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Camping Mt Tam Pantoll Campground & Tamalpais Hiking
Information about the campground, the hiker, biker and tent campsites, facilities, trails, parking and RV camping on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County in Northern California. Includes the nearest campground to Mt. Tam, the Steep Ravine campground overlooking the Pacific ocean on Highway 1, near Stinson Beach, California. Tips and updated information by a local writer and hiker familiar with these trails and campgrounds.
The campground includes a site reserved for hikers and bikers and allows RVs in the parking lot, when space allows, but there are no hookups for RVs. Each tent campsite has a picnic table, a food locker, open space for 1-2 tents depending on the site, and a metal fire ring with grill. Fires are allowed in these designated fire rings; camp stoves may be used at your site as well.
Campsites next to the parking lot offer the easiest access for people with mobility limitations and are closest to the restrooms. Additional campsites interspersed between trees uphill on a ridge offer greater privacy, but you need to carry your gear uphill.
The Pantoll Campground is located on Mt. Tamalpais near numerous trailheads, some of which offer panoramic views of San Francisco and the bay. This has become my favorite campground. There's something amazing about Mt. Tam itself, which is both pervasive and intangible. Sacred and magical come to mind, but don't begin to cover how I feel about that place. During recent stresses in my life it has become a refuge, and I home to it.
Pantoll Campground: 801 Panoramic Highway Mill Valley, CA 94941 415-388-2070
View of Marin County and Mount Tamalpais from Angel Island
There's a ranger station right at the parking lot for the campground. The parking lot is illuminated at night and you can reach some of the campsites by an easy walk from your parking place. Other campsites are more secluded among the oak trees and bushes up the hill.
The restroom faces the parking lot and has four individual stalls with flush toilets and sinks. With many day-use people as well as the campers, this sometimes seems to be too few restrooms; still, they are well-maintained and cleaned each morning -- a feature I've appreciated at all the Northern California State Parks.The presence of friendly and knowledgeable rangers and maintenance staff enhances this vacation campground.
Hiking & Wildlife
The Pantoll Campground ranger station provides excellent trail maps you can take with you, and the trail markers are well-placed. The rangers I've met have been helpful and informative. I was interested to learn more about owls and other wildlife on this past trip. Mt. Tam has an elevation of over 2,700 feet and is home to several species of owls and other birds. A sign next to the ranger station gives information about the animals that make this peak their habitat.
On one hike I was paced by a coyote who was too friendly for his own good. The ranger recommended helping to reinstate their natural fear of humans by being loud when they approach. Never feed or try to tame coyotes -- such acts counter their survival.
Layout, Parking & Site Availability
Majestic old oak trees keep the Pantoll Campground well-shaded even on hot days. The sites are free of brush and weeds, although not all of them are level. Many of the campsites are in view of each other. The two sites up the hill to the right of the ranger station have the most privacy. This is one of the few first-come-first-serve camp grounds in the area, so on the weekend it's best to get your campsite in the morning.
I was there most recently Thursday through Saturday. Thursday there were some sites left vacant, and Friday I got back from a gorgeous day at Stinson Beach at 6 p.m. and the campground was full. With the patrolling Ranger's permission I was able to share the hike-bike site -- at full fee, since I was parking my car in the lot. Saturday morning I snagged my own site as soon as the one I wanted vacated. The camp was full by 11:30 a.m.
Tip: Due to all the day-use and the fact that there are no reserved camping parking spots for campers, you vacate your parking spot at your own risk It can be after 4 p.m. before any parking spots open up on the weekend. Because the weather in Marin County is usually warm enough for camping from spring through fall, Mt. Tam is popular on the weekends most of the year.
Fees, Gear & a Nearby Campground by Reservation
Fees : A thrifty $15 per site at time of publication and $6.00 additional for each extra vehicle the nearby Steep Ravine Campground is the same. Steep Ravine Cabins rent at a higher rate. Steep Ravine cabins and hike-in tent sites can be reserved through Reserve America, 1-800-444-7275. For Pantoll, it's a good idea to bring exact change -- if you happen to arrive when the ranger station is closed they have envelopes and a drop slot for self-registration at the station. Please be honorable and support our state parks. Also, the parks are patrolled, and there are hefty fines for unauthorized parking.
Recommended Gear: Tent, pack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, ground cover, cook stove, food, cook pot, mug, bowl, utensils, water bottles, waist pack to carry water bottle, trail mix, sunscreen, jacket, zip-off cargo pants, short sleeve & long sleeve shirts. It's warm during the day, chilly morning and evening -- bring layers. I was so glad to have good field glasses with me. The views, the birds, the ships -- so much to take in, all deserving a closer look. Ditto for a camera with extra film and batteries. Crucial: Flashlight and batteries. There are low stone walls surrounding some of the sites.
Pantoll Special Features: This park now has WIFI access. Some trails allow horses and bikes and the Pantoll Campground has two tent camping sites specifically for hikers and bicyclists. Some of the structures at the park, including a hand-built rock edifice around a spring, date from the 1930s.
Alternative Campsite by Reservation: The nearby and stunning Steep Ravine Campground is right on Highway 1 overlooking the ocean. The tent camping sites and cabins there can be reserved via the Reserve America website.
The Steep Ravine Campground has a host living on site. Tent sites are walk-in. There's no parking near the sites, so everything has to be carried in. For Steep Ravine, be sure to arrive on time for your reservation. The gate across the driveway is locked in the evening.
The Pantoll Campground permits RV parking overnight in the parking lot when there's room.
- There are no hook-ups, and the vehicle must have its own factory-installed gray water system to qualify. This is based on the posted information on the campgrounds at time of publication.
- RVs must vacate by a specified time in the morning.
- Check with the Pantoll Campground for current information, and be aware that especially on weekends, there may not be room.
2012: Camping fees at many parks have increased to $25 per site, which includes one vehicle. Call ahead to confirm prices and availability. Due to budget cuts, some parks in California now are facing closure or reduced services. Check the website and call to confirm before making plans.
Certain private local campgrounds in northern California close at the end of September and don't reopen until spring.
2011: Parking fees in fee-charging areas of California State parks is now $7 for day use. This fee must be paid for any additional vehicles for camping. Parking for one vehicle is included in the camping fee.
If you register when the ranger station is closed, fill out the form on the small envelope provided next to the ranger station door and put the stub on your dashboard so that it's visible to the ranger. Deposit the fee in the slot, sealed in the envelope.
Free parking areas remain free. Pay attention to signs about parking rules and fees -- fines for unauthorized parking can be steep.
Mt. Tamalpais State Park
801 Panoramic Highway, Mill Valley, CA 94941
Call for more information: (415) 388-2070 Due to state budget cuts, I recommend calling ahead to check hours and availability of California State Park facilities.
This brochure includes the Steep Ravine Cabins, but the information including the rates may be out of date.
Updated September 2012