made my visits in the Spring of heavy rainfall years (April 2010 and April 2019 to be exact).

During each of those visits, I managed to see decent flow, but not as much as I had seen in the literature (like on our Ann Marie Brown book).

As for the falls itself, there’s a topmost tier, which consists of two minor plunges (I’m guessing about 20-30ft in total height for this section). I happened to see some blooming larkspur flowers fronting this section of the waterfall.

Below that section, the falls then descends down an attractive 20-30ft drop before going down a few more cascades, and then finally a dramatic 40-50ft drop into a shadowy, well-forested cove.

Carson_Falls_055_04092010 - The lowest and tallest drop from Carson Falls
The lowest and tallest drop from Carson Falls

Beyond this falls, stream continues cascading down minor drops and rapids, but they’re not photogenic.

I actually did hike to the very bottom and didn’t find it particularly worth it except that it was quite peaceful and naturesque down there.

Hiking from Azalea Hill Trailhead to Oat Hill Road

The 3.5-mile hike begins at a parking area right across the Fairfax-Bolinas Road from the gated Pine Mountain Fire Road. I believe this was called the Azalea Hill Trailhead.

After crossing the Fairfax-Bolinas Road, I then went past the gate and hiked on the Pine Mountain Road, which was totally exposed to the sun.

Carson_Falls_028_04212019 - It was a pretty long and hot climb up the Pine Mountain Road to reach its apex and ultimately the Oat Hill Road junction
It was a pretty long and hot climb up the Pine Mountain Road to reach its apex and ultimately the Oat Hill Road junction

This initial climb was hot and pretty relentless as it ascended up a minor hill.

Then, it dropped briefly before making a longer climb up to the summit of the Pine Mountain Road near some power lines.

It was along this stretch of the trail that I was treated to nice views of the northern San Francisco Bay, the Richmond Bridge, a country club near the town of Fairfax below, and even a view of Alpine Lake when I looked towards the southwest.

Given the width of Pine Mountain Road, I noticed there were also mountain bikers sharing this road, but it was slow going for them going uphill.

Carson_Falls_124_04212019 - The nice thing about the Pine Mountain Road was the views towards the northern bay, including the Richmond Bridge
The nice thing about the Pine Mountain Road was the views towards the northern bay, including the Richmond Bridge

However, when they were going downhill, a few of them screamed by me as they were gunning it down the road from its apex near the phone lines.

I generally stayed to the sides of the road to avoid a collision.

Hiking from Oat Hill Road to Carson Falls

Beyond the apex of Pine Mountain Road, there was a signed junction with Oat Hill Road.

Carson_Falls_051_04212019 - Descending the Oat Hill Road towards the trail junction for Carson Falls
Descending the Oat Hill Road towards the trail junction for Carson Falls

I took the Oat Hill Road on the left (another fire road) downhill towards the next signed junction with the Carson Falls trail itself.

This was actually the new Carson Falls trail thanks to some public funding that went into the trail restoration project that completed some time in 2009.

Thus, the old trail, which more closely followed the telephone lines down to the falls, was closed during my visit.

The Carson Falls trail continued to descend passing briefly through a small grove of trees as well as descending a handful of switchbacks before being exposed to the open sun again.

Carson_Falls_076_04092010 - A lizard I saw along the trail
A lizard I saw along the trail

After another brief stint through the shade of trees, I then found myself right at the uppermost of the Carson Falls series.

There was an easy-to-miss trail that continued over a bridge above the top of the falls then curled around towards two more overlooks showcasing the next tiers of the Carson Falls.

The trail kept descending beyond the last viewing spots for Carson Falls, but it turned out that it wasn’t necessary to proceed further since the falls was my goal of the hike.

I wasn’t sure where that trail kept going, but it moved away from the falls the further it down it went.

Carson_Falls_039_04092010 - Checking out the main middle tiers of Carson Falls under decent flow in April 2010
Checking out the main middle tiers of Carson Falls under decent flow in April 2010

And the whole time I descended, I had to keep in mind that all that I had to regain all that elevation back on the return.

Overall, I wound up spending about 2.5 hours on this 3.5-mile out-and-back hike.


Carson Falls resides in the Mt Tamalpais Watershed in Marin County. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Carson_Falls_001_04092010 - The car park
Carson_Falls_008_04092010 - Mountain bikers approaching on the Pine Mountain Road
Carson_Falls_009_04092010 - Nice view looking towards the northern San Francisco Bay on my first visit back in April 2010
Carson_Falls_017_04092010 - Looking back down the Pine Mountain Fire Road that I had to ascend
Carson_Falls_079_04092010 - Looking back at the bay from the phone lines near the apex of Pine Mountain Road
Carson_Falls_021_04092010 - Signposted trail junction with Oat Hill Road
Carson_Falls_022_04092010 - Descending the Oat Hill Fire Road
Carson_Falls_025_04092010 - Wildflowers in bloom alongside the Carson Falls trail
Carson_Falls_026_04092010 - The new Carson Falls trail
Carson_Falls_027_04092010 - Briefly traversing through a grove of trees
Carson_Falls_097_04212019 - Checking out the main middle drop of the Carson Falls from a subsequent visit in April 2019, which had significantly lower flow than the first time
Carson_Falls_059_04212019 - The Carson Falls Trail actually descended a few switchbacks in this shaded section of the trail
Carson_Falls_067_04212019 - Below the shaded switchbacks, the Carson Falls Trail momentarily went back out in the open again
Carson_Falls_069_04212019 - A gorgeous display of wildflowers blooming alongside the Carson Falls Trail
Carson_Falls_032_04092010 - The uppermost of the Carson Falls
Carson_Falls_040_04092010 - An attractive look at the middle drop of the Carson Falls from my first visit back in April 2010
Carson_Falls_101_04212019 - The lowermost drops of Carson Falls seemed to have been overgrown over the years so it was harder to appreciate its tallest drops from the trail anymore
Carson_Falls_053_04092010 - Some very minor cascades below the lowest overlook
Carson_Falls_066_04092010 - Looking back at the middle tiers of Carson Falls from a lower vantage point in decent flow from my April 2010 visit
Carson_Falls_069_04092010 - Looking at the context of the Carson Falls on my way back up
Carson_Falls_073_04092010 - Closure barricades and signs for the old trail
Carson_Falls_122_04212019 - All that descending I had to do to get to Carson Falls meant I had to get back all that elevation lost on the return hike
Carson_Falls_074_04092010 - Some wildflowers flanking the trail as I headed back up to Oat Hill Road
Carson_Falls_077_04092010 - Looking towards the canyon that the old Carson Falls trail used to go through
Carson_Falls_132_04212019 - Looking down towards some country club below the Pine Mountain Road as I was descending back to the Azalea Hill Trailhead
Carson_Falls_135_04212019 - As I was descending Pine Mountain Road, some mountain bikers were struggling to pedal their way up this rough and rocky uphill road
Carson_Falls_081_04092010 - Looking down at Alpine Lake on the return hike


Since we came from Cataract Falls to get to the car park for Carson Falls, we can say that the trailhead is on the Fairfax-Bolinas Road a little over 4 miles east of the trailhead for Cataract Falls or about 5 miles west on the Bolinas Road from Fairfax.

Even though the trailhead we discussed on this page is for the Azalea Hill Trailhead and is unsigned for the falls, it’s a pretty large car park and it’s near the apex of the Bolinas Road.

Carson_Falls_152_04212019 - Looking down at the pretty full Azalea Hill Trailhead, which was where I started my hike for Carson Falls
Looking down at the pretty full Azalea Hill Trailhead, which was where I started my hike for Carson Falls

I’ve noticed that there are some other trailheads that may be shorter than the one described on this page to reach Carson Falls. However, I haven’t done those so I can’t say more about them.

As for a more complete directions write-up, I’ll describe how I managed to do this drive San Francisco.

From San Francisco, the most direct approach would be to head north on the Golden Gate Bridge (US101) for about 9 miles or so to the exit 450B for Sir Francis Drake Blvd. Then, follow Sir Francis Drake Blvd for about 4 miles to Pacheco Ave on the left.

Pacheco Ave then quickly intersects with Broadway Blvd / Center Blvd. Turn right onto Broadway Blvd, and follow this street to the three-way stop at Bolinas Rd in 500ft, then turn left onto Bolinas Rd.

Then, I followed Bolinas Road to the aforementioned Azalea Hill Trailhead (for Carson Falls) after 5 miles on the narrow and twisty Bolinas Road.

Carson_Falls_001_04212019 - With a pretty early start, I've found that there was ample parking at the Azalea Hill Trailhead
With a pretty early start, I’ve found that there was ample parking at the Azalea Hill Trailhead

Overall, this drive took me a little less than an hour with free-flowing traffic. It might take longer depending on traffic.

For geographical context, San Francisco is 24 miles (about 45-60 minutes drive) south of Stinson Beach, 11 miles (over 30 minutes drive) west of Oakland, 55 miles (over an hour drive) north of San Jose, 52 miles (about 90 minutes drive) south of Napa, 96 miles (over 2 hours drive) south of Sacramento, and 382 miles (6 hours drive) north of Los Angeles.

Bottom up sweep of the topmost tier of the falls with larkspurs blooming in the foreground

Top down sweep of the upper section of the main falls from the upper overlook

Top down sweep from the top of the falls to the base of the falls from the lowest overlook

Long movie where I started from the frontal view at the lower lookout then climbed up to a more sanctioned lookout of the middle tiers

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Tagged with: tamalpais, marin, fairfax, san francisco, bay area, central coast, california, waterfall

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