Steep Ravine Beach

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Improved directions!

Rating: C

The worst kept secret in the Bay Area, Steep Ravine Beach's naked hot springs are only available by going down a dangerously steep, poison oak-infested trail after finding limited parking and possibly receiving a parking ticket from a ranger who loves to give them out -- and then putting up with what Jenn, of Oakland, describes as a group of regular visitors who are often "rude and noisy."

Did I mention that you'll need to arrive in low tide? Or that you may have to put up with a large crowd jammed into the springs, which, it's estimated can hold 15 persons easily, 30 if needed, and up to 40 when truly packed?  It's "very crowded," said Sam, of Belvedere, in May.

Nevertheless, Steep Ravine has its fans. "They're mostly men," says recent visitor Fred Jaggi.

For parking, come early and look for vehicles pulled over at the trailhead, on either side of the highway, with more space available on the west side of the road than the east. 

The trail is steep, eroded, and slippery, making falling commonplace. Because the path is not maintained, "it will never get better," predicts a fan of nearby Red Rock, who has tried Steep Ravine a few times. And walking around the hot springs area can be even harder. "I slipped and bruised a rib against a sharp rock," poster Tim reports at Soakersforum.com. He adds that "the only chance for an uncrowded soak is when low tide hits before 6 a.m.," which, in near darkness, only increases the risk of falling.

Jenn, though, disagrees. She says the trail's at least doable "for adults."

Steep Ravine has two springs, one in the ocean and another on the cliffs. "We trick it out in the winter, meaning we remove rocks that have been pushed by the storms and waves into the springs," says Martin, a regular visitor. 

If you see cars parked on the highway above the trail, it probably means the springs are in use. "But if you see 25 cars there, it means there are too many people there," adds Martin. "We had way too many people one time. It was terrible."  

The trail down from the road is so slippery that we've never recommended it. "It's more like a goat trail," explains Martin. Poison oak on the path is another concer, but, argues Jenn, at least it's "not nearly as much as Bass Lake." In fact, we've rated the site a "D" for years, but it hasn't stopped people from trying to visit a clothing-optional hot springs that's nearly hidden in the sea.  

Even finding the spring is quite difficult, as it's located in the middle of the shoreline's tidal zone. ("It's only usable at very low tide," says Dave of San Francisco.)

And walking along the shore isn't much to write home about. It's strewn with enough rocks to fill a quarry. Plus, rangers from a nearby campground occasionally cite naked people. "Some people use burlap sacks (to pile dirt) to make walls for a hot tub (around the springs)," Dave says. Bring a shovel. Leslie, of Oakland, says, "It's a fragile place and has somewhat of a sulfur smell." Those who are brave or foolhardy enough to attempt the journey say winter's the best time to visit.

Finally, there are the people of Steep Ravine. Tim isn't the only one who has fallen on the slippery rocks on the trail or near the springs, especially in the spot known as the "dressing area" above the springs. "I gave a towel to one person who was bleeding," says Martin. "Several people have needed stitches." Others have flipped out and suddenly "gone off mentally," he adds. "It's happened more than once." Tip: visit early in the day. "You either arrive while there's room available or have to move on to nearby Red Rock," says Martin.

Here are some photos of the area

Legal status:

Part of Mount Tamalpais State Park. State park rangers do not tolerate nudity.

How to find it:

From Muir Beach, go north on Highway 1 about four miles, then look for the Steep Ravine campground sign; from Stinson Beach, head south two miles. Look for cars pulled over on either side of the road, even though parking is prohibited on the ocean side.  The site is near mile marker 1120.  Take the dirt road, which becomes a very long and slippery trail to the water. The spring in the sea (at latitude 37.880, longitude 122.627) is on the north end of the beach.

The beach:

Bring a beach chair to sit on the rocky shore, whose main lure is its pristine ruggedness.

The crowd:

Usually just you and one or two other folks. But up to 40 visitors may be found during peak-use periods. For more information, please see above.

Problems:

Extremely dangerous trail, sometimes with poison oak; numerous incidents of people falling on slippery rocks; possible law enforcement; poor parking; cars often ticketed for illegal parking; poison oak; springs often inactive or covered by rocks or debris; no sand for sunbathing; proximity to clothed families at nearby campground; occasional reports of gawkers.

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