Cataract Falls and Potrero Meadows Loop

MODERATE 157 reviews
#2 of 35 trails in

Cataract Falls and Potrero Meadows Loop is a 7.5 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Stinson Beach, California that features a lake and is rated as moderate. 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
7.5 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
1994 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Loop

dogs on leash

birding

hiking

nature trips

trail running

walking

forest

lake

river

views

waterfall

wild flowers

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
2 days 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!

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1 month 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.