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Mt. Tamalpais: Phoenix lake
This northwestern flank of Mount Tam is Marin Municipal Water District land, preserved for the primary purpose of providing domestic water supply to Marin County. The hiker's benefit is a network of many trails and fire roads that connect to Mount Tamalpais State Park and a few small Marin County Open Space District preserves. I've loved this hike from my first visit, and it's a particularly good choice for late winter and spring, when wildflowers bloom everywhere.
From the parking lot, begin walking uphill on a broad fire road. This trail provides access to many destinations farther up the mountain and is heavily used by cyclists and runners. At an easy grade, the trail ascends through a mixed woodland of madrone, coast live oak, buckeye, California bay, and one unpopular non-native plant called broom. Early spring flowers include California buttercups, milkmaids, and Welsh onion (another non-native). In winter months, the water rushing downhill from Phoenix Lake is a melodious accompaniment. The fire road passes the spillway and crests at 0.3 miles. Another fire road heads off to the left; this is the return route for the hike, so continue straight. After one last little hill, the fire road levels out. On the left, Phoenix Lake stretches its arms into the creases of a wooded canyon. Mature buckeye, black oak, coast live oak, and California bay provide partial shade but still permit views to the lake. The Worn Springs Fire Road departs from a small cluster of redwood on the right at 0.4 miles, offering a steep route to Bald Hill. Continue on the tour around Phoenix Lake to the next junction, at 0.6 miles, then turn right onto the Yolanda Trail.This diminutive trail begins to climb at a moderate grade along a creekbed, through madrone, black oak, coast live oak, and California bay. Wildflowers emerge in these woods as early as January, when you might see hound's tongue, milkmaids, and shooting stars. In early spring, bluedicks, buttercups, and irises are common. Yolanda crosses the creek and winds uphill into a more grassy area, somewhat overgrown with a young forest of broom. On a morning hike here I got a little wake-up jolt when a jackrabbit came barreling down the trail toward me.