Inn-to-Inn Hiking in Northern California: 3 Days, 2 Nights: San Francisco, Bay Area Hikes #AdventureTravel

Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Coastal Trail near Muir Beach, California.

Slinging my pack on my back, we thank the driver who drops us off at the Tennessee Valley trailhead in Marin County, California, for the three day inn-to-inn hiking excursion we’ve dreamed up for this weekend’s adventure.

Our packs are relatively light this time since we’ll have a bed with clean sheets and warm food prepared for our taste-buds each night as we make a loop that runs through the spectacular Golden Gate Recreation Area and Mt. Tamalpais State Park just north of the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.

Ah, yes, a little pampering is good, especially since this adventure falls right around Valentine’s Day and the three day loop we’re about to explore is as much about reconnecting with each other as relaxed, happy human-beings in the fresh-air as it is about reconnecting our feet to the trails.

Day 1:
The first leg of the trip is a coastal vista extravaganza as we climb on the Coastal Fire Road up and out of Tennessee Valley’s lush grasslands in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) and onto the single-track trail that winds along the edge of the coast. The Pacific Ocean breaks directly below us and Muir Beach is our destination for the night.

I can’t stop taking pictures. The beauty of the coastline is seriously sweeping us away and we pause to snap a selfie of us looking back towards where our feet have jsut come from. Its one of those moments when you stop. Breathe. Listen. And have that moment. Not a person in sight. Just us and nature. Complete and total trail zen. You know it.

The Pelican Inn. Muir Beach, California

Winding back down the southern cliff’s trails of Muir Beach, just a few miles away from the world-famous Muir Woods National Monument, we find our way from the coastal-surf into the little community where we check-in for the night. The Pelican Inn. A quaint, little old english style place with a great pub and delicious fresh food.

Day 2:
Waking up to the sound of the waves rolling into Muir Beach down the road, our stomachs yell - Halleluiah! - with the giant breakfast we’re served by possibly the most friendly, warm hostess I’ve encountered in my lifetime. Filled to the brim, I wrap some of the extra freshly made bread in my napkin for a treat on the trail and we’re off for the second leg of our adventure.

Up Redwood Creek Trail with a surprise stream crossing, we’re now over Santos Meadow to Heather Cutoff Trail and Heather’s wildflower covered switchbacks to meet up with the Coastal View Trail and its wake-me-up vertical. T-boning the Dipsea Trail at close to 1,400 feet, we stop for a snack of fresh bread and gorp and a 180 visual sweep of the GGNRA, which we’ve left behind for now, and Mt Tamalpais State Park, which we’ve crossed over into earlier on the hike.

Mt Tamalpais State Park, California. Looking back over the Coastal View Trail.

From here we can see the shimmering San Francisco Bay to the east as it opens up westward into the Pacific and towards our next destination, the coastal town of Stinson Beach.

After this sunshine filled break, off we trek down over the coastal hills and through the redwood groves that lead down the last miles to one of our favorite hideaways on Earth. The cool beach town of Stinson Beach. Sleepy the right time of year, bumper to bumper on the appropriate all-out-beach-summer-holidays.

Stinson Beach, California

Dropping our packs at the front desk of the simple yet beachy-classy Sandpiper Inn, we check in our gear, whip off our hiking garb, and run in our flip-flops for the 2.5 mile beach just a block away from our cozy little room.

Day 3:
We grab a hikers breakfast at the Parkside just down the road from the Inn and walk to the beach for one last sip of coffee and a goodbye to the lung quenching ocean-spray. See you again soon, we hope. But for now, we have the final leg of our hike to finish. The 7 mile, Dipsea Trail that links Stinson Beach back over to Mill Valley.

This part of the hike doubles back for a few miles over where we’d been the day before. But, heading in this direction, we see the hike from such a different perspective with such different views, we feel as if it’s a brand new trail.

Mt Tamalpais State Park. Heading into Muir Woods area on Dipsea Trail.

Hitting the same 1,400 foot apex point as yesterday, we give it a high-five, and from here forward, we now descend into the new, previously untrodden section of the Dipsea Trail. Giant redwoods remind us that we’re just steps away from Muir Woods, and we stop and hug and worship some of these mammoth trees that line the trail and fill the hills surrounding us.

Through Muir Woods with another surprise stream crossing -- bridge is out! -- and it’s back over one last 750 foot hump then down, down the Dipsea Stairs into the mountainside town of Mill Valley, California.

2 nights. 3 days. 16 plus enjoyable miles. An Inn-to-Inn hiking loop through a national & state park. Heavenly hikes on Earth.

-Outdoorsy Mama

Where to Stay:
Muir Beach: The Pelican Inn, 415-383-6000
Stinson Beach: Sandpiper Lodging at the Beach, 415-868-1632

Length: Total **Loop: @ *16.5 miles. 
Day 1: @ 4 miles -- Day 2: @ 5.5 miles -- Day 3: @ 7 miles
Location: Hiking loop through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Mt Tamalpais State Park, North of San Francisco, California
Hike start: Tennessee Valley Beach Trailhead, Mill Valley, CA, Golden Gate Rec Area
Hike end: Old Mill Park, Mill Valley, CA
Exposure: Mostly sun.
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous. Day 3 has @ 2,100 vertical total.
Dogs: Sorry, leave the dogs at home.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Trail Map (includes parts of Mt Tam State Park) 

Credit: GGNRA NPS Map 
*All mileage in this article is a close approximation as the trail signs and the maps and even the apps have an interesting variety of measurements. 
** I am calling it a loop because it starts and finishes in the same town. However it does not start and finish in the exact same location in that town. Please note.


  1. What a fantastic way to travel! I met a couple at Lake O'Hara that had walked across England and Portugal and that is how they did it - staying at inns! Love it and hope to do it some time!!

    1. it's definitely a luxury relative to the tent/ground/elements --- but it's a fun way to shake it up and experience the trails in a different way. felt very pampered ;) which is GOOD once in a while ;) cheers!

  2. I love this and am wondering the ages of your kids? How many miles can you typically cover in a day with kids in tow?

    1. hi wendy. great question. on this one we left the kids at home because it was a "reconnect with the hubby" weekend. my kids are 10, 10 and 13. if we'd done it w/kids, the 13 year old would have had no problem, he's basically an adult stamina wise. the 10 year olds would have probably need to be "gently/definitely persuaded" with chocolate and goodies. especially on day 3. day three would be a BIG day for the 10 year olds at 7 miles and 2100 vertical. note that all 3 are really active on a daily basis as we channel their energy into sports. lemme know if you'd like more details! -a

  3. What a great idea- one to remember! Thanks for sharing!

    1. thanks, Karen! hope to see you out there on the trails -a