Cataract Falls Trail

MODERATE 460 reviews
#1 of 56 trails in

Cataract Falls Trail is a 2.7 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Fairfax, 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
2.7 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
1,112 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Out & Back

dogs on leash

kid friendly

birding

hiking

nature trips

trail running

walking

forest

lake

river

waterfall

scramble

Cataract Falls is one of the most popular falls trails in Marin County within the San Francisco Bay Area. This is a great hike with scattered cascading waterfalls along the entirety of the trail. The trailhead is located off of Bolinas Fairfax Road, just past Alpine Lake. The falls are reached by Cataract Trail starting from Bolinas Fairfax Road. The trail follows Cataract Creek north. The trail shortly starts to climb uphill through a shaded forest and crosses the flowing creek several times. You will eventually reach Laurel Dell picnic area. If you continue on the trail past the picnic area, it will start to descend towards the upper falls. At the junction of Helen Markt Trail and Cataract Trail there is a nice pool where you can stop, take a break, and enjoy the great views. Although this is a short hike, it has a decent amount of elevation gain and is a good workout. If you wish to extend your hike, you can also start from the Rock Spring Trailhead. The best time to visit is after rainfall when the waterflow is heavier.

1 day ago

We decided to continue hiking on the first trail to the left, about half way on this trail and hiked all the way out to where it comes back out on the lake. It’s only a few miles but the various switchbacks are pretty killer if you go that way and it is not a loop trail. This was a little while before I got the app so I was not ready for it. Very pretty though!

hiking
7 days ago

Beautiful trail (would be amazing in winter and spring when water was running in the creek), but hikers need to be prepared for the amount of climbing or descending (depending on which way you travel). The 1000 feet of elevation change is accomplished over MANY stairs created with wood, dirt, and rock. While I was able to handle the descent, the uneven wood and boulders were tough on the knees and ankles.

17 days ago

Nice shaded paths, pretty much dry this time of year.

17 days ago

Nice shaded paths, pretty much dry this time of year.

hiking
23 days ago

1 month ago

beautiful hike

hiking
1 month ago

As an amateur hiker, I found this moderately challenging but satisfying. Lots of incline but with a wonderful view. It was a beautiful scenic route and heavily shaded. Terrain was a bit loose in some areas so the correct shoes for this hike is essential. Parking was a bit confusing and I think we began at the wrong end as we started decline end first. I would not bring my children here however there was a family with small children. Overall, one of my favorites so far, definitely one to do again (in the the spring, when there’s more water)

hiking
1 month ago

This is classified as a moderate hike but for the first time hiker it may be a challenge. There are many sets of steep wooden stairs. Also rock “stairs” to navigate. Dogs on leash are allowed to hike here. I would not recommend taking a dog that is not used to steep rocky hikes. My girl is a good hiker and can handle inclines but this was too difficult for her. We had to take several breaks and she only made it about halfway. Be careful going down as some of the places have gravel that can cause you to slip. Finally I would suggest going in the winter or spring. I went in the summer and though the lake was pretty the waterfalls were almost non existent.

1 month ago

Great hike mostly an incline up stairs and rocks. Great picnic area about 1.4 miles up. Lovely mystic look with a forest feel.

2 months ago

Lots of climbing but pretty scenery throughout! I didn’t feel there was a big ‘pay-off’ moment at the top with a nice view so that’s why I’d rate this one a 4!

hiking
2 months ago

Really enjoyable hike, and gorgeous waterfalls throughout. Quite a bit of climbing, but most of it is using stairs and rocks that stand in well for stairs.

hiking
2 months ago

Short hike and lots of stairs. The majority of the hike is through super lush forest along a cute creek. There are some mosquitos tho so bring bug spray

3 months ago

This is a beautiful hike, easy to moderate intensity. The view, once on top, is spectacular!!

3 months ago

Fantastic trails, beautiful views. Loved that it’s dog friendly. Trail is pretty crowded in the afternoon.

hiking
3 months ago

The view was great. The kids love it. We will do it again.

hiking
3 months ago

Very nice, kid friendly trail.

hiking
3 months ago

Great trail with beautiful waterfalls along the way. Spring is great time go. Some parts of the trail are narrow, wouldn’t recommend children. If you start the loop at alpine lake, you will hit lots of stairs and uphill so itll be tough at first but coming back will be easier. Watch out for loose rocks on the ground.

3 months ago

Went the day after a rain storm a couple months ago. Awesome hike

hiking
4 months ago

Went hiking on this trail today with some friends. Absolutely beautiful trail. Great views of the falls. It’s a clime to the top, but worth the workout. A fare amount of stairs. Lots of wild flowers. Shaded in most areas. Dog friendly.

5 months ago

start at the bottom near the reservoir and work your way up. fun little challenge nice waterfall the whole hike.

hiking
5 months ago

Beautiful scenery of the waterfalls (post rain). Feels like you’re in a rainforest or jungle. Parked at Rock Springs (watershed) trail head & hiked all the way down to Alpine Lake & back. Total was a little over 8 miles w/ a slight detour on the way back. Be cautious that parts of the trail are unmarked. But if you stay along Cataract Creek you’ll be fine. Lots of steps, great workout. Halfway there is a picnic area to rest by the creek which was nice. Lots of shade & my dog enjoyed it as well.

hiking
5 months ago

Gorgeous hike after a big storm. A bit muddy but not too bad. Lots of company—but to be expected since the waterfalls were in full force. There are a ton of steps, uneven, a bit of scrambling in parts. Coming down requires more concentration, going up takes more lung power. A good workout both ways.

5 months ago

Great little hike. It was my first time there and I really enjoyed it. Although it was mid day and a great number of others.

hiking
5 months ago

This trail is all stairs but it’s totally worth it for all those amazing falls. Makes me feel like I’m in some sort of fantasy land while still getting a workout

hiking
6 months ago

Amazingly magical place, especially on a nice day after a rainy season. It was just the perfect amount of challenging, and the scenery didn't let you get bored even for a minute. Go early in the morning if you prefer a more secluded hike; after 12pm this trail gets pretty busy (although, not overwhelmingly). Hubby and I actually decided to hike from the start of the Cataract Trail near the lake all the way to the beginning of Rock Springs Trailhead, and we found it to feel more complete. I'd suggest parking at the parking lot near the entrance to Rock Springs Trailhead and then walking all the way until the entrance to Cataract Trailhead. Have fun exploring!

Beautiful this time of year! Great hike and workout.

6 months ago

Love it!! Best to come after the rain !!

hiking
6 months ago

This was a beautiful get away but be prepared to work for it because there are a ton of stairs but mini waterfalls at every corner it was so peaceful me and my friends got there super early in fact first ones in the parking area by the time we left it was flooded with cars

hiking
6 months ago

This is one of my favorite trails in the Bay Area. Starting just past the dam at alpine lake, the trail takes you along one of the streams that feed the lake. You gain 1000+ elevation, but the beauty of the cascading water next to you the whole way takes your mind off the work of climbing the stairs and inclines. The trail has many trees to provide shade, and the area has a lot of ferns, moss, and other vibrant foliage to please the eye. To extend the hike, I recommend heading west at laurel dell fire road, cross ridgecrest boulevard, take coastal trail to Matt Davis, then up to pantoll. Take old mine trail to rock spring and head back down cataract trail.

6 months ago

Nothing to write home about.

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