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Sea Meets Sky in the Marin Headlands

A six to eight mile hike along the rugged outer coast of Marin Headlands. Pirate's Cove is along the way. 1,800 feet of climbing. No dogs.

Marin Headlands makes a great destination for Marinites, tourists and San Franciscans alike. On a recent outing to Tennessee Valley, we encountered San Francisco Boy Scouts on a camp-out, backpackers who had taxied over from the city, and Mill Valley suburbanites with strollers and kids on wheelie bikes.

There is something for everyone it seems. Tennessee Valley has the smooth paved road that slopes gently to a soft beach cove surrounded by protective cliffs for the moms and kids. The headlands has the oddly civilized backpacking camps that provide great vistas and glimpses of native wildlife, while picnicking with wine and cheese at the built-in picnic tables. The roads and trails that soar from beaches to towering buttresses fortified against the sea and sky are the challenges for the weekend athletes who want to push their physical limits.

We headed out last weekend to take in some of the sea and sky by hiking from Tennessee Valley over to Muir Beach and back. The route makes for a long day hike, but the scenery is unparalleled. The hike down Tennesee Valley to catch Coastal Trail provides the vistas of the broad sweeps of grasslands that run to the coast.

Ninety-five percent of the traffic is along this main route. At Coastal Trail, also known as Pirate's Cove Trail, the steep incline wards off the less intrepid. After linking to Coastal Fire Road, Pirate's Cove Trail crosses into a different coastal valley that is remote and rugged. The singletrack trail winds down to a small creek that empties into Pirate's Cove. It is an unofficial scramble to the beach, done only at your own risk. This rocky cove could use a good beach cleanup, but the rugged outer coast can be experienced up close and personal here.

The walk continues along the cliff parapets. Outstanding ocean views of the Golden Gate area, fishing boats, and passing whales kept us walking slow and stopping to look through the binoculars. The day we went we could see the 26 miles out to the Farallon Islands.

Coastal Trail meets up with the Muir Beach end of Coastal Trail Fire Road that drops down to Muir Beach. The small parking area and park at Muir Beach has picnic tables and restrooms. From there we turned up Green Gulch towards the zen center. Middle Green Gulch Trail on the right is a quicker way back, but it heads steeply to Coyote Ridge. The trail has tantalizing glimpses of the cute, stone Hope Cottage, a retreat get-a-way rented out by the zen center at Green Gulch Farm. From the ridge, Fox Trail brings you back to Tennessee Valley. The hike is strenuous, exhilarating, and satisfying; especially on clear days when the ocean lies at your feet.

What's your favorite hike?

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