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Cataract Falls

Stinson Beach, California

based on 23 reviews



2.81 miles

Elevation Gain

1184 ft

Route Type



Added by Griffin Moon

Cataract Falls is a good workout on the 3 mile out-and-back hike (if you go all the way to the top) located in the Marin Municipal Water District in Marin County, California. There are many great spots for a photo op, so be sure to bring your camera.

The Bay Area is home to many beautiful waterfalls, but Cataract Falls located about an hour north of San Francisco is one of the most stunning. Be sure to head out on this hike after a recent rain.

Cataract Falls is a picturesque waterfall located in the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed near Stinson Beach in Marin County, California. At a height of approximately 300 feet, it is one of the tallest waterfalls in the region and a popular hiking destination. The hike to Cataract Falls offers beautiful woodland scenery, an uphill workout, and rewarding views of the falls and surrounding canyon. Here is some key information for planning a visit to Cataract Falls:

About Cataract Falls Trail

Cataract Falls is a 3-mile total out-and-back hike that gains 750ft in the first mile. Unlike Alamere Falls, where you trek for 4 miles to get to the falls, you start to see cascading waterfalls early on in this hike and continue to see more scattered throughout the rest of the trail. Most of the hike is shaded, but you can end up shedding layers pretty quickly since you’re climbing uphill the first 1.5 miles.

If you need a restroom break, there is a public restroom at the top of the trail as you reach Laurel Dell Rd. This trail is dog-friendly on-leash.

The Cataract Falls Trail begins from the main trailhead parking area off Bolinas-Fairfax Road. The well-maintained trail immediately starts climbing uphill via switchbacks through oak and bay laurel trees. After about 0.8 miles, the trail passes by a small lower cascade before crossing over Cataract Creek on a footbridge.

The falls come into full view shortly after the bridge. The main viewing area features wooden railings and benches to take in the dramatic sight of the 300-foot tall cascade spilling down a sheer cliff.

From the main falls viewing area, the trail continues climbing up forested switchbacks for another 0.3 miles to Laurel Dell Road, which serves as the turnaround point for an out-and-back hike. Strong hikers can optionally continue along Laurel Dell Road for an additional 1.5 miles to visit the upper cascades and pools above the main waterfall.

Parking For Cataract Falls Trail

Parking at the trailhead is limited, so it's best to do this trail on a weekday or early on the weekend. An alternative parking area is at the top of the trail on Laurel Dell Rd, where there is also a public restroom.

The main parking area for Cataract Falls is located directly at the trailhead off Bolinas-Fairfax Road. There are only about 10-15 spaces, so parking fills up quickly on weekends. Arriving early is recommended.

If the main lot is full, additional parking can be found along the shoulder of Bolinas-Fairfax Road or by continuing 1 mile uphill on Bolinas-Fairfax Road to the upper Laurel Dell Picnic Area, which has restrooms and around 30 parking spaces. Allow extra hiking time if starting from the upper lot.

Driving to the Cataract Falls Trailhead

The drive to the trailhead alone is beautiful as you pass Alpine Lake on Bolinas Fairfax Rd. From downtown Fairfax, take Bolinas Rd southwest and continue along it as it turns into Bolinas-Fairfax Rd. Trailhead will be on your left as you pass Alpine Road. The drive from downtown Fairfax is just over 8 miles. You can also reach the trailhead from Stinson Beach, California by taking Ridgecrest Road to Bolinas-Fairfax Rd.

To reach the trailhead, take Highway 1 to Stinson Beach and head north on Shoreline Highway for approx. 2 miles. Turn right onto Panoramic Highway and continue for 7 miles. Turn left onto Bolinas-Fairfax Road and drive 6.5 miles. The parking area and trailhead will be on the left side of the road, shortly after passing Alpine Dam.

From San Francisco, take Highway 1 North across the Golden Gate Bridge and continue for approx. 30 miles until Bolinas-Fairfax Road. Turn right and drive 6.5 miles to the trailhead parking on the left side of the road.

Contact Information

Sky Oaks Ranger Station: (415) 945-1180

FAQs for Visiting Cataract Falls

  1. How long is the hike to Cataract Falls? The out-and-back hike to Cataract Falls is approximately 3 miles round trip. Plan for 1.5-2 hours to complete the hike at a moderate pace.
  2. Is the trail to Cataract Falls difficult? The trail is moderately challenging, with an elevation gain of about 750 feet. The first mile ascends via switchbacks and can get steep in some sections. The rest of the trail is more gradual. Sturdy shoes are recommended.
  3. When is the best time to see Cataract Falls? The falls flow year-round, but are most impressive during or after winter rains. Peak waterfall viewing is from January through April. The falls tend to be reduced to a trickle in the late summer/early fall.
  4. Can you swim in the pool below Cataract Falls? Swimming is prohibited in the pool at the base of the falls. The rocks are slippery and the currents can be dangerous. Please observe posted signs.
  5. Is Cataract Falls dog friendly? Leashed dogs are allowed on the trail to Cataract Falls. Be sure to clean up after your pet. Dogs must be kept on leash in the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed at all times.
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Cataract Falls Reviews

We were planning to hike to Alamere Falls, but the roads were closed. We ended up at Cataract Falls for a quick hike. The lake a nice, but not swimmable, and there is a small waterfall.

Beautiful waterfalls! We definitely lucked out on the weekend we decided to go since it was clear, but it was after it had rained a few days 😊 Definitely challenging but totally doable trail!

Though the skill level says beginner, beware - this hike is more moderate due to the quick elevation gains, sets of stairs, and narrow walkways! Went yesterday and loved this hike. Note that bathrooms aren't directly at the top of the falls (and Cataracts Falls themselves aren't clearly marked - they're the falls with a pool below them right before the trail marker to keep getting to Alpine Lake). Beautiful scenery and awesome views of Bolinas, Stinson, the ocean if you hike up to Ridgecrest Road at the very top. Bring layers as it gets quite chilly in the shade, and lots of water - enjoy!

I loved this hike. Cataract Falls is one waterfall after another as you ascend 1,000 feet through some beautiful forest. Once at the top you can easily add more distance by following any of the trails at the top and looping back around.

Drive all the way from the city to find the road leading to the watershed closed.. still, even after a few months. Hopefully it opens soon.

Unfortunately the road (Fairfax-Bolinas Rd) is closed from W Ridgecrest Blvd. I'm not sure if the road is open approaching the trailhead from the east (driving through San Rafael & Fairfax) but as of 4/10/16 its your best bet for getting here!

Leave No Trace

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