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Barnabe Mountain is named for a retired army mule that was bought by Samuel P. Taylor, who was the local big kahuna courtesy of a big gold strike. Barnabe reportedly roamed the mountain after repeatedly escaping his pen, and his remains are buried somewhere up there. This hike takes place in Samuel P. Taylor State Park.
There are a few different ways to access this loop. I chose to start right at the eastern end of the park off of Sir Francis Drake Blvd. because there's free parking. There is roadside parking for about 8 vehicles about 200 yards after crossing a bridge over Lagunitas Creek and a sign announcing the park's boundary. Walk back along the road to a sign directing you to the trail on the east side of the bridge. The short path takes you across a footbridge over San Geronimo Creek which joins Lagunitas Creek 50 yards downstream. The trail then makes a left at the beginning of the multi-use Cross Marin Trail. It's labelled something like "Multi Use Trail" on the signs.
This portion of the Cross Marin Trail is basically flat with Lagunitas Creek and the road beyond to your left. You get your first taste of redwoods here, and the forest is very thick. After about 3/4 mile you turn right onto the Barnabe Fire Road. The route begins a steep ascent back towards the east before turning west for the remainder of the trip to the summit. The ascent is nonstop for the first mile, but the last 1-1/4 mile to the top is easier with uphill portions broken up by flat spots. There are great views in this stretch of the other side of the Lagunitas Creek drainage to the west and the hamlet of Lagunitas to the east. You'll travel through mixed forests of Douglas fir, madrone, live oak, and bay interspersed by grassy areas.
The summit has a well-developed fire lookout and awesome views. Mount Whittenberg and Point Reyes lie to the west, Mount Tamalpais to the south, San Pablo Bay and the high points in the East Bay to the east, and a seemingly unbroken string of small hills and valleys to the north. It was windy when I was there, and it's always windy from what I gather. The summit is accessed via a short spur trail off of the Barnabe Fire Road, and you continue your journey by continuing along the fire road as it steeply descends to the west.
Go right at the junction with Bill's Trail roughly 1/3 mile down from the summit. Bill's Trail is a very gentle switchback down Barnabe Mountain's west slope. Indeed, it would be a joy to take uphill until its junction with the steep fire road. The forest really closes in on this trail. The trees you see are the same you saw earlier, but the forest is much darker because of the overhead canopy. The undergrowth is very thick, and you will brush against it. You will probably have brushed against a lot of vegetation to this point, and must be tick-aware. Check yourself regularly. I found 3 ticks on me today on this hike.
Bill's Trail winds its way down the mountain for about 2 miles until the Stairstep Falls Trail branches off to the right. Take it about 1/3 mile to see a fairly unimpressive waterfall. It might really be flowing after a good rain, but there is a fence that limits the view because there are some trees in the way. Return back up the Stairstep Falls Trail back to Bill's Trail, and go straight. You continue a gentle descent until reaching a bridge across Devil's Gulch next to the Devil's Gulch campground. Go left before crossing the bridge to follow the trail signs indicating the route to Barnabe Mountain. This segment is also called the Gravesite Fire Road. Samuel P. Taylor's gravesite can be accessed via a spur trail about 3/4 mile ahead. Or maybe it's the mule's grave? Another 1/2 mile ahead you reach a junction: go left to take the Barnabe Fire Road to the top of Barnabe Mountain or right to return to your vehicle.
Another 1/2 mile from that junction you reach another, and head left. This route can be tricky to find because there's a lot of grass, but just walk left past the small red structure instead of turning right to head down into the Madrone Group Campground. The first mile or so of your journey is up and down next to the road. You finally rejoin the original Multi-Use/Cross Marin Trail. It's another flat 1.5 mile back to the bridge over San Geronimo Creek and wherever you parked.
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