The @GoldenGateNPS Twitter feed promised “inspiring” wildflowers at Dias Ridge, but nearly six miles and 106 FitBit flights later we were drawing most of our inspiration from the pub at the end of the trail.
The “wilds” of Marin County have always been a bit of a mystery to MontaraManDan and the Geek. We’ve explored the California coast from Big Sur to Land’s End. We’ve traversed the vineyards and apple orchards of Napa and Sonoma counties. Heck, we’ve even driven the almond groves outside of Fresno. Marin? We mostly just drive by.
So, when the Golden Gate National Recreation Area tweeted about the wildflowers on the Dias Ridge Trail, it seemed like the perfect excuse for a hike in a region renowned for the Muir Woods National Monument and hippie hamlets gone yuppie.
The trail begins half mile east of Muir Beach, just across Highway 1 from the Pelican Inn (circa 1978). The English pub and inn commemorates Sir Francis Drake’s historic 16th century visit to the Marin coast aboard the English privateer ship Pelican. Sir Francis was not a hippie.
The only way to go is up. So, up we went. We had sunshine; we had a cool ocean breeze; we had plenty of coastal scrub. But other than a few late-season California poppies and scraps of tiny scarlet pimpernel, the wildflowers were scarce. Perhaps we would find them higher up the mountain. We trudged on.
The trail rises steadily via a series of switchbacks. The over-the-shoulder view includes a wedge of the beach, the community of Muir Beach climbing the hill to the north and Highway 1 winding between the coastal hills. It was lovely.
As we rose, the wildflowers — thimbleberry, orange bush monkeyflower, mule ear and more — began to emerge as pinpricks of color scattered among the green scrub and beneath the brush. Nice, but certainly no “super bloom.”
Cow parsnip, a tall herb featuring white, flat-topped floral umbels, was in fine springtime form. And blackberries were just starting to emerge on their vines, often perilously close to their three-leafed doppelgänger, poison oak – the stuff of itchy nightmares for The Geek. Blackberry vines have thorns along the stems. Poison oak does not.
We also spotted some wild cucumbers, or manroot. Don’t eat it!
All that sunshine would have become oppressive if not for the breeze off the ocean, which bathed us with a steady flow of over-chilled air, like a swamp cooler in a roadside diner. We took advantage of a rare splash of shade beneath a tiny grove of trees to recoup with apples and cheese.
The trail finally topped out at 1,000 feet about 1.4 miles from the beach. We were pooped. The remainder of the hike ran along the sway-backed ridge. The sway tops out at the Panoramic Highway Trailhead. We turned around just short of the trailhead but only after enjoying a surprising view of San Francisco Bay, The Bay Bridge and downtown Oakland. Nice, but we were weary of walking up hill.
The problem with out-and-back trails is that the “back” is never as much fun as the “out.” The Dias Ridge Trail is no exception. Fortunately, the prospect of refreshment at the Pelican Inn provided a degree of incentive on the trek back.
The cool, dark pub looked pretty inviting after three hours in the sunshine hiking nearly six miles of unshaded coastal scrub with an elevation gain that was the vertical equivalent of the Empire State Building.
We swear, in hindsight, that the entire trail was uphill. Perhaps that’s why the house stout tasted extra frosty, a rather average pinot grigio refreshed like a cool mountain stream, and the fish and chips doubled as haute cuisine.
Every hike should have a pub at the end of the trail.