Late morning we drove up toward the East Peak of Mt. Tamalpais and parked at one of my favorite “lesser known” trailheads. A little ways before you reach the East Peak parking lot on RidgeCrest Blvd. there is a section of road at a sharp turn with a pullout on both sides. This is the jumping off point for several trails including Lakeview, Miller, and International, all of which lead to significantly different environments. The reason I like this trailhead so much is because you have the option of going to either the north or south side of the mountain as well as to the East Peak Summit.
We started our hike by heading north on the International trail; named so because it was built by a labor force made up of many different nationalities.
The trail starts off traversing the hillside a ways with short sections of slight uphill travel. Soon veering downhill we crossed a signed junction with the Colier Spring Trail which leads steeply downhill to Colier Spring itself and then straight down to Lake Lagunitas. We stayed straight on the International Trail. Continuing downhill the trail starts to get a little rocky before dead ending at a T junction with Upper Northside Trail. Going left leads to Rifle Camp and Potrero Meadow, however, we went right toward Colier Spring. Northside Trail is one of my favorite trails on the mountain mainly because of the solitude it provides. On any given day you are likely to have the trail to yourself save for a few deer and wildlife. Upper Northside is relatively flat and the trail soon opens up offering views of Lake Bon Tempe, Pilot Knob and Mt. Baldy below.
A short ways further brought us to Colier Springs and the junction with Lower Northside and Colier Springs Trails. There are a couple of wooden benches set beside the creek and several lush ferns that make for a nice setting. A pair of wooden boardwalks assist with protecting the springs as the trail passes over them. Colier Springs is named after John Monro Colier a Scottish man who helped preserve the spring at Potrero Meadows, as well as build trails.
Now on Northside Trail proper we remained under the forest canopy for the next couple of miles. We stepped over a salamander on the trail.
Along the way we passed by a junction with the old Lagunitas Fire Trail which leads from the West Peak straight down to Lake Lagunitas. The trail is no longer maintained and is marked as “closed” on most maps. I believe it is mostly used now as an extremely technical downhill mountain bike trail also known as “Thousand S’s”. As the trail curves around a bend the Gardner Lookout on East Peak comes into view.
Toward the end of Northside Trail the forest thins out and leads to Inspiration Point, a nice rock outcropping that is now mostly overgrown greatly taking away from the inspirational views.
From Inspiration Point we had the option of taking a short connector Fire Road to the Eldridge Grade, but we instead opted to venture up the steep and rugged East Peak Fire Trail. The East Peak Fire Trail is another little known about rarely if ever maintained erosion prone trail built in the earlier days of Tamalpais history. It runs from the south corner of Lake Lagunitas to the East Peak Fire Lookout. Most of the trail is in disrepair today, however, the segment from Inspiration Point up to the Eldridge Grade is not so badly overgrown. About a hundred feet up the trail from Inspiration Point there is a short path on the left that leads to a clearing and what looks to be and old campsite. It is here that we had lunch.
After a quick bite to eat we continued our accent of the East Peak Fire Trail. Just before reaching the upper section of Eldridge Grade is a great rock outcropping offering wonderful views of the golden hills to the north. I call it “New Inspiration Point” as it offers far better views than the actual “Inspiration Point”.
We soon reached Eldridge Grade and decided to take a right as the East Peak Fire Trail continues toward the Fire Lookout, but is greatly overgrown. Eldridge Grade named after John Oscar Eldridge was built back around 1884 using Chinese laborers.
As we continued uphill at a moderate grade we had views of Lake Bon Tempe below. We soon came to the terminus of Eldridge Grade and paved RidgeCrest Blvd. near the East Peak parking lot.
We crossed the road and headed southwest along the Old Railroad Grade. The Old Railroad Grade use to be the Crookedest Railroad in the World. It was built in 1896 and operated until the 1930's. We now had splendid views of Throckmorton Ridge, San Francisco, and the Pacific Ocean.
As this is a popular route with mountain bikers we were passed by many going in both directions. We passed Tavern Pump trail on our left and soon thereafter took a right and started climbing up Miller Trail.
This upper section of the Miller Trail gets little use and I rarely see other hikers on it. The trail is rocky and steep and before long we were back at the car and the end of our loop.