About Dawn Falls
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.
It seemed like an unlikely place for a pleasant Nature outing (let alone a waterfalling excursion) given the developments, but it just goes to show you how Nature can yield pleasant surprises.
I actually visited this 30ft waterfall twice – a first time when it was not flowing in May 2016, and a second time when it was flowing in April 2019.
Each time I’ve done this excursion, I took a different trail.
The first trail involved hiking through Baltimore Canyon before climbing up to the Dawn Falls.
The second trail started from a trailhead above Baltimore Canyon before descending to Dawn Falls.
Summarizing the different approaches to Dawn Falls
The Baltimore Canyon route pretty much meandered amongst the towering coastal redwood trees, which were plentiful within this canyon.
This trail meandered for 1.25 miles to reach the Dawn Falls (2.5 miles round trip).
It took my Mom and I a little under 90 minutes to complete, but we really took our time as we basked in the peace and quiet of the canyon floor.
Most of the hike was flat except for the final climb up leading up to the foot of the waterfall in the last quarter-mile or so.
Of the two hikes to reach Dawn Falls, I’d argue that this was the more atmospheric of the two even though the hike was longer.
On the other hand, the other trail started from a different trailhead above Baltimore Canyon.
This approach involved briefly hiking along the rim of Baltimore Canyon on the Crown Road Fire Road.
It eventually reached a trail junction with the Dawn Falls Trail, where it then descended to Dawn Falls barely a half-mile from the trailhead.
Continuing downhill beyond Dawn Falls, would have reached the head of Baltimore Canyon and its groves of redwood trees.
Dawn Falls Trail Description – hiking to the falls via the Baltimore Canyon Route
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.
Upon crossing the bridge, 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.
Indeed, 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.
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.
Then, the trail followed the canyon’s sloping 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 half-mile further up the canyon to the other trailhead (for the shorter way of doing this hike).
After having our fill of the Dawn Falls, we went back down the hill and then back the way we came.
Along the way, we got to soak in the experience of Baltimore Canyon and its redwood forest once again.
Dawn Falls Trail Description – hiking to the falls via the Crown Road Fire Road
Like with the first trailhead at the end of Madrone Ave, the end of Crown Road was also flanked by homes with limited parking space for non-residents.
In this particular instance, Crown Road appeared to allow for parallel street parking on one side (the side closer to the downhill slope).
Then, the trail resumed behind the gate blocking vehicular access onto the Crown Road Fire Road.
Beyond the gate, the trail veered right then followed the contour of the hillside providing panoramic views (against the morning sun) towards Baltimore Canyon as well as some of the homes perched above it.
I also noticed some attractive wildflowers in bloom along this panoramic stretch of trail.
Eventually after about a quarter-mile or so, the trail reached a junction with the Dawn Falls Trail.
I proceeded to go left down the narrow and steep trail as it descended a series of steps and switchbacks.
After another quarter-mile of this descent, I finally reached the brink and some angled frontal views of the Dawn Falls.
It didn’t appear possible to safely scramble down from the trail to the front of Dawn Falls for an even more satisfying experience.
Therefore, I explored further down Baltimore Canyon to the redwood trees at the bottom of the descent.
Then, when I saw that it was undesirable to do the stream scramble upstream all the way to Dawn Falls due to the amount of deadfall, I decided against pushing through that.
So all in all, this Crown Road approach went for about a mile round trip, and it took me around an hour.
Dawn Falls resides in the Baltimore Canyon Open Space Preserve near Larkspur in Marin County, California. It is administered by Marin County Parks. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit their website.
But I’ll just focus on how we’d do the drive from San Francisco.
Since we also did this drive from Napa Valley to the north, we’ll also follow up with this approach as well.
Then, we’ll describe how to get to either of the trailheads (i.e. the East Approach or West Approach).
Driving from San Francisco to the Baltimore Canyon Trail on the East Approach
From San Francisco, we headed north on the Golden Gate Bridge (US101) for about 7.5 miles to the Tamalpais Drive exit (exit 449).
Then, we drove west (left at the off-ramp) on Tamalpais Drive for about a mile (Tamalpais Dr becomes Redwood Ave en route) to Corte Madera Ave.
Next, we turned right on Corte Madera Ave and took it north for about a half-mile (Corte Madera Ave became Magnolia Ave en route) before turning left onto Madrone Ave.
We followed this tree-lined street into the residential area, and then followed Madrone Ave all the way to its end in just under a mile.
The Baltimore Canyon Trail began from the end of Madrone Ave.
There was very limited parking so I’d imagine an early start would be imperative.
From what I could tell, there maybe room for only about 6 spots or so, including some visitors and residents parked here overnight.
Driving from San Francisco to the end of Crown Road on the West Approach
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, we’d follow Sir Francis Drake Blvd for about 2 miles to College Ave on the left.
Next, we’d follow College Ave for 0.4 miles before turning right onto Woodland Rd.
Once on Woodland Rd, we’d continue on it for 0.3 miles before turning left onto Evergreen Dr.
Following Evergreen Dr for about a mile, we’d then turn left onto Crown Rd.
Then follow Crown Rd to its end and look for street parking near its end.
If we’re coming from Napa Valley, then we’d take the Hwy 12 to Hwy 121, and then we’d follow the 37 to connect with the US101 south.
At that point, we’d continue south on US101 until we would get off the Sir Francis Drake Blvd exit for the West Approach or the Tamalpais Dr exit for the East Approach.
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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