About Stairstep Falls
Stairstep Falls was one waterfall near the San Francisco Bay Area that had eluded us over the years for one reason or another.
Part of the reason why it was so elusive over the years despite it being easily accessible was that the waterfall trail had been closed since August 2014!
Nevertheless, the trail sat within the Samuel P. Taylor State Park so one would think that it would typically get some maintenance from the state park fees.
In fact, the trail to Stairstep Falls also allowed me to witness some wildflowers within the Devil’s Gulch as well as one tall coastal redwood tree.
In any case, I’ve personally found this to be one of the more obscure waterfalls of Marin County.
That’s because most people in these parts tended to spend their time either in Point Reyes National Seashore just minutes further to the west or the larger, more well-known waterfalls in the Tamalpais Watershed.
The end result of all this doubt surrounding Stairstep Falls was one of the most tranquil waterfalling experiences that I got to enjoy in this part of the Greater Bay Area.
The only catch was that the trail closure was ongoing as the park authorities would continue to remove deadfalls and reinforce some of the eroding hillsides.
Hiking to Stairstep Falls
While one could visit Stairstep Falls from one of the campsites near Devil’s Gulch Creek, I’m describing this hike as a day user.
I began from the fairly large pullout on the south side of Sir Francis Drake Blvd, which was right across from the Devil’s Gulch turnoff (see directions below).
From there, I crossed the road then walked along the narrow paved access road leading to the Devil’s Gulch campsites.
At roughly 0.2 miles along the access road, the trail then left the pavement and followed along Devil’s Gulch Creek to the right.
I then followed this trail for another 0.1-mile as it continued along the northern bank of Devil’s Gulch Creek before approaching a footbridge over the creek.
Along the way, I noticed some spur trails leading down from the closest campsites also access this same trail.
Just before the footbridge, there was also an interesting and impressive coastal redwood tree.
It was big enough and hollowed out enough to duck in and pass through its trunk.
On the other side of the bridge, the trail split off into an upstream path and a downstream path.
I went left and followed the upstream path, which continued along Devil’s Gulch Creek as the trail steadily climbed.
The path continued hugging slopes as it followed the contours of the Devil’s Gulch Creek drainage for the next 0.6 miles.
Along the way, the trail continued a gentle climb flanked by the shade from trees and a few odd wildflowers in bloom.
Because the trail was technically closed, I did encounter a handful of deadfalls as well as erosion-control sandbags en route.
At the trail junction, I then kept left to descend along Devil’s Gulch Creek as the trail skirted beneath the stabilizing walls holding up the upper trail that I didn’t take.
After another 0.2 miles, the trail veered away from Devil’s Gulch Creek and into a separate drainage feeding it.
This was a side stream supporting Stairstep Falls.
At the end of this trail, there was a dead-end and lookout area right before the 40ft Stairstep Falls itself.
However, there was a nasty deadfall that covered the last few feet of the trail, making it tricky to get past to get a proper view of the waterfall.
Thus, this was the turnaround point of the hike as the rest of the return hike was pretty much downhill.
When I returned to the trailhead, I had spent around 75 minutes away from the car at a fairly leisurely pace.
Stairstep Falls resides in the Samuel P. Taylor State Park near San Rafael in Marin County, California. It is administered by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit their website or Facebook page.
Since I visited Stairstep Falls from San Francisco, I’ll describe the most direct driving directions from there.
After crossing the Golden Gate Bridge (US101 north), I then followed the US101 north for the next 10 miles before getting off exit 450B for the Sir Francis Drake Blvd.
I then followed Sir Francis Drake Blvd for the next 15 miles as it curved its way west towards Samuel P. Taylor State Park.
However, instead of going into the main park entrance, you actually have to drive an additional mile to the Devil’s Gulch turnoff.
The day use parking area is the large pullout on the left side of Sir Francis Drake Blvd.
The paved turnoff on the right is for the Devil’s Gulch Campground.
Overall, this drive took me about 90 minutes due to heavy rush hour traffic.
However, under more normal circumstances, I’d imagine this 32-mile drive would take roughly an hour or so.
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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