Explore your wanderlust with Marin’s state parks

Matthew Marotto

Despite being the fourth smallest county in California, Marin has six state parks spread throughout its borders, including the remote coastline of west Marin and on the historic grounds of Olompali to the north. Whether hiking, sightseeing or bicycling, there is a state park for everyone in Marin.

Mount Tamalpais

Widely regarded as one of the best state parks in California, Mt. Tamalpais measures up to its reputation in every way. An extensive trail network offers connectivity to neighboring preserves and access to some of the most spectacular views in the Bay Area. There are also several camping options including Pantoll Campground. From there, a short walk leads to Cardiac Hill, a knoll overlooking the Pacific Ocean in its seeming entirety. At the highest point in Marin, the West Peak (not East Peak contrary to popular belief) of Mt. Tamalpais looks over nearly all of Marin and the Bay Area. Regardless of elevation, any place in this park has a magical feel that can only be experienced in person.

China Camp

Although not as expansive as Mt. Tamalpais, the opportunities while enjoying China Camp are virtually endless. The shrimping village site along the San Pablo Bay is open to the public and offers a glimpse of the park’s history as a Chinese fishing community after the Gold Rush era. Campsites are available near the village and coastline as well as in Back Ranch Meadows, which boasts easy access to China Camp’s scenic and moderately technical multi-use trails. The unique topography of this park is perhaps its greatest draw, rising up from its brackish marshes to its all-seeing ridgeline.

Samuel P. Taylor

Located within San Geronimo Valley, Samuel P. Taylor blends recreational activities, nature and history, all under the canopy of towering redwoods. Campsites are positioned alongside Lagunitas Creek, which leads out all the way to Tomales Bay. This allows for wintertime salmon runs through the valley — an attraction worth seeing regardless of the seasonal muddiness. In fact, Samuel P. Taylor has become such a popular destination that, as with all other campgrounds in Marin, early reservations are strongly recommended.


While not the most well-known, Olompali State Historic Park is a worthwhile visit and is located outside Novato on the grounds of the Burdell Ranch. Restored structures, including the Burdell Mansion and various pieces of ranch infrastructure, point towards the park’s rich indigenous history. The park, like the rest of Marin, was originally inhabited by native peoples long before European settlement and the Gold Rush. In fact, Olompali translates to “Southern Village” in the Coast Miwok language and was one of the largest native villages in Marin. Today, adobe ruins dating back to Spanish arrival can also be seen, adding to the park’s sightseeing features. Other activities include hiking and wildlife spotting on the park’s pedestrian trails.

Tomales Bay

In coastal West Marin, the remote Tomales Bay State Park offers a unique experience on the beach and under the trees. Amidst the dense shrubbery, only a handful of pedestrian paths are present in the park. However, making up for the lack of trails, Tomales Bay contains popular waterfronts including Heart’s Desire, Pebble and Shell beaches. These provide excellent access to aquatic recreation, assuming parking is available in the first place!

Angel Island

Only accessible by ferry, Angel Island can seem like a detached world from the rest of the Bay Area. Its historic structures, which include the early 20th century Immigration Station, World War II Japanese-American internment facility and a Cold War era nuclear Nike Missile Site, draw the attention of visitors to important events of the past. However, this is not the only perspective to be gained at Angel Island, as the park features 360 degree views of the Bay. A host of other activities including cycling, hiking and picnicking are also available on the island’s network of trails and at historic sites.

Offering natural, historical and recreational experiences, Marin County’s six state parks check all the boxes. However, between all these local parks, it can be easy to forget just how incredible each of them are — a trip to one is a good reminder though.