Just steps away from the town of Larkspur lies a serene redwood forest and cascading waterfall that provide hikers with an otherworldly escape into the deep woods. Baltimore Canyon, at the base of Mount Tamalpais's northeast side, was named for the logging company that built a sawmill here around 1849 to turn the canyon's giant trees into lumber to build San Francisco. By the 1860s, all the canyon's giant redwoods, among the Bay Area's largest, were cut for timber. Today, a thriving mixed forest of moss-covered madrone, bay, big-leaf maple, and second-growth redwood has grown up in its place, protected now as the Baltimore Canyon Open Space Preserve.
The canyon features Dawn Falls, which drops 20 feet into Larkspur Creek. The 2.2-mile round-trip hike to the falls is fairly easy, with one steep stretch. Sunlight barely penetrates to the forest floor except for occasional shafts stabbing through the canopy. In winter, ferns and mushrooms abound and California giant salamanders and steelhead lurk in the deeper pools. In summer, the falls are a trickle, but the shaded trail provides a cool respite.
Getting there From U.S. 101 in Corte Madera, exit at Paradise/Tamalpais Drive. Go west on Tamalpais; turn right at the stop sign onto Magnolia. Turn left onto Madrone Avenue (after the Lark Creek Inn). Drive on Madrone (then Valley Way) 0.8 mile to a turnaround. Park in designated roadside spaces. Dogs on leash only.
Hike by Jessica Taekman, originally published in the January 2007 issue of Bay Nature magazine