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Carson Falls - Bay Area's Hidden Gem!

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

Location : Fairfax, Marin County, CA

Parking : Free at trailhead

Trail type : Out and Back

Trail Length : 4 miles

Elevation Gain : 935 ft

Difficulty : Moderate

Trails traversed : Pine Mountain Fire Road > Oat Hill Fire Road > Carson Falls Trail

Post-hike Grub Stop : Insalata's Restaurant, Marin County.

Rainy season in the Bay Area also brings with it a very short-lived waterfall season. People flock to the popular Almaera Falls or the falls at Yosemite, or even endure the strenuous hike to see Cataract Falls, but not many know about a hidden gem in Marin County called Carson Falls. This falls is located in the Mt.Tamalpais watershed with rewarding views of Marin County and Mt.Tam enroute. The falls is multi-tiered and can be viewed at different levels before it becomes Little Carson Creek.

A tropical paradise in Marin County.

The trailhead is located on Bolinas-Fairfax Road, at the Azalea Hill parking lot. Pine Mountain Fire Road starts off at the iron gate, by the interpretive signs, and slowly winds uphill.

On a clear day, you will be rewarded by views of Alpine Lake and Mt.Tam immediately behind you, and a birds eye view of Kent Lake on the right.

View of Alpine Lake and Mt.Tamalpais range

The trail, although a fire road, starts off gradually, then gets rocky and steep as the elevation increases.

Muddy and rocky terrain after the rains.

Finally, at around 1 mile, the gradient flattens out as the trail meets Oat Hill Fire Road. Turn left on Oat Hill Fire Road. The trail proceeds downhill before meeting Carson Falls Trail at 1.4 miles.

Turn right on Carson Falls Trail. This soon turns into switchbacks winding its way down a wooded area of California oak. This is the only part of the entire trail that is shaded.

Wooded portion of the trail

You soon start to hear the gurgling of water in the distance and realize the falls is not too far off. As you reach the first of two or three bridges on the trail, you will see the top of the falls. Walk over to the rock formations to the left to get a top view of Carson Falls. Dont be disappointed by the view. This is only the top tier of the multi-tiered falls.

Top tier of Carson Falls

Continue on the trail and down a few steep steps to see the middle tier of the falls. The view here is even better as you see the water plummeting towards you on one side with a view of Mt.Tam on the other.

Middle tier of the falls.

If you are feeling adventurous, continue further down on Carson Falls Trail to the end of the trail where another lower tier of the falls can be seen through the thick brush. The entire setting at this point, with green moss, fall colored leaves and the beautiful falls begins to feel surreal and whimsical. We couldnt get enough of this beautiful falls and forged our way downhill until we reached the bottom of the falls where it turned into a gushing creek and made its way towards Cataract Falls, a few miles away.

Lower tier of the falls.

With a happy heart, we retraced our steps back to the trailhead, enjoying the views of Mt.Tam and Alpine Lake as we walked to Azalea Hill parking lot.

Another view of Alpine Lake on our way back as the sun tried to make its way through the clouds.

We hiked on a Saturday, just after it had rained heavily earlier in the week. Parking was easily available at 10am and there werent too many people on the trail, other than a few bicyclists. This stunning falls seems to be overshadowed by its lofty neighbor, Cataract Falls. So check out this place after the next rainfall and before it becomes yet another Bay Area tourist magnet.


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