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Make tracks while the water's falling to Bay Area waterfalls.

It's been a long time since they've looked this good

A FITTING WAY TO PAY homage to whatever rain gods so generously drenched coastal California watersheds this past winter is with a spring walk to a waterfall. The Bay Area has been blessed with a number of places to celebrate the beauty of fresh, moving water. We've selected four parks with walks representing different levels of difficulty.

Marin's Steep Ravine Trail, Santa Clara County's Uvas Canyon trails, and Big Basin's two paths to Berry Creek Falls all take you along conifer-shaded streams, where the cool air is pungent with bay. The rushing sound of unseen falls leads you on, as extra-full creeks move along their rocky beds, dropping as cascades wherever there's an abrupt elevation change. Streamside trails are thick with moisture-loving ferns, and luxuriant green mosses shine with droplets of mist. In spots with deepest shade, the damp forest displays surprising jewels: mushrooms in hues of amber and carnelian, ruffled belts of shelf fungus gleaming a brilliant coral.

Mount Diablo's Falls Trail, on the mountain's north peak, is different. Steep and sun-exposed, it leads to small waterfalls sequestered by low clumps of slope-hugging pines. Through April and into May, this walk may also reward you with a dazzling wildflower show: starry carpets of white, pink, and lavender ground pink; grassy ledges of delicately painted mariposa lilies; and moist patches of intensely colored crimson and blue larkspurs, set off by shocking pink owl's clover.

Marin County: Mount Tamalpais State Park. With a one-way bus option, this trail is a manageable adventure for families with young children, who can hide inside redwood-stump "goose pens" and sail twig boats in shallow pools. Weekend afternoons can get crowded, so go early.

From State Highway 1, take Panoramic Highway to Pantoll Ranger Station, where you can park (day-use fee $5) and pick up a map. Hike down 1.6 miles on Steep Ravine Trail to the Dipsea Trail; turn left, then left again on Old Mine Trail to climb back up to Pantoll (a 3-mile loop), or turn right and walk downhill another mile to Stinson Beach, where you can catch a Golden Gate Transit bus ($1.10) back to Pantoll on weekends.

Santa Clara County: Uvas Canyon County Park. An easy 1-mile loop nature trail (pick up a pamphlet at headquarters) leads up Swanson Creek to four beautiful falls: Little (not shown on the park map), Black Rock, Basin, and Upper. The more remote Triple Falls dries up by May, but ambitious April hikers can take the steep Alec Canyon Trail to Manzanita Point and from there a spur trail to Triple, then return and follow Contour Trail down Swanson Creek to the other fails. (Uvas Falls, though shown on the park map, was washed out by rains in 1986.)

From U.S. 101 south of San Jose, take Bernal Road to Santa Teresa Boulevard; turn left, then right on Bailey Avenue, left on McKean Road, left on Uvas Road, and right on Croy Road. The park is at the end of Croy, just past the tiny 67-year-old Swedish-American resort of Sveadal.

Santa Cruz County: Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Big Basin's Berry Creek Falls are the Bay Area's biggest (dropping some 70 feet) and perhaps most impressive. The route is long, though the grade is fairly comfortable.

From State Highway 9 at Boulder Creek, take State 236 to headquarters parking ($5) and get a map (75 cents). For an 8-mile round trip, take the Skyline to the Sea Trail to the falls and back. Or, for a loop of about 9 1/2 miles, follow Sunset Trail to Berry Creek Falls Trail, which leads steeply downhill past two smaller falls to Berry Creek Falls, then return by the Skyline to the Sea.

Contra Costs County: Mount Diablo State Park. The minimum round trip to the falls is about 5 miles. It's a fine walk, but too steep and exposed for most children (and some adults). Start early: this area can get quite hot by midday.

From I-680, take Ygnacio Valley Road to Clayton Road and turn right. Clayton Road turns into Marsh Creek Road; turn right on Regency Drive, follow it to its end, and park on the street. Bear left as you enter the park to pick up Donner Canyon fire road. After a series of uphill switchbacks east of Donner Creek toward Cardinet Oaks, look for the signed Falls Trail on your right. This trail twists south around a hillside and up into Wild Oat Canyon, then crosses upper Donner Creek. You'll pass at least two small falls, the second prettier and just right for a picnic-cum-footbath. Return as you came, or continue to Middle Trail, then drop north through Donner Canyon--or, for a longer walk, by narrower Back Creek Trail.
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Title Annotation:San Francisco Bay Area
Author:Williamson, Marcia
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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