Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Most people eat breakfast before hitting the trail and I can’t blame them for that – hiking on an empty stomach can lead me to thoughts of the murderous kind. Some people eat breakfast on the trail – as in “eat your cereals, kid” or lumberjack-style, bringing a griddle and chopping a tree to fry bacon in the woods. Romantic but exhausting. And then a few happy hikers combine trail and breakfast in the most civilized manner – hiking to delicious fluffy pancakes and roasted sausages that someone else cooked for you! Now does that sound like a great idea or what? Note that you get Pacific Ocean views on clear days, a view that can’t be beat. That epitome of civilization in the woods is the essence of the West Point Inn pancake breakfasts on Mount Tamalpais and the perfect way to work your children’s appetite for a hearty Sunday breakfast. Which brings us to the pancake hike!
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Now before you write the dates down and get in the car, let me break some news to you: you aren’t the only one who thought about this. The pancake breakfasts at West Point Inn are so popular, they serve anywhere between 500 and 1,000 breakfasts on each date. Out of the six Sundays, the busiest days are Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It’s gonna be busy as a beehive and on Mountain Play dates you have to factor in musical-goers as well. If that weren’t clear enough, the earlier the better! Last time I went, we were at the Pan Toll Ranger Station parking lot by 9 am and we grabbed the last parking spot. The people behind me probably cried. See what I mean?
There are many ways you can access the West Point Inn, none of them involving a car. The West Point Inn is a walk-in, hike-in inn. I’ve seen cub scouts bike to the inn from Mill Valley. I’ve seen people hike to the inn from Stinson Beach – awesome butt-kicking 9-mile sand-to-redwoods-to-views hike. You can also hike down from East Peak but then you’ve got to hike back up on a full stomach and that requires strong mountain legs.
The easiest and most child-friendly route is starting at the Pan Toll trailhead. With only two mostly-flat miles, this route takes you on a wide fire road that skirts the mountain with some lovely views of the trees and the valleys. An hour later and you’re in front of a plate of hot pancakes. The pancake hike is the best option in my opinion.
Mount Tamalpais is wildflower paradise so keep an eye out for pretty blooms on the side of the trail. On an early summer visit, we were lucky to spot some gorgeous Leopard Lilies, Foxgloves and wild mustard along the way. The end of the trail is lined by young Douglas Fir trees whose pale green tips in spring are a true spring syrup delicacy.
Mostly you’ll be walking in the sun – only the start of the trail is shaded, a note for sun hat-wearers – and enjoying spectacular views until you reach the inn. Around the inn, kids can play on boulders or run around the packed dirt area facing the ocean.
The menu’s fairly simple and is cooked by West Point Inn volunteers, nice folks who dedicate a lot of their weekends to maintaining and running this historical inn.
For $10/adult and $5/child, you line up and get a plate with a short stack of big pancakes (not gourmet but fluffy) and sausages. Then you go inside and add some cantaloupe to your plate – even for reluctant children, it’s the “healthy” part of breakfast – and pick up an orange juice or a coffee or tea. The last time we were there we were too late for hot chocolates so the kids didn’t have that option but then the weather was so nice, they were happy with orange juice and our water bottles.
The table turnover is pretty good and there are many picnic tables scattered around the inn so you should be able to find a table to claim. Once you sit at your table, you can douse your pancakes and sausages in Log Cabin syrup. Usually my youngest one drowns her plate in syrup and then eats it mostly as a sweet mush.
Of course if you want real maple syrup, you’ll have to bring your own. But then, why would you bring maple syrup when the spirit of the day is not to eat gourmet food but to hike to great views, support an old Bay Area institution and enjoy fun company?
That part’s actually quite funny. The pancake breakfast comes with live music. Last year there was this guy and his guitar, a pretty good singer for a very happy crowd. Well the only song of his I can remember talked at length about how his girlfriend left him, and how she would never come back, and it all sounded so heartfelt I couldn’t help but wondering if this happened last night.
Nonetheless, good musician.
Now for the practical details!