Last Sunday was sunny and lovely, so Sarah & I headed north from SF to try a new hike. This one had been on my radar for a while, as I always like waterfalls (who doesn’t?), but the timing was never quite right. Although the bay area has more waterfalls than one might think, many are semi-seasonal, drying up entirely or reducing to a trickle in the warmer months.
Sunny winter days like this, after a bout of storms, are perfect waterfall hike days, so off we went. The trailhead is on Bolinas-Fairfax Road, and the parking was tight – apparently we weren’t the only ones itching to get out! Our hike started across the street from the parking turnout on Pine Mountain Road.
The trail climbed gradually northward, affording lovely views south to Mount Tamalpais and Alpine Lake. The air, although nice here, was very hazy on the SF Bay, and we could just make out the dual peaks of Mount Diablo in the distance. The terrain was open and rocky, with the green hues of serpentine (California’s state rock) peeking through, and scrubby manzanita, some in bloom, trail-side.
After a mile of continuous climbing, we descended a hundred feet to the intersection with the Oat Hill Fireroad and turned left. This trail descended steeply along a ridge, with lovely views of the surrounding hills, which were starting to turn that brilliant spring green, but hadn’t quite yet shed last year’s dried grass.
In a grassy bowl we found the trail to Carson Falls. This trail, formerly an unmaintained use trail down the north slope of a gully, has been re-routed to the south (much for the better from what I could tell) and looks “official.” Signs admonished hikers and their dogs to be on the lookout for endangered frogs and salamanders, which breed at the falls.
Switchbacks on the Carson Falls Trail
We descended on the Carson Falls Trail through a lush hillside. The duffy ground was soft and pleasant to walk on, the surroundings completely different from those of just a minute prior. Milkmaids, one of our earliest-blooming flowers, dotted the hills with white.
Fetid Adder’s Tongue
A few switchbacks down, I spied my favorite early-season wildflower, the colorfully-named Fetid Adder’s Tongue. This member of the lily family looks rather orchid-like, with its pair of large, spotted basal leaves, and flower perched high on a stalk. As has been the case in the past, once I’ve spotted one, many hundreds followed, and the next quarter mile had these lovely little flowers everywhere. I bent down to take a whiff, curious if they really live up to their name, and can report that although they do have a pronounced earthy smell, it isn’t what I would call “fetid.” Once I knew the smell of the blooms, I could detect it in the air as we continued hiking, a faint but noticeable presence.
A cluster of Fetid Adder’s Tongue
We emerged from the lovely forest and continued on a grassy slope, shortly coming to the top of Carson Falls, where more signs alerted folks to the salamander and frog situation. Although we’d seen a handful of people on the hike in, and the parking area was full, we were surprised by the number of people here at the falls. We spent a few moments at the top, enjoying the rushing water, then crossed a newly-constructed footbridge and made our way down to see the waterfall from the bottom.
Carson Falls consists of 3 cascades and the middle one is the most scenic, and the most photogenic, as the lower fall is shaded by nearby trees.
Rainbow in Carson Falls
It was too bright out, and I didn’t have a tripod or ND filter with me, so slow-shutter artsy waterfall photos were out, but a faint rainbow at the bottom of one of the cascades caught my attention.
A woman in white plopped herself right next to the falls and opened a book, making me work a bit harder at composing photographs, as I didn’t really relish the tedium of cloning her out in Photoshop! I was glad I brought both my 17-40 f/4L & 70-200 f/4L lenses (along with 1.4x TC & a 25mm extension tube), as this flexible combination is reasonably lightweight, and any poor photos cannot be blamed on the kit! I do find myself changing lenses more often than I’d like, though, as the jump from 40 to 70mm is a large one. This is why I more often bring my 17-85mm EF-S image-stabilized lens rather than the 17-40 f/4L, even though the latter has much nicer contrast, sharpness & color saturation. The range and stabilizer of the 17-85 are just awfully useful!
There were more people here than we wanted to be around, so we hiked back up the trail a little bit, perching on some serpentine to have a snack before heading back up through the forest.
Three young women hiking down set what I think must have been some sort of record for the use of the word “like,” interspersing it freely between every other word.
View from Oat Hill Fireroad
At the intersection with Oat Hill Fireroad we called a lunch break, as this secluded bowl had lovely views all around and some good sitting rocks.
As we ate, I noticed two more wildflowers in bloom, dainty Gypsum Streambeauty, and Footsteps-of-spring. Lunch done, we reluctantly headed back toward the car.
Mount Diablo & the Richardson Bay
The air was clearer now, but still pretty hazy on the bay. The weather was fantastic, tempting me to zip off the legs of my pants, just so I could gloat about hiking in shorts in February 🙂 All things must end, however, and we soon were back at the car, not really ready to rejoin civilization.
This proved to be one of my favorite hikes in this region – other than the large’ish number of people and the fact that it’s an out-and-back hike, it was just about perfect!
Hiking time: 1h 55m
Stopped time: 56m
Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura 15
California Poppy – Eschscholzia californica