It is truly a rare hike that leaves you both worn out and exhilerated at the same time. Kent Trail to Hidden Lake give you that experience. It is a hiker's hike! The challenging trails and the rugged, isolated microcosms of nature command the senses and satisfy the primeval need to commune with nature.
The hike starts at the bottom of the Lake Bon Tempe Dam in the Marin Municipal Water District. We go up and over the dam and then down the other side to meet with Alpine Lake which is about a hundred feet lower than Bon Tempe. Alpine Lake only has one recognized trail along it. This is rugged Kent Trail that runs along the south-east side.
Unlike the busy Lagunitas and Bon Tempe Lakes, the trail around Alpine is rarely travelled, perhaps because you can't go all the way around the lake. The lake has a peaceful solitude and the mountains above, a deep woods feeling. With the recent rains, many of the small streams are flowing again and the moss-covered waterfalls are green and lush. There is a great waterfall about a mile and a half in, see the photo at right.
After a couple miles along Alpine Lake you reach the junction where Kent Trail turns up and the Helen Markt Trail continues along the lake. Here we turned up Kent and headed into mixed forest with small groves of second-growth redwood trees. It has several flights of stairs -- a natural Stairmaster! Towards the top, Hidden Lake and Foul Pool are tucked away in small depressions. These ponds are good sized vernal pools full of fallen logs, creating homes for frogs, salamanders, and newts. One of these spots makes a great place to stop and snack and look for wildlife.
Hidden Lake is near the top of the hike where Willow and Stocking Trails meet with Kent Trail. Be sure to go left on Stocking Trail, which leads over to Hidden Lake and then heads out to Rocky Ridge. One of our favorite redwood groves is on the north side of Hidden Lake along Stocking Trail. Large clumps of Giant Chain Ferns fill the forest floor, while the huge trees tower above and a small stream winds its way between them.
The way the environment can change so abruptly never ceases to amaze us. Just ten minutes from lush lake and redwood forest is rocky, dry and scrubby Rocky Ridge Fire Road. The road runs along a ridge of serpentine stretching from Mount Tamalpais to Pine Mountain and then northward. Here there is little soil between the green rocks, gravel and sand. The plants are all drought tolerant, with prostrate Manzanita's, stunted trees and some grasses. There are great views of Pilot's Knob and the East Bay. This section is a fireroad and we find it nice to be able to finish the hike side-by-side, while taking in all the views.
Rocky Ridge Fire Road ends just adjacent to Bon Tempe Dam. The hike is mostly shady on the single-track trails and sunny on Rocky Ridge. There is no water available at Bon Tempe Dam parking so be sure to bring plenty of water and some food. This is a good hike for older kids, and dogs are welcome on leash.