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 Hill and Oat Hill (part of the Mt Tamalpais drainage), I suspect this waterfall has a short season. We visited in the heavy rainfall year of 2010 in April and saw 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.
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.
The 3.5-mile hike begins at a car park right across the Fairfax-Bolinas Road from the gated Pine Mountain Fire Road. I actually had to hike on the fire road, which was totally exposed to the sun as it ascended up a minor hill, then dropped briefly before making a longer climb up to the summit of the Pine Hill Road near some telephone lines. It was along this stretch of the trail that I was treated to nice views of the northern San Francisco Bay, a country club near the town of Fairfax below, and even a view of Alpine Lake when I looked towards the southwest.
There were also mountain bikers sharing the Pine Mountain Road. I saw a few of them scream 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.
Beyond the apex of Pine Mountain Road, there was a signed junction with Oat Hill Road. 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 before being exposed to the open sun again. By that time, I was right at the uppermost of the Carson Falls series. The trail then crossed a bridge above the top of the falls and curled around towards two more overlooks showcasing the next tiers of the 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. 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.
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 car park is unsigned for the falls, it’s a pretty large car park and it’s near the apex of the Bolinas Road before it descends towards the dam responsible for Alpine Lake.
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