Ah...summer. Love the warm breezy evenings, but the hot days make for challenging outdoor activities. If you want to get out mid-day, then you need to find the cool spots. Devil's Gulch in Samuel P. Taylor State Park is a popular destination on just such days. With a sandy beach on the creek, a shady cool hike along the stream, and a 50-foot waterfall just an easy mile in from the parking area, Devil's Gulch has got something for most outdoor adventurers.
Devils's Gulch parking is just one mile past the entrance to Samuel P. Taylor State Park, coming from the south. The gulch contains a narrow dense riparian woodland, with a nicely flowing creek cut into the smooth bedrock. Still flowering Buckeye, soft Hazelnuts, tall Bays and abundant ferns line the steep banks. The creek calls out for exploring, but the state park does not want people down in the gulch because of the sensitive wildlife habitat. If you want to play or picnic by water there are stairs from the parking area down to Paper Mill Creek, the main creek that runs alongside Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. There is a nice beach, plenty of shade and a wading pool to keep cool.
To start the hike head across Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and go through the gate onto the paved road that leads into Devil's Gulch. The first part of the hike is paved, because in addition to hiking, there are a couple of group camping spots and a small temporary stable where horses are kept for a kids summer program. Just a tenth of a mile in, the hiking trail starts on the right, so stay alert for it. This portion of the trail is in deep cool shade. The dense riparian woodland covers the banks of the creek. After another tenth of a mile you come to an enormous lone Redwood tree with a tunnel through the trunk. It is amazing that this tree escaped the early loggers, but with very few Redwoods in Devil's Gulch there was little interest in going after them.
To reach Stair Step Falls, cross the bridge and go left up Bill's Trail. The falls are not on the main trail, look for the side trail about half a mile up on your right. The falls are only a trickle this time of year, but the ferns and mosses still thrive on the rocks.
If the weather is cooler or you want a bigger hike you can continue up Bill's Trail to the Mount Barnabe peak and fire lookout. It is a 4.4 mile 1,400' climb to the peak, so be sure to bring water. The top portion of the hike is open grassland with no shade. Take in the fantastic views from the lookout and double back. The quickest way back is down the main fire road, which continues past the upper end of Bill's Trail and ends back at the bottom of Bill's Trail. This route has far less shade and is steeper. The total trek to the peak is just under seven miles using the fire road, or nine miles doubling back on Bill's Trail.
Devils Gulch is part of Samuel P. Taylor State Park and is currently on . According to the state park website, all camping sites will close Sept. 5, but the day use area's will be open until Oct. 15 2011.
See the book "Hiking Marin: 141 Great Hikes in Marin County" for more details. Click here to go the Marin Trails website, where you can find more information about the book.