Just a stones throw away from civilization in Samuel P. Taylor State Park is a quiet canyon getaway called Devil's Gulch. It lies on the western flanks of Mt. Barnabe and offers tranquil shaded hiking paths along a salmon filled stream with an added bonus of a waterfall. In the winter, if your lucky, you can watch spawning Coho Salmon as they make there way up the narrow corridors of the creek. Just be sure to remain quiet and do not let the salmon see you as this disturbs their habitat. For a trail map of the park click here.
Sarah and I drove out Sir Francis Drake Blvd. to Samuel P. Taylor State Park where we parked the car in the dirt lot across the street from the Devil's Gulch trail head. A small set of stairs lead down from the parking area to a sunny stretch of Lagunitas Creek. This is a great destination in itself for relaxing, although traffic noise from Sir Francis Drake can still be quite prevalent. We set off across the street and up a service road starting at the sign that says Devil's Gulch. The road parallels Devil's Gulch Creek and a short ways uphill a signed trail starts on the right. We took the creekside trail which has an interpretive panel on Coho Salmon as well as several signs posted reminding people "Shhh! Keep Quiet!". We did not have any luck seeing any salmon.
The trail snakes along the creek gaining elevation slightly as it heads up the gulch. We soon came to a junction with a wooden bridge at the same time a camping area comes into view on the hill above to the left. There is a trail that parallels the creek on the left side but our hike led us across the Bridge to a T junction. The trail to the right "Gravesite Fireroad" was closed for maintenance and there was a sign posted telling about the efforts to reduce silt and erosion into the precious creek where important salmon spawning occurs. We took the trail to the left named "Bill's Trail" leading toward Stairstep Falls and Barnabe Peak. The sign said 1.2 miles to Stairstep Falls. This time of year the ground remained moist and wildflowers were abundant along the trail. Interspersed amongst the dense cover of ferns were Milkmaids, Trillium, and Hounds Tongue.
The edges of the path were scattered with baby blue Forgetmenots along with several species of mushrooms and a cool coral looking fungi. The occasional butterfly could be seen fluttering around in the few sunny patches.
Very gradually the trail makes its way up the canyon leaving the creek below. The occasional break in tree cover gives way to glimpses of the golden bald knolls on the adjacent ridge. We approached some non native Eucalyptus Trees and beneath them was a scattered patch of Fetid Adder's Tongue. Most of the flowers had already start to slink over and die off but there were still a few left in good standing.
A short distance further we came across several Calypso Orchids tucked inconspicuously among the other flora.
We soon came to a signed junction with the right fork leading up Bill's Trail toward Barnabe Peak and the left fork we took to Stairstep Falls. From the junction the trail traverses slightly downhill where it soon dead ends at Stairstep Falls. In the rainy season these falls can be quite impressive, whereas in the dry season there might not even be a trickle.
As we arrived at the falls a couple was just leaving and we got to marvel at the surging water in solitude for about 15 minutes before the next set of hikers arrived.
We then retraced our steps back to the car, looking for wildflowers and salmon along the way.