Cataract Falls and Potrero Meadows Loop

HARD 239 reviews
#2 of 48 trails in

Cataract Falls and Potrero Meadows Loop is a 8.4 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Mill Valley, California that features a lake and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

DISTANCE
8.4 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
1837 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Loop

dogs on leash

birding

hiking

nature trips

trail running

walking

forest

lake

river

views

waterfall

wild flowers

wildlife

rocky

Enjoy the beautiful Catact Falls as it drains into the Alpine Lake, Manzinta groves, redwoods, and chaparral biomes offer a plethora of natural habits to relax and enjoy the soothing sighgts and sounds of nauture.

hiking
6 days ago

Awesome trail. Great scenery. Dogs allowed. So many little streams and great waterfalls. Looking forward to doing it again.

hiking
12 days ago

Parked at Rock Springs. Hiked counterclockwise - down Simmons-Bernstein-Kent to Alpine Lake then back up on Helen Market-Cataract Falls. Good water flow after the recent rains. Hiked: 8.4 miles, 4 hours.

hiking
13 days ago

Yep we did it in the pouring rain & it was still spectacular! The falls were fanastic & all the trails were streams. Its going to be amazing for the next few days while all the water rushes down. Beautiful scenery & habitats & plenty of newts hiking with us.

hiking
28 days ago

One of the most gorgeous hikes in the Bay Area. The water is really flowing right now! Also, climb up the hill across from the parking lot for a truly epic view of the Bay Area.

hiking
1 month ago

Went here on Sunday 03/11 with my husband. Hike ended up being closer to 9 miles, but was very enjoyable! I could see it starting to get busier near the falls around 130-2pm but still a very nice hike. Trail is well maintained, and mostly shady.

hiking
1 month ago

So we started our hike going to Cataract Falls, on a weekday. We didn’t see too many people, and by the time we got there the hike wasn’t too difficult. Lots of going downstairs. We kept pushing to go to the lake, and made it. But that’s when the trail became difficult! And we had already hiked 5 miles at this point and it was close to 2:30. We had to summon all our strength to push up hill the last half of the hike, which beame the hard part! At the end, my fit bit said we did over 10 miles! It was worth it and a great accomplishment, but frustrating that the site said 7.5 miles.

hiking
1 month ago

This is a great hike. We went after the rainy season and the falls were fairly big. I will come back here again. We did it in February, it gets chilly. A softshell or a light jacket should be enough to keep you warm. Lots of people, you won't be alone on this trail.

2 months ago

Absolutely gorgeous trail. Def go right at the start like other people say. However I got done at 8.5 miles not the 7 miles it says but also not the 12 plus miles other people are claiming. I also got 1900ft elevation climb whereas others seem to be different. Weird. If you go right you hit the meadow first then the alpine and then you hit a stunning stream and bridge before you hit the falls. Before the falls I only met one person along the trail. After the falls I met a lot of people. Highly recommended but get there early to avoid the crowds.

hiking
2 months ago

One thing to note, the distance reported on Alltrails is off. Here's my GPS recording on Strava which comes to around 10miles ( I went off trail for about 0.5 miles ) https://www.strava.com/activities/1401541303

Lovely hike. Butt burner of a hike :-). Definitely good training if you'r planning for the likes of Half Dome. Shaded, so good for a hot sunny day, stays cool for most part of the hike. Medium to heavy traffic. Half way mark is at the Alpine Lake which is a super quiet area, great for a break/lunch spot. Although the Cataract Falls itself is even more beautiful and serene so you might want to have your snack/lunch there instead.

hiking
2 months ago

I ended up only doing Cataract Trail because I got a late start. I made a huge mistake parking at the Rock Spring parking lot instead of the Watershed parking lot. The majority of this trail is on a steep incline, so I ended up starting downhill and ending uphill. It was strenuous but beautiful. I had the trail to myself most of the way out which was really nice. I loved this trail!

hiking
2 months ago

Hiked 13.1 mi. Gained 2480ft in elevation.

BEAUTIFUL trails! We went in thinking it was a 7.5 mi 1745ft gain hike but really it's 13 miles with 2480 gain in elevation... I wish this could be edited because we were in for quite a long hike.

Pack lunch and plenty of water! We took this trail in reverse, counter-clockwise. We had lunch at Alpine Lake which took us 1.5 to 2 hours to reach at a steady pace. Most of the way there was downhill so be sure to side-step to save your toes! After the lake we headed to the waterfalls which was all on an uphill incline, and then the trail back to our car was on a heavy incline as well (lots of stairs) with the last leg (about 0.9mi) being a flat meadow. Be prepared to work!

Even though we hiked 5 miles more and gained 700ft more than this says in elevation it was well worth the work! Our feet and legs were doggone dead LOL but it was so freakin gorgeous out! We saw lots of butterflies, different birds, and salamanders on a warm Feb day!

hiking
2 months ago

Hiked 13.2 miles
Gained 2142 ft elevation

Featured: Waterfall(s), meadow(s), vista(s)

Trail: Well maintained in most areas, legible trail markers (albeit confusing at times) most areas have no signal (pay attention to alltrails map) free parking (ticketed after sunset and locked in), the actual trail is 7.3 miles (begin on the right trail because you will head down hill and end your hike on even ground rather than reverse) relatively isolated in back areas. A beautiful place to star gaze and climb trees. Moderate/hard. (we took every wrong way possible. lol)

2 months ago

Lovely place after a rainy day!

hiking
3 months ago

Good moderate uphill or downhill the whole
time.

hiking
4 months ago

note the directions that are given, the road was closed to where the trail head started so you ha e to park across from that road and walk about 1.5 uphill or so up the road. then you hit the trail. which is great if you make sure you have plenty of time. we started around 1:30, thinking 3.5 hours as the other hikers said would be fine. well we had to turn around at 5.1 miles in (that includes the road hike to the trail head)so that we would make it out of there by dark . we busted ass back up the stairs we thought we would never have to walk up after walking down them. just make sure to give yourself plenty of time!!

hiking
4 months ago

Beautiful hike with lots of different terrain - woods, meadows, and some rocky peaks. Took around 3.5 hours to complete. Majority downhill on the way to Alpine lake (we took the right side of the loop to the lake), and it’s a real butt buster on the way home past Cataract Falls, but beautiful the whole time and almost empty (except for actually at the falls). Definitely will go back!

hiking
4 months ago

Excellent hike if you are seeking solitude. I covered over half the trail distance before I passed another hiker. The trail is densely wooded with oak and redwood to the point where you are covered in shade for most of the hike. The trail is very narrow and often covered with leaves and pine needles so a map or the AllTrails app is essential to staying for staying on course. Cataract Falls are ruggedly beautiful with a soothing sound that will put you at peace. As a bonus point, the vistas along the road leading up to the trailhead are the most breathtaking views of the SF Bay I have ever seen. Overall a must experience.

hiking
5 months ago

Up or down the entire time but shaded too. One of the best hikes we've done.

hiking
5 months ago

7 months ago

I hiked three times there in this spring. I definitely will go back next spring when water is plenty

hiking
7 months ago

It’s got everything, all together...few miles up a misty waterfall and bam! You’re in a sunny meadow, and then bam! You’re at a deep blue lake. Bam! The ocean. Bam! The redwoods. It’s a Mt. Tam sampler platter, can’t go wrong.

7 months ago

Awesome, beautiful but can be crowded, especially the Catarack Falls portion... Best to do in the spring.

hiking
8 months ago

Really good, solid hike! Has all sorts of terrain and almost everything you can ask for in a hike, including the lake and waterfalls. The water level wasn't ideal at the falls, but it was still worth it. Has lots of shade throughout the hike. I would definitely recommend and do it again!

hiking
8 months ago

Great trail. Some challenging parts due to the climb and rocky terrain. Got lost a couple of times and added 30 mins to the hike because we went down Cataract Trail to the Alpine Lake parking lot instead of Helen Market Trail. A couple of confusing junctions at Laurel Dake and at Simmons Trail junctions. Not too bad and probably seemed worse because we were hurting! Would love to do this hike when the waterfalls are really flowing!

hiking
9 months ago

An absolutely lovely hike near Mt. Tamalpais. Groves of manzanita, spruce, and redwoods, a lake, waterfalls, and beautiful trail...so much to love about this hike. As others have said, this hike is like walking into a fairytale. In addition, you get to hike on a variety of terrain: dirt, stairs, rocks, and bridges.

Long story short: Do this hike, especially if you've already hiked to Mt. Tam peak and are looking for something different.

The trail is moderate hard in difficulty. My tracker recorded 8.1 miles with 1818 feet elevation gain. It is mostly shaded, which makes it easier. There are several changes in elevation, so your legs will get a good healthy workout. Overall, a good hike for someone comfortable with moderate trails looking to ramp it up a bit, while under cover of shade.

We completed the loop counterclockwise beginning at the Rock Springs trailhead. The Kent Trail on the eastern side of the loop is challenging with several changes in elevation - we went pretty slow on some of the steep downhill sections. We saw very few people on the Benstein/Kent trail, so it was very peaceful. You could hear nothing but wind in the trees and the occasional woodpecker. We picnicked by Lake Alpine and saw only one other pair of hikers as we were packing up to leave toward the falls. Most hikers go and out back to the falls and on to the lake, so I imagine the western edge of the lake is more crowded.

The Cataract Trail on the western side of the loop is cooler as it runs by the creek. Instead of slopes with rocks and dirt (on the Kent trail), it has several flights of stairs to make your way out of the canyon. The Cataract Trail has several hikers just coming up to see the falls, so it was a little crowded.

Even on what would be considered a warm day for Mt. Tam, the trail is mostly shaded, so it felt cool. I didn't need to wear a sunhat, although I always wear sunblock as a precaution as I'm very pale. I am prone to getting bit by bugs, but for whatever reason, I didn't need bug spray on this trail. We did carry some as a precaution.

The trail is located in the Marin Municipal Water District, but it borders Mt. Tamalpais State Park near the Pan Toll Ranger Station. As another reviewer suggested, it is possible to start closer to the falls, so that you can begin with the uphill part of the loop, this will likely add 30 minutes of driving time (coming from most directions). I decided I was up for the challenge of going downhill first - I found I was faster going uphill than down because of the steepness of sections of the trail.

We ended up getting off of the trail at the very end (not sure how), and ended up on the road instead of back to the parking lot. We had to walk on the road for about 400 feet. I'd recommend brining a photo of the map for this trail on your phone. While the trail is well marked, there are several options for veering onto other trails. The one recommended on AllTrails (the one we did) combines several trails:
1) Simmons (very short distance near trailhead)
2) Benstein
3) Kent
4) Helen Market
5) Cataract

I will certainly be back next year for this one. With any luck I'll be fit enough to extend the loop to visit Bon Tempe Lake along the way.

hiking
9 months ago

We started the loop at Cataract Trail, from where a 1500ft descent through a decently maintained trail with a lot of staircases leads you to the bottom of the falls. The trail directions seemed a bit messed up so I recommend carrying a map. The second half of the trail is a very good workout, with short bursts of ascents followed by somewhat flat cool down stretches. There is a restroom I have marked on the recording somewhere along the route and there are some at the trail head. There is some argument over the actual distance of this loop. I had 3 devices on me and the distances recorded varied from 7.5 to 8.2miles. This hike is between moderate and hard difficulty so I recommend carrying lots of water and some food to snack on along the way.

hiking
9 months ago

Great hike, but a word of caution: this is much closer to the "easy end" of "Hard" rather than a Moderate difficulty trail. You're going to gain a ton of elevation, with almost no let up, on the second half. The listing here is also a little off -- it is closer to 8 or 8.2 miles than 7.5, though the elevation gain is about the same.

Altogether a beautiful hike though. Great scenery, almost entirely shaded, lightly trafficked even on a holiday weekend. Watch out for bugs -- they were really irritating today.

hiking
10 months ago

Bring bug spray if you're prone to getting bit. I got about 8 mosquito bites. Did the hike from 10am-1:30pm. Even with scorching temps, the mosquitos were still out.

10 months ago

Rigorous hike! Great views!

10 months ago

Difficulty is more on the hard-moderate scale. Lots of variability in terrain and elevation. Great hike with a beautiful waterfall. I took the hike counter clockwise so got to see the waterfalls early.

Load More