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Cataract Falls Trail

Updated: Feb 23, 2023

Location : Mt.Tamalpais State Park, Bolinas, CA

Parking : At Laurel Dell Trailhead. Free.

Trail type : Out and Back

Trail Length : 6.25 miles

Elevation Gain : 1165 ft

Difficulty : Moderate

Trails traversed : Laurel Dell Fire Road > Cataract Falls Trail > Laurel Dell Fire Road

Pro Tip: Wear ankle length hiking boots and carry hiking poles.

Post-hike refueling stop : The Cantina, Mill Valley

Located in the heart of Mount Tamalpais State Park, Cataract Falls offers a serene and picturesque environment for hikers of all skill levels. The main Cataract Falls Trail features a stunning display of cascading waterfalls and lush greenery, making it a perfect escape for those looking to reconnect with nature. In this blog, I will guide you through the Laurel Dell trail that connects you to the falls, and share my personal experiences and recommendations for making the most out of your hike. So, lace up your hiking boots and join me as we discover the beauty of Cataract Falls in Mount Tamalpais State Park.


>> Got a question about this hike that you need answered quickly? DM me on Instagram @SolaraStills and I’ll be happy to help! I only accept DMs from followers, so hit the follow button before sending.


Parking: Laurel Dell Trailhead is one of the many starting points for hiking in Mount Tamalpais State Park. Parking at the trailhead can be limited, especially on weekends and holidays, so it's important to plan ahead. The parking lot has space for around 10 vehicles, so it's a good idea to arrive early to secure a spot. When we arrived at 9am on a Sunday of a long weekend, there was no one else at the parking lot. But by the time we left at noon, the parking lot was completely full.

The small parking lot at Laurel Dell Trailhead

Trailhead: There are two popular ways to reach the main cascading Cataract Falls - via Rock Sprint Trailhead on Ridgecrest Boulevard or via Laurel Dell Trailhead. In the case of the former, you start hiking uphill all the way and hike downhill on your return. Whereas if you decide to choose the less crowded Laurel Dell Trailhead, you first hike downhill first and then hike back up to return to your vehicle. This 6.25 mile roundtrip hike from the Laurel Dell Trailhead takes you through dense forest and numerous cascading waterfalls making the scenery stunning along the way.

The evergreen forest landscape of Mt.Tam

Start at the Laurel Dell trailhead, and take the Laurel Dell Fire Road Trail, which is a wide and gently graded fire road. Follow the fire road for about half a mile until you reach the intersection with the Cataract Trail.

Turn left onto the Cataract Trail, which is a moderate descent with some steep sections. The trail follows the beautiful cascading waterfalls of Cataract Creek, passing through lush greenery and towering redwoods.

Numerous steps to climb down (and back up!)

Along the Cataract Trail, there are several scenic viewpoints where you can take in the beauty of the surrounding landscape. A tip here is to save your photo stops for your way back, as it is a steep uphill climb and the photo ops will be a good excuse to catch your breath!

One of the many beautiful cataracts along the trail

After passing numerous small falls, you will finally reach the towering Cataract Falls, cascading at many levels. There is a viewing platform to take in the stunning views and the sound of the cascading waterfalls.

The main Cataract Falls

You can continue further down to view more cataracts, but knowing the steep climb we had ahead of us, we decided to turn back at this point.

Catching my breath with a beautiful view!

Climbing up the stone and wooden steps is quite a workout, so plan to stop at each of the cataracts you pass, taking in the fairytale-like scenery, with green mossy stones and giant redwood trees lining the trail and tree branches bending delicately over the Cataract Creek that runs alongside the trail.

Bent over branches enhance the beauty of the trail

After enjoying the beauty of Cataract Falls, return to the Laurel Dell Trailhead via the Cataract Trail and the Laurel Dell Fire Road Trail.

In summary, Cataract Falls is one of the premium waterfalls hike of the Bay Area. Although Uvas Canyon and Mt.Diablo waterfalls loop are my two close favorites, they do not match the surreal beauty of Cataract Falls.


>> Got a question about this hike that you need answered quickly? DM me on Instagram @SolaraStills and I’ll be happy to help! I only accept DMs from followers, so hit the follow button before sending.


On our way back to the Bay Area, we stopped for a sumptuous lunch of enchiladas and fajitas at The Cantina in Mill Valley. With spacious indoor and outdoor seating and quick service, it is a great refueling stop for any Marin County hike.

This blog is sponsored by EliteSports


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