If you like the sound of running water near the trail, the trail to be on is probably somewhere on the south side of Mount Tamalpais these days. I hiked a couple of the popular trails at Mount Tam yesterday with the globe-trotting Best Hike blogger Rick McCharles yesterday and came away determined to work more Marin hikes into my repertoire, especially at Mount Tam. It’s positively delightful up that way at this time of year.

We started out at Muir Woods National Monument, which was a major disappointment: Big Basin State Park blows away Muir Woods if you’re looking for really big, really old trees. It’s a nice trail head for the south side of Mount Tam, though, truth be told, you’d be better off starting at the Pantoll parking area in the state park and hiking down toward Muir Woods without filling up one of the scarce parking spaces down there.

OK, picture time:

Muir Woods, main trail

The main trail at Muir Woods. It’s difficult for me to believe this is an old-growth forest — it looks more like Portola Redwoods, which is almost all second growth. The mind-boggling giants of Big Basin are conspicuously rare, and the understory is a tangle of vegetation you usually don’t associate with a mature old-growth redwood forest, where the big trees crowd out just about everything else. (Could I be blinded by my utter lack of expertise in these regards? Hey, this is the Internet, I can’t let facts get in the way of my spouting).

Mount Tamalpais State Park

So here’s where we went: Straight up the hill via the Ben Johnson Trail. We caught the Dipsea Trail in an open area looking out over the Pacific, above, then we dived down into another canyon till we got to Steep Ravine Trail, which we took to the Pantoll trail head. From there it was a short jaunt on the Alpine Trail and a steep dive back downhill along the Bootjack Trail, which was glorious, and back to Muir Woods. Nine or 10 miles of the finest hiking the Bay Area has to offer. Might even make Rick’s “Best” list.

Rick fiddles with his new camera

Rick tweaks his new camera before we head down the Dipsea Trail, which passes through what seems like a half-dozen distinct forest ecosystems on the down to Steep Ravine Trail. It has redwood, oak, madrone, chaparral — OK, that’s only four, but still: more diversity than you can shake a hiking pole at.

Flowing water on Steep Ravine Trail

On the way down we start hearing water pouring down the canyon. We break for lunch at a bridge over the creek and head back up the Steep Ravine Trail, 1.7 miles of hiker heaven. This is one of the dozens of little cascades in the creek.

More falling water

Here’s another one.

Rick acting a fool

Rick gets silly at one of the creek crossings.

The ladder

The famous ladder along the Steep Ravine Trail. I’d hate to have to come down that thing.

When we got back to Pantoll around 3 p.m., the primary preoccupation was getting back to the car before dark (which always comes early in the deep forest.). We took a short link on the Alpine Trail and took a right turn at the Bootjack Trail, which turned out to be astounding the whole way down.

More falling water

Just one of the many cascades. We were dashing down the hill pretty quickly so I didn’t get many pictures, but those last couple miles felt like a bonus — downhill, gorgeous, rushing water the whole way. Even after all those miles with well over 2000 feet of climbing (closer to 3k, I’d guess), I was a bit sad to be done with it.