The Bay Area’s Ring Mountain Preserve May Be the Platonic Ideal for a Post-Thanksgiving Hike

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I have a friend, born and raised on a Sausalito barge, a longtime San Francisco reporter turned criminal investigator, who knows the Bay Area better than I could ever hope for. For a while now, during the pandemic, he’s been on a one-day hike every Sunday. It is his designated moment to get lost on this or that path, to scrutinize the limits of our imperfect metropolis, a place surrounded by nature so spectacular that it sometimes eclipses the city itself. So when I search for a specific type of local hike, I don’t ask Google or AllTrails, I ask “Uncle Joanie”.

But regardless of Jonah’s Bay Area credentials, he’s not a mind reader. When I asked him about the perfect hike for the day after Thanksgiving, he looked at me – not for the first time in our longtime friendship – like maybe I was a row shorter than a pair. What, he wanted to know, made this hike different from the others?

Jonah at the Ring Mountain trailhead.

Freda Moon

I had a whole Goldilocks checklist in mind: I wanted a hike that was both difficult and easy, neither too long nor too short; the one that got us out of town, but wasn’t too much of a car. I wanted a new place for myself that was not crowded. Ultimately, I wanted a hike that brings some kind of twist or reward, something to shake us up from our post-feast sleepiness and post-vacation disappointment – a hike that was more than a walk, more than a hike. ‘an exercise”. And it wouldn’t hurt if this hike had a place nearby for a drink afterwards.

Put a ring on it

When we pulled up to the Phyllis Ellman trailhead, Jonah was already there, sitting on his rear bumper in cowboy boots and a vest, a Northern California outfit if any. My husband, Tim, pissed him off about his friends-of-the-family outfit. Unlike so many Bay Area parks on a Sunday like this – a cloudless, 70 degree November day in northern California – the entrance to Paradise Cove at Ring Mountain Open Space Preserve had at most a dozen cars parked at the trailhead.

Rock Climbing, Climbing, Climbing the Loop Trail at Ring Mountain Preserve in Marin, California.

Rock Climbing, Climbing, Climbing the Loop Trail at Ring Mountain Preserve in Marin, California.

Freda Moon

To get there from our East Bay houseboat, we had crossed the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge, got off I-580 at Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, past the Larkspur ferry terminal and Corte Madera shopping center and , before the kids could ask how long we’d be in the car, we’d arrived – a traffic-free half-hour cruise from snacking on burritos for breakfast to our muddy path.

So the four of us – me, my husband Tim and our children, who are six adventurers and three very enthusiastic – found ourselves following Jonah up and up, and down to a slippery mudslide of a trail. along a mossy, rocky trail, gurgling creek, through chaparral and gnarled scrub oak fortresses, to the open pastures of the old Reed Ranch. The property once belonged to John Thomas Reed, whom the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society newsletter describes as “perhaps the first Irishman to settle permanently on the Pacific coast and the first English-speaking resident of Marin County” .

"Fishing" in the pond of an old scrubland oak.

“Fishing” in the pond of an old scrubland oak.

Freda Moon

The ranch was in operation until the 1960s, although it was divided into smaller and smaller plots as it was passed down from generation to generation and sold for suburban development. What remains at Ring Mountain are 387 acres, miles of trails and fire roads that climb from bay to ridges and branch out in all directions.

From Paradise Cove our party of five took the Loop Trail, a narrow path lined with tufts of grass, glistening from the last storm. It was surprisingly humid considering it was raining a few days ago now – a landscape of streams, ferns and moss, lichen-painted rocks and weird little wooden bridges.

“It kind of reminds me of Scotland,” Jonah said.

Then, a few breaths later, on a ridge overlooking Paradise Cove’s most notable and notorious structure: “This is the best view of San Quentin you’ll have anywhere. ”

And both were true.

San Quentin in the background on the Phyllis Ellman Trail.

San Quentin in the background on the Phyllis Ellman Trail.

Freda Moon

The great revelation


On the San Rafael side of the reserve, our hike – up to the backbone of the Tiburon Peninsula – was just over half a mile. Although it was maybe a 40 minute hike, it was steep enough that I was sweating, only to find myself catching my breath every now and then.

There were moments of wonder along the way: a rock staircase through a tunnel of trees, a blizzard of floating cotton-like seeds, old oak fortresses that Jonas called the “queens of the hill. », Sculpted and misshapen and dripping with character. One of them was born from a rocky ledge, which Roxie and Felix rushed over, hammering it into their “castle”. Another had a plate-sized hole in his trunk that had filled with water, turning it into a small pond, where children “fished” with sticks.

Scrub the carved oaks with love.

Scrub the carved oaks with love.

Freda Moon

At the top the trail opened up to a meadow and Ring Mountain Turtle Rock, and an aptly named boulder, maybe 20ft high, rose in front of us. It looked like a massively oversized turtle on a rock, a turtle basking in the sun. We scaled it to the side, pushing my three year old onto the smooth surface and placing it in the center, a safe place to shovel salami, cheese and leftover Halloween candy into her mouth. with the rest of us. We had a picnic at the top of the rock, a 360 degree view over Richardson Bay to Sausalito and the Golden Gate, the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island, and the skyline of San Francisco, a city of the size of a toy in the distance.

San Francisco from afar.

San Francisco from afar.

Freda Moon

The whole hike was maybe two hours. Considering how the various parks and trails of the Tiburon Peninsula are interconnected, we could have walked to the city shore – or, conversely, arrived by ferry from the city and walked to the Ring. Mountain from there, but it was too ambitious of an outing for that, the platonic ideal of a post-Thanksgiving Bay Area day. Instead, we hopped in our cars and drove the 15 minutes to pristine downtown Tiburon, a place where the houses on the hill are the size of hotels and almost every car is a Tesla, a Porsche, a Jaguar or a Benz.

We continued our hike, as per my Goldilocks wish, with drinks on the deck over the water at Sam’s, a century old fish shack that is no longer a shack at all. This hike and spicy Bloody Mary proved to be the perfect antidote to the post-vacation blues. Once again, our faith in Uncle Joanie had paid off.

A post Thanksgiving hike to the top of Marin's Ring Mountain.

A post Thanksgiving hike to the top of Marin’s Ring Mountain.

Freda Moon

Ring Mountain Reserve trail map.

Ring Mountain Reserve trail map.

Freda Moon

Hovering birds, Californian Christmas berries and palm trees.

Soaring birds, Californian Christmas berries and palm trees.

Freda Moon

The children of the bay area and their oak castle.

The children of the bay area and their oak castle.

Freda Moon

The distinctive geology of the Tiburon Peninsula.

The distinctive geology of the Tiburon Peninsula.

Freda Moon

Petroglyphs at Ring Mountain Preserve in Marin County, California.

Petroglyphs at Ring Mountain Preserve in Marin County, California.

Freda Moon

Surveying the landscape at the historic Reed Ranch, now Ring Mountain Preserve.

Surveying the landscape at the historic Reed Ranch, now Ring Mountain Preserve.

Freda Moon

Petroglyphs at Ring Mountain Preserve.

Petroglyphs at Ring Mountain Preserve.

Freda Moon

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