Wildflowers and Wildlife at Rodeo Beach – Marin Headlands

Wildflowers & Wildlife - Rodeo Beach | Smiling in Sonoma

There are hikes that we go on that give us a challenge or take our breath away or surprise us or teach us more about history…and there are hikes that provide it all. The hubs and I went wildflower hunting at Rodeo Beach last weekend and got so much more out of the hike! We were greeted first by the beautiful sandy beach and lagoon, shown patience for hunting by a heron then found the otters playing in the lagoon and beautiful views at the peak and a hawk vs crow territory fight all the while enjoying wildflowers sprinkled along the path.

The last time we did this hike at Rodeo Beach it was summer 2015 and freezing. This time there were high clouds and a perfect temperature for a hike. We parked at Rodeo Beach and headed back toward the lagoon. This is where we found the heron patiently hunting for breakfast. There were dogs and people and kids running across the bridge and this heron just did not care! Hunting for breakfast was top priority and it was a success!

After stretching our legs and watching the heron we followed the lagoon to the Miwok Trail. One of the locals had told us there were otters in the lagoon so we were on the lookout. It was so great to see the first one pop it’s head out of the water and then swim around! Then we saw 2 more across the lagoon!! I had been wanting to see the otters in person for so long! Bucket list item checked off! I am not an otter expert but am guessing these are river otters.

Heading up the hill on Miwok Trail through Gerbode Valley you are immediately rewarded with gorgeous views of the green valley all around you. There were hearty wildflowers dotting the path. Colors of yellow, red, purple and orange mixed in with the green grasses growing wild…it made it so worth going up the incline for 3 miles. It was a gentle grade with a lot of opportunities to stop and take in the views. Don’t forget to turn around toward the top and enjoy the views of the city through the green valleys.

Once you reach a saddle, hang a left off of the fire road onto Wolf Ridge Trail and get ready for a more narrow trail with flowers and grasses dancing around you. The morning we went there were high clouds and some were stuck hanging around Mt Tam. The view from the top of Wolf Ridge across Tennessee Valley toward Mt Tam was spectacular. We were stopping every few feet where there was an opening in the bushes to take in the view. It was almost my favorite part of the hike!

From here you round the corner and begin to get expansive views of the coast. The last time we did this hike it was too foggy to go up to Hill 88 but this time was just perfect. We walked up the old asphalt road through the open fence and past the abandoned guard shack to the top of the hill at 833′ elevation. All of the old abandoned military structures had graffiti on them and some broken glass around the area. This is the top of your hike. The 360 degree views were amazing!! The San Pablo Bay, Mt Tamalpais, the lush green valleys below and ocean beaches beyond, and across to the Golden Gate Bridge and Point Bonita. Some of the best bay views we have had! There were people meditating and some exploring the structures. We were just witnesses capturing still images in our cameras for reminiscing later.

The hubs and I opted to head back down the hill after our short break and followed the Coastal Trail back down to Battery Townsley. On our way down there were several crows hunting for snacks. We didn’t think much of it as we kept heading down the asphalt path encouraging the people struggling on their way up. Note to self, it may be a longer hike up the way we went but it was way more gentle!

We reached the first part of the remnants of old Fort Cronkhite and took in the interesting graffiti lining the walls. The views from here went on for days! This would have been a great post to have with views like this! The hubs and I were just wandering around minding our own business when a hawk came flying straight toward us. I had to duck to stay out of his way! He landed on a rock just above us and took a few breaths. I might have scared him with my scream just as much as he scared me! There were a couple of crows that kept dive bombing him and he just ducked and let them burn their energy. Then he took off after them. There were about 10 hawks in all but only 3 decided to fight him for the territory. This was one of those rare moments a city person gets to watch wild animals in action! They were flying all around the bluffs and most hikers didn’t even see them. It ended up being just 1 crow against the hawk and they flew back and forth trying to dominate the other. In the end, the hawk gave up and went over to another area to hunt. It wasn’t worth his energy to keep fighting them. I guess we can sort of look at this like a lesson from nature and when to conserve your energy for survival and not fight a losing battle.

All of this excitement really didn’t help our split pace on our hike. And we wonder why we do 30 minute miles! We get to experience so much! Heading down the wood steps with wildflowers growing in between and along the bath we reached Battery Townsley where there was a practice search and rescue happening. This area has free docent led public tours the first Sunday of each month. One of these times I want to go on this tour and see inside! The displays and historical pictures you can always view are wonderful. I am so glad we never truly had to defend the coast here!

As we followed the fire road back down to Rodeo Beach the grasses and wildflowers were everywhere along the bluffs and so were more people. We always know when we are close to the trail head, there’s more people. We stopped in to use the public restrooms and found our beautiful heron on the picnic table waiting to say good bye to us. This hike was so full of everything we were looking for on a bay area hike. Cannot wait to go back again!

Hike details:

Free parking! Flushing toilets and outdoor showers in the Rodeo Beach parking lot, dogs on leash ok, 6 miles (if you wander around), 833′ elevation gain on a moderate incline, all seasons (you are along the coast dress accordingly!).

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