Willow Camp Trail climbs steeply up the western edge of the Mount Tamalpais massif above the sleepy beach hamlet of Stinson Beach. The views are spectacular and the exercise is even better. The best way to do this hike is to start at the parking lots at the Stinson Beach portion of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. There's ample parking here and it allows one to begin a hike at sea level. Get to Calle del Mar which begins at the snack bar, and go uphill crossing Hwy. 1. Continue uphill past the little market then left at Buena Vista Ave. Keep going uphill on Buena Vista then left on Lincoln. Take Lincoln uphill then left on Belvedere before finally making a quick right onto Avenida Farralone. Ave. Farralone heads uphill to the trailhead where there's room for 3-4 cars to park. Go past the gate about 100 yards on the now dirt road to a junction. The Willow Camp Trail is signed on the right.
The area around Stinson Beach was once known as Willow Camp which was a tourist camp reachable by train from Mill Valley then stagecoach from the West Point Inn up on Mount Tamalpais. Automobiles eventually reached Stinson Beach, renamed in 1916, and it's now one of the many quirky little hamlets on Hwy. 1.
You've gone about a mile and 450' AEG to this point, and now the climbing truly begins. Willow Camp Trail climbs about 1,500' and 1.7 miles to Ridgecrest Boulevard at the top. The trail is steep from the get go, and there are very few easy stretches as you climb up a ridge that runs northwest from western end of Mount Tamalpais until it becomes known as Bolinas Ridge. This area was once part of the Rancho Baulinas so named because of the baleen whales frequently seen offshore.
The first portion is long switchbacks, 4 in all, through a relatively open (and steep) hillside. There is very little shade here so a summer hike would be pretty warm. Wind is rare on this stretch as it's too high for sea breezes and too low for the typically-strong gusts up top. The flora here is typical coastal scrub with a few scraggly Douglas firs mixed in. The trees get bigger and the forest closes in about a mile up from the junction. Large misshapen Douglas firs are joined by towering live oaks as the sun disappears. Redwoods don't grow this close to the coast, but this little patch of woods must receive a lot of water from fog and mist. Most of the trees are draped in moss that looks like fur, but it was dry today (January 25, 2014). The upper reaches of this ridge have dense forests amongst larger areas of open (and steep) grassland.
There's a short downhill portion when the top is in sight before a final steep stretch right before the trail reaches Ridgecrest Boulevard. There is parking here for about a dozen cars on both sides of the road, and this is a common starting point for hikes on the north side of Mount Tamalpais. There is a small peak about 150 yards north on Ridgecrest that has a great view north of Alpine Lake, Pine Mountain and Barnabe Mountain. Return the way you came. The views are much better on the way down, and this would be a great sunset hike. It's so steep that going downhill is still a nice workout.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.