Tennessee Valley Loop Hike

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Tennessee Valley trail

Tucked in the Marin Headlands, Tennessee Valley opens a clear plain to the ocean through the scrub and grasses. A small creek cuts through the valley to a tiny beach.

The Tennessee Valley trail is open to hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians. Miwok Livery Stables, located just south of the parking lot, provides guided trail rides. The path is partially paved along the creek, the pavement ending at a picnic area near the creek. Bike racks are located at the cove, as is an animal-proof waste bin, creating a great picnic destination. With a bike, the trail is accessible by public transit through Golden Gate Transit. A walk-in campground is located 0.3 miles up the Tennessee Valley trail.

The hike or ride to Tennessee Cove passes through coastal scrub sparsely interspersed with trees. In the afternoon, fog often tumbles over the hillsides into the valley. A narrow path leads away from the main trail along the creek for a short while through wetland habitat. This less traveled path bypasses several hundred feet in elevation change.

Just before the beach, the creek pools to create a small lagoon where gulls can be seen resting and bathing. You might spot other shorebirds if you stay and watch a while. The beach features interesting rock formations, a hole in the ridge to the north, and when the tide is low, look to the south to see normally submerged rocks and even the remnants of a ship!

That shipwreck site gave Tennessee Valley its name. According to the Parks Conservancy, in 1853, a passenger ship named SS Tennessee became lost in the fog and missed the Golden Gate, instead steaming straight into the Marin shoreline. The ship’s captain was able to navigate to a small beach, and all 550 passengers escaped the beached ship safely.

A loop up into the ridges can give more ambitious hikers either panoramic views of the coast or a magical lost sensation in the coastal fog, depending on the weather. From the Tennessee Valley Trail, turn on the coastal trail for a climb to the summit of Coyote Ridge. This hike climbs along a ridge, but is also tucked in among the manzanita and coyote bush, sometimes providing eye level views of the wildflowers. In June, Franciscan paintbrush is in full bloom, red tubular flowers with a yellow tongue sticking out, as well as the Monterey paintbrush.

At the top of the ridge, Coyote Ridge Trail junctures with the Coast Trail. Take the Coyote Ridge Trail, away from the coast. Walking along a ridge in fog gives one a great sense of how the omnipresent grayness actually moves and operates. Sunny views are wide and grand, but to be up close and personal with fog thrusting over a ridge makes this hike interesting no matter the weather.

Take the Fox Trail back to the Tennessee Valley Trail to finish the loop. The trail leads you back into the valley at a moderate decline. Notice how the surrounding ecosystem changes as you enter into the sheltered valley. Peas and blackberry bushes grow abundantly, and provide a tasty treat when in season!