Cataract Falls to Rock Springs Trailhead Loop
9.2 MILES / 2,947 FT ELEVATION
Cataract Falls can be found along Cataract Creek, at the southern point of Alpine Lake in Marin County. The most popular portion of the hike is the first 0.5 miles where you ascend about 500 feet directly along the creek passing a large number of small scenic waterfalls, clear blue pools and a rocks covered in ferns and moss. After passing this section you can continue on this 9 mile moderate loop to see a pygmy redwood forest, panoramic views of the surrounding area and views of the lake. Plan to hike this loop soon after the rain for the best waterfall experience.
The Cataract Falls Trail begins along Cataract Creek just south of Alpine Lake in Marin, CA. You can park next to the road just west of the lake and walk to the trailhead. The first portion of the trail runs right along Cataract Creek. This portion of the trail consists of slippery rock steps, so watch your step! There are great opportunities for viewing the multitude of small, gurgling waterfalls and brooks along the trail, framed by ferns and moss-covered rocks. This first 0.5 miles of the trail is the most crowded as many will come and only do this portion.
Once you hit the 0.5 mile mark, you will see a fork to the left for Helen Markt Trail. Continue past this fork staying on Cataract Creek Trail on the right. At just under 3 miles of uphill climbing, you will reach Rock Springs which has a vista view of the surrounding hills and a parking lot. Some people choose to hike Cataract Falls starting from this parking lot, leaving the climbing for the second half of the hike. This is a perfect place to take a rest on one of the boulders or picnic tables in this section.
After your break, take Simmons Trail north past Lauren Dell Fire Road (where it turns into Music Stand Trail). When you hit Marsh Trail, take the fork to the right to stay on High Marsh Trail towards Serpentine Point for another vista view. Pay attention when you pass the various creeks and you may be rewarded with seeing a newt or two and mushrooms if it has been raining recently. Continue north past Serpentine Point towards Van Wyck Creek. It is at this section of the trail that you will encounter the pygmy redwood forest and some other colorful plant life.
To finish the loop, make a left once you reach Stocking Trail and continue past Hidden Lake to Kent Trail. Kent trail will take you down to the Alpine Lake shore and meet up with Helen Markt Trail. This trail will take you west through a series of rolling ridges and creek beds until you link back up with Cataract Falls Trail, where you get to enjoy the falls in reverse one more time before you complete the hike.
Maps & GPX
With the GPX route downloaded on your phone, you can follow your location against the trail, even in airplane mode or when you have no service. To learn more about GPX files and how to use them, see the GPX 101 page.
You can download the GPX file using the following link --> GPX FILE DOWNLOAD
Preparation & Pro Tips
- Plan and pack your gear - See our Gear Checklist section for a comprehensive gear checklist and some tips and favorite items of ours.
- Good footwear and poles - There are slippery rocks for a portion of this hike so make sure to bring shoes with good tread and poles to stabilize yourself in order to prevent a fall.
- Ridgecrest Blvd - Ridgecrest Blvd is the road you take in to the trailhead if you take the west route near Stinson Beach. This drive has amazing ocean views and rolling hills, and can be a great place to stop and watch the sunset after the hike if you have time.
The trailhead begins on the southern tip of Alpine Lake. You can park on the edge of the road and walk to the trailhead. Click on the directions icon to pull up custom directions in Google Maps.