Tennessee Beach, Marin Headlands - Tennessee Valley Trailhead, San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes, California

Tennessee Beach - 3.7 miles

Marin Headlands - Tennessee Valley Trailhead

The Tennessee Beach arch collapsed on December 29, 2012

The Tennessee Beach arch collapsed on December 29, 2012

Round-Trip Length: 3.7 miles
Start-End Elevation: 192' - 0' (192' max elevation)
Elevation Change: -192' net elevation loss (+269' roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: Yes
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Tennessee Beach - 3.7 Miles Round-Trip

Tennessee Beach is located 1.85 miles from the Tennessee Valley Trailhead, just south of Mill Valley in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Paved and packed-dirt paths drops through a broad coastal valley to the beach, an idyllic strand framed by coastal hills and a natural lagoon. Visitors will enjoy mild grades, biological diversity and multiple trail connections on the hike to Tennessee Beach:

A paved trail drops by connections for the Haypress Camp (.25 miles), Fox Trail (.35 miles) and Chaparral Trail (.65 miles), past which it becomes groomed packed dirt.

The landscape opens on a westerly bend through Tennessee Valley, a lush coastal lowland with emerging views of the lagoon. At .9 miles (73') runners and hikers can opt for the Lower Tennessee Valley Trail, a bike-free shortcut that runs through a natural wetland and riparian corridor on the valley floor.

The main trail continues by the first of two splits for the Coastal Trail (1.2 miles : 86'), which runs south to Rodeo Beach, and north to Muir Beach.

The Tennessee Valley Trail veers left at the second Coastal Trail split (1.25 miles : 114') for a rolling descent by the lagoon to Tennessee Beach (1.85 miles).

The lagoon's outlet runs parallel to the beach, and you'll likely get a bit wet in the crossing. The beach is framed by towering bluffs, and a rock fin on the north side with an arch that collapsed on Dec. 29th, 2012. This rare event was witnessed and chronicled by Robert Willis.

Established social trails scale the north bluff to amazing views over the beach, valley and lagoon. Swimming is not recommended at Tennessee Beach due to unpredictable riptides, sneaker waves, and heavy surf, particularly at either end of the beach.

Tennessee Valley is a natural coastal drainage that supports diverse plant and wildlife communities. The wetlands and lagoon are an important fresh water source for mammals, and haven for shore and sea birds.

Coastal Scrub and Chaparral - a composite of coyote bush, sage, manzanita, and chemise - cover these hills, providing food and shelter for small birds and mammals. Wildflowers peak April-May.

Coyote, bobcat, and mountain lion top the terrestrial food chain, while turkey vulture, red tail hawks, red-shoulder hawks, northern harriers, great-horned and barn owls dominate the sky. Pacific rattlesnakes are infrequently seen, but inhabit rocky outcrops off-trail that should be respectfully avoided.

Elk and antelope once thrived in these hills, but were extirpated by European settlement and development. Today mule deer are the largest non-predatory mammal in the Marin Headlands.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N37 51.623 W122 32.183 — 0.0 miles: Tennessee Valley Trailhead
  • N37 51.446 W122 32.346 — .25 miles: Haypress Camp Trail split
  • N37 51.377 W122 32.370 — .35 miles : Fox Trail split
  • N37 51.129 W122 32.314 — .65 miles : Chaparral Trail split
  • N37 50.967 W122 32.419 — .9 miles : Lower Tennessee Valley Trail split
  • N37 50.964 W122 32.726 — 1.2 miles: Coastal Trail split #1
  • N37 50.942  W122 32.755 — 1.25 miles : Tennessee Beach - Coastal Trail split #2
  • N37 50.532 W122 33.113 — 1.85 miles : Tennessee Beach

Worth Noting

  • The Tennessee Valley Trailhead sees heavy traffic, especially on weekends. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.

  • Over half of North American avian species and nearly one third of California's plant species are found in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

  • Turkey, a non-native species, are common along the upper portion of the Tennessee Valley Trail.

Camping and Backpacking Information

Camping is not permitted on Tennessee Beach. There are four campgrounds in the Marin Headlands. Reservations are required year-round:

Haypress Campground: 415.331.1540
Haypress Camp is located on the north side of Tennessee Valley, an easy .75 mile walk from the Tennessee Valley Trailhead. Haypress has five sites, each site accommodating up to four people. Groups may reserve the entire campground from November 1 to March 31. The rest of the year, a maximum of three sites may be reserved per group. Maximum stay is three nights per year. No water is available. No wood or charcoal fires allowed. No pets. No fees.

Bicentennial Campground: 415.331.1540
Bicentennial Campground is the most accessible campground in the Park, approximately 100 yards from the parking area near Battery Wallace. There are three sites, each accommodating up to three people with one tent. Water is available at the Visitor Center approximately one mile away. Campers may use BBQ grills in the nearby Battery Wallace picnic area. Maximum stay is three nights per year. There is no water available for drinking or cleaning. No fires allowed in the campground. No pets allowed. No fees.

Hawk Camp Campground: 415.331.1540
Hawk Camp is the most remote of GGNRA's campgrounds, located high above Gerbode Valley. There are three sites, each accommodating up to four people. The campground is accessible by a strenuous 3-mile hike up the Bobcat Trail from the Marin Headlands Visitor Center, or a 2-mile hike from the Tennessee Valley parking area. Groups may reserve the entire campground from November 1 to March 31. The rest of the year, only one site may be reserved. Maximum stay is three nights per year. Facilities: chemical toilets and picnic tables. There is no water available for drinking or cleaning. No wood or charcoal fires allowed, however gas camp stoves may be used. No pets allowed. No fees.

Kirby Cove Campground & Picnic Area: April 1 - October 31 : 1.877.444.6777
This popular, recently restored campground in the Marin Headlands features spectacular views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate from a wooded, secluded setting. Campsites are available for use only by prior reservation but anyone can walk down the road to enjoy the vistas and picnic on the bluffs or beach.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs are not permitted on the Tennessee Valley Trail, or on Tennessee Beach.

Directions to Trailhead

The Tennessee Valley Trailhead is located 1.7 miles west of Highway 1 at the end of Tennessee Valley Road. 

From Highway 101, take the Mill Valley / Stinson Beach / Hwy. 1 exit. Follow Shoreline Hwy to Tennessee Valley Road. Turn left and follow it 1.7 miles to the trailhead parking area.

Contact Information

Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Marin Headlands Visitor Center
Open All Year 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day)

The Marin Headlands Visitor Center is located in the historic Fort Barry Chapel, at the intersection of Field and Bunker Roads. The Visitor Center is approximately 3 miles from either entrance to the Marin Headlands.

Park Headquarters and Information Center, Fort Mason

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