Tennessee Valley Trail
It's not difficult for Mill Valley residents to get close to nature. One of the easiest trails to hike, both because of its proximity to us and its lack of forbidding hills, is the Tennessee Valley Trail in Tamalpais Valley. Make the turn off Shoreline Highway to Tennessee Valley Road, and then continue for about 1½ miles until you can't go any further. You've reached the parking lot of the trailhead.
Tennessee Valley was named for the steamship Tennessee which, like almost four hundred other ships before the first Point Bonita Lighthouse was built in 1855, hit a reef near the Golden Gate. All lives were saved in the 1853 accident but the ship was a total loss, and today one can walk the beautiful Tennessee Valley Trail to its endpoint and, if the tide is low, see the Tennessee's anchor and part of its engine on the beach.
The gently winding trail, slightly more than two miles in each direction, passes through or near several micro-environments, including meadows, low mountains, stands of redwoods and eucalyptus, a lagoon, a beach and cove and, at the endpoint, the world's largest ocean. In the spring and summer, wildflowers abound on the trail, and deer, frogs, various birds and other wildlife can often be sighted. The trail is open to pedestrians and bicyclists.
The first half-mile or so of the trail is paved, giving way to a dirt path. The trail in the distance, though, is a different, much steeper trail. Soon after the pavement turns to dirt, low mountains rise into view. Wildflowers can be seen on both sides of the trail.
The trail passes through meadows after the halfway mark. You'll find the only significant slope at this point, but most people have found that it is not difficult to negotiate, even when pushing a stroller. Walkers without strollers may skirt this slope by taking a narrow side path that reconnects with the main trail after about one-half mile.
Along the way, one can see several patches of horsetails, one of the oldest, fundamentally unchanged plants in the world. Named because of their resemblance to horses' tails, they have been around for over 300 million years, and are related to no other plants.
Nearing the end of the trail, the lagoon comes into view, with the Pacific Ocean beyond. The view from the south end of the lagoon, where waterfowl are enjoying the peace and safety of the area. The croaking of frogs can sometimes be heard coming from the lagoon.
Very few people enter the sea above their knees due to the water's cold temperature. At low tide, one can see the anchor and part of the engine of the steamship Tennessee, which crashed here 150 years ago. The walk on the Tennessee Valley Trail takes about 45 minutes in each direction.
Written by Alan Nayer. Text and Photos (except where noted) are © Alan Nayer.