Cascade Falls is a pretty diminutive 20ft waterfall, but it was one of the “easier” waterfall hikes we did in Marin County.
Like with other waterfalls in this county, suburban developments fringed on the Elliott Nature Preserve, which this waterfall resided in. The preserve sat at the end of the residential Cascade Drive (see directions below).
After finding parking in one of the limited spaces along Cascade Drive, we then walked to the end of the road, where a gate and a sign indicating the Elliott Nature Preserve welcomed us.
From there, a wide open trail descended past a sign and towards a fork. The wider path on the left crossed San Anselmo Creek while the narrower path on the right (called the High Water Trail) skirted the same creek without crossing it.
The Main Trail along San Anselmo Creek
After crossing San Anselmo Creek, the path entered a wooded area along the so-called Public Trail. There were other trails branching off from this main trail to other camps or road accesses.
However, I generally followed the main path alongside San Anselmo Creek before reaching an opening and ultimately another crossing of the creek.
Since this trail was flatter, if San Anselmo Creek was running low, then it would be the more desirable path to take.
Generally, this option would be doable most of the time (requiring some nifty rock hopping to keep the feet dry).
However, if San Anselmo Creek happened to run high, then the High Water Trail would be the preferred alternate since it never has to cross the creek (hence the trail’s name).
The High Water Trail along San Anselmo Creek
The High Water Trail began by skirting the banks of San Anselmo Creek. Some of the narrowness, eroded sections, and undulations of the trail made me question whether this path was legitimate or not.
In any case, it seemed like this trail happened to be more trafficked than the main trail probably because of the creek crossing.
Anyways, true to its name, the High Water Trail climbs fairly high above the banks of San Anselmo Creek before eventually descending and merging with the main trail just beyond the second creek crossing.
I’d argue that it’d still be wise to wear hiking boots on this trail given how easily eroded the High Water Trail can be as it clings to the hills and embankments above San Anselmo Creek.
The Rest of the Way to Cascade Falls
As both the High Water Trail and the main trail merge beyond the second crossing of San Anselmo Creek, the trail then continues to follow along the creek as it makes a final climb and descent.
At the bottom of this hill, the trail then crossed Cascade Creek over a footbridge as the trail reached another junction beyond the footbridge.
This time, the junction was between the San Anselmo Creek Trail and the Cascade Falls Trail. Keeping right at the junction, the trail then narrowed as it followed along Cascade Creek.
After another quarter-mile of slightly uphill hiking, we finally arrived at the Cascade Falls.
We best enjoyed the views of the falls from a rock outcropping with a pure frontal view of the dimunitive 20ft or so waterfall.
I also managed to get more angled views from what appeared to be a continuation of the trail going up towards Cascade Falls’ top.
Although I had read that it might be possible to scramble further upstream towards other waterfalls like the so-called Plunge Pool, the trail seemed to have disappeared beyond the top of Cascade Falls. So I didn’t pursue this any further.
The Plunge Pool and Upper Cascade Falls
I actually took some time to explore whether it was worth going up and beyond the main Cascade Falls. In order to attempt this, I had to backtrack on the Cascade Creek Trail to the footbridge and junction with the San Anselmo Creek Trail.
After briefly hiking the San Anselmo Creek Trail, the trail then forked, where I took the uphill fork as it relentlessly climbed and rounded a bend in the general direction of the Cascade Creek.
I didn’t pursue this path any further when I realized that the trail seemed to move away from Cascade Creek for a significant stretch, which indicated to me that the Plunge Pool as still a ways away (possibly at least 1.5 miles or so in each direction).
So I turned back and returned to the trailhead. Overall, this excursion took me about 90 minutes (probably would have taken me only 60 minutes without pursuing the Plunge Pool).
Cascade Falls resides in the Cascade Canyon Preserve and the trail runs through the Elliott Nature Preserve. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit their website.
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.
Note that if you miss Pacheco Ave, you can also take the next left turn at Claus Dr, where you’d then turn left onto Broadway Blvd, and then shortly turn right onto Bolinas Rd.
Follow Bolinas Rd for about 0.4 miles to Cascade Drive on the right. Then, turn right onto Cascade Drive and follow this road to its end in about 1.5 miles.
The Elliott Nature Reserve begins at the end of the road, however, you’ll have to find street parking along the shoulder as signs there prevent parking on the pavement. There are other signs preventing parking on one side of the street. Furthermore, you’ll want to be mindful not to block anyone’s driveway.
The effect of all these restrictions is that you’ll probably have to find a pullout further down the road, which will increase your hiking distance a bit. It was certainly the case during our first visit.
Overall, this 22-mile drive would take roughly an hour depending on traffic conditions.
For geographical context, San Francisco is 37 miles (over an hour drive) south of Olema, 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.
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