Some of my most memorable trips and adventures happened without a plan. On a recent unseasonably warm California day, I was invited to hike the Dipsea. I was not really familiar with this hiking trail, or with its level of difficulty. Known to be one of the most difficult hiking trails in Northern California, the trail stretches more than nine miles from Muir Woods to Stinson Beach.

We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, drove the steep and winding Highway 1 to Muir Woods National Monument, a popular national park. It was Saturday, so it was hard to find parking. But we got lucky and found a parking spot just a few steps away from the park visitor entrance. We skipped the line and set off to hike from the tiny path from the parking lot.

After crossing Redwood Creek, we immediately started our ascent. The trail was lined by ferns, and the hillside was covered in lush foliage. After a quarter mile, the lush landscape transitioned into dry arid hills. The trail I was walking on had cracks as if I was in Arizona all of a sudden. I was drenched in sweat.

Then we came into a trail almost covered by thick shrubbery and small trees; the entrance to the redwood forest. All of a sudden I found myself under towering redwood trees. The air was crisp. It felt as if I walked into a familiar movie scene; I’m thinking of The Forest Moon with the EWOKS in “Return of the Jedi.” But instead of the EWOKS, I expected deer to jump out. Our hike turned into a playful meandering in the woods. I took my phone out to take photos of my hiking companions making their best ‘Planet of the Apes’ (another movie that was filmed in the area) pose. Equally remarkable was the extraordinary way in which the light reflected through the towering trees. In the light gaps beneath the redwood trees were red alders, maples, and firs. The forest floor was covered in ferns, fungi and occasionally fallen branches and uprooted gigantic trees. I tried to take some serious photos, but it was impossible to capture, for example, a whole towering redwood tree or a succession of trees in one picture. Soon, I gave up and decided to just soak in the beauty of nature and solace. For a brief moment, I reflected on the serenity around me. After the video distraction, I went back to hiking and found myself literally alone. I looked back and found no hikers behind me. I could see my two hiking companions from a distance, flitting about like butterflies in their pink outfits.

The wooded forest dispersed on a steady climb, we had the sun again. Then the trail rolled through redwoods and firs to another trail (Ben Johnson). The sign was confusing at that point. I caught up with my two hiking companions who slowed down to make sure that we were on the right trail. We kept straight and remained on Dipsea. The trees seemed to go on for miles at a time. At the same time, the roots sticking out gave the trail an uneven feel.

I was feeling the stress on my knees as we climbed once more, but there was no sign of the Dipsea rock mileage marker. Then after another steeper climb, the trail soon leveled off giving way to an open space. Our reward for reaching the trail’s highest point was the view of the San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean. We did some yoga poses before continuing our descent. I could hear the sound of cars, probably from Highway 1 to Stinson Beach, but I did not see even a glimpse of the highway. I saw more hikers coming from another trail below heading towards our direction. We were back to an undulating trail that gave way to a winding and very narrow trail.

Then came a different landscape of trees forming a canopy with lush vegetation; uniform redwood groves at the edge of the ravine.

And then the scary part! A very narrow trail on the steep ravine, the mini-spiral staircase of approximately 680 stairs! Each step followed by a groan. I gave a sigh of relief, as I heard the sound of flowing water, a sign that that was the end of the staircase. We crossed a small bridge and look over the pristine water. I could see through the bottom of the creek.

Seeing a man sitting on a concrete structure in the middle of the creek, holding a can of soda, and having a conversation with his buddies, gave me the impression that we have reached the end of Dipsea Trail. But nope! It was where the open coastal hills over Stinson Beach began. The unfolding landscape, the undulating coastal hills gave the illusion that we were really close to Stinson Beach. But the trail took more few drops and rises.

The coastal hills were highlighted by spring/desert flowers and chaparral shrubs.

After 1.5 miles, we finally reached Highway 1 at Stinson Beach. I decided that we deserved a good meal after the strenuous hike so we immediately seek-out the Sand Dollar Restaurant (I had been to this restaurant before and had the best calamari).

After lunch, we proceeded to the beach and soaked our tired feet in the chilly waters. Seeing the mountain top from the beach, I felt a sense of accomplishment for it was only a few hours back when we scaled that mountain and descended the equivalent of 800 stairs. At the same time, I felt anxiety for we still had to hike back to Muir Woods National Park entrance where we left our car. But I was not going back up and climb 800 stairs (also known as the cardiac or suicide trail). So we decided to skip the ascent by taking the shuttle bus from Stinson Beach. The bus ride was equally exciting. Since it was the last shuttle bus, the driver tried to accommodate all passengers (all seemed to be hikers). The bus was jam-packed. The crowded bus careened along the edge of the cliff. At each hairpin turn, our jam-packed bodies slid from side-to-side. Slowly counting the hairpin turns, we finally made it to the Park Ranger Station in one piece.

We got off the bus nearest the trail entrance and hiked for another 2 miles. By the time we arrived at John Muir Woods National Park visitor entrance, the booth was no longer manned. So we walked to the boarded pathways and meandered around the living ancient trees, some of the 400-800 hundreds of years old and towering over 250 feet. On park benches and under these peaceful trees, we rested our tired feet.ste

It was quite a day, definitely, a complete package - A day, where I probably lost tons of calories and gained calf muscles, reveled in one of nature’s many playgrounds (the redwoods and the beach), enjoyed the changing landscape, the lush green hills, thick forests, and looming cliffs. Reflecting on the whole activities of that day, I felt so lucky and felt the renewed appreciation of Northern California, a place I call home.


  1. nice photo! i love it... you're a very good blogger.


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