A visit to Baltimore Canyon Preserve, a Marin County park, can go a variety of ways. Park in Larkspur or Kentfield and you can take your kids and dogs to play in the forest on wide, usually flat trails. The towering redwoods shade most of the trails and fill the air with an earthy, spicy scent. You can also walk to the top of Mount Tamalpais’s East Peak. And, if you’re lucky, you might even see a waterfall.
The Draw: Easy, shaded trails offer hiking, birdwatching, and horseback riding. Views of S.F. Bay. In wetter conditions, you may see a 30-foot waterfall and several smaller ones.
Trails: The Dawn Falls trail loop is about six miles with 616 feet in elevation gain.
Access & Facilities: Street parking, water fountain in the park, dogs on leash allowed. On fire roads, dogs can be unleashed if under voice command.
Transit: Dawn Falls Trailhead is at the end of Madrone Avenue in Larkspur. Or start from Crown Road or Evergreen Drive in Kentfield. All have limited street parking.
The total area of Baltimore Canyon is 193 acres, but because it connects to other parks like Mount Tam, taking a longer trek is easy. On the way in or out, you can stop by the quaint town of Larkspur, home to houses formerly belonging to Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia.
When I visited in early October, the only water in Baltimore Canyon was what came from a water fountain, installed for humans and dogs. I could walk unobstructed through the place the map had marked as Larkspur Creek but that was now dust and rocks. The sometimes 30-foot cascade at Dawn Falls wasn’t even a trickle.
But in winter, if there is enough rain, Baltimore Canyon comes to life. The creek can fill and swell and gush; after a big storm, the trail can even flood. The landscape is bright green with moss and ferns, covered with dappled sunlight under the branches of coast redwoods.