If you want to hike the North Bay, from the Marin Headlands to Point Reyes National Seashore, Don and Kay Martin’s “Hiking Marin” will get you there. Each hike has detailed shaded-relief maps, turn-by turn directions, distance and elevation gain, and ratings for difficulty and overall quality. You also get tips on great places to see waterfalls and wildlife, and the authors’ appraisals of the best hikes in the region.

What really sets this book part is the downloadable maps, which can be printed out and save you the weight and bulk of carrying the whole book, which would be a tight squeeze in your fanny pack. I respect the Martins for refusing to give away their maps online, but the process for downloading them is a royal pain. First off, there’s the matter of finding the password: Each geographic region in the book has its own section with a table-of-contents page. Each region has its own password, which is at the bottom of the TOC page.

It gets better. I’ll walk you through the process:

  1. Pick a hike in the book and bookmark it.
  2. Go to the Marin Trails site.
  3. Click on the “Download any map” link for the overview on all downloads options.
  4. On the overview page, click the “Download any map and hike” link.
  5. Refer back to your bookmarked hike. Enter the hike’s number (it’s in the top left hand corner) in the first field on this page, and the first five letters of the hike’s name in the second field and click on “go.”
  6. If you type all that in correctly, the download proceeds. When it’s done, a “password required” field pops up. Refer back to the password on the region’s table of contents page.
  7. Enter the password, open the PDF and print the map.

Got all that? I suspect the work of Rube Goldberg’s third cousin twice removed.

This book goes for $21.95 at REI.com (with free shipping if you pick up in your favorite store). Is it worth it? I say yeah. I’ve used it quite a few times and have never gotten lost. Each hike has in-depth, turn-by-turn directions, which are handy for those of us who don’t live in Marin and can’t afford to drive all that way and back and spend half our hikes getting unlost.

I just figured if I review this book on Two-Heel Drive and somebody buys it in a burst of enthusiasm about those downloadable maps, they need to know what they’re in for. Last time I hiked in Marin, I grumbled through the download headache, but but once on the trail, I thanked the authors every time I pulled the printed map out of my pants pocket to read “go left at that unsigned trail junction” without having to stop and unpack the guide book.

One thing I’ve noticed from my few Marin visits: people have been hiking there for so long that the parks have miles and miles of unsigned use trails. Most parks in the South Bay are almost impossible to get lost in because there are so few options beyond the main marked trails. Not so in Marin. I’m not sure I’d ever hike there without a guide book.

Veteran Marin hikers might not get a lot of use the Martins’ book, but just about anybody else tempted to try out the county’s countless trails might want to give it a look.

(And if you buy one today at REI, I earn $1.10! Think of all the fun I’ll have with that much money burning a hole in my pocket. Oh, wait, I’m not renting a grass hut on the Kalahari. Alas.)


Previously reviewed: “Bay Area Ridge Trail” by Jean Rusmore