Steep Ravine

‘Oh, to make art as powerful as a single storm-fed wave building, cresting, breaking.’

I’ve spent the last four days at one of my favourite places in Bayarea. The cabins at Steep Ravine just south of Stinson Beach (an hour’s drive along the windey coastal road north of San Francisco). Mount Tamalpais State Parks maintains 10 rustic cabins right on the ocean’s edge facing north towards Bolinas and Point Reyes.

The cabins perched between cliffs and sea

Cabin 7 - Hot Springs - named after the 'crypto' hot springs at the foot of the cliff

The cabins were built at the base of Steep Ravine Canyon in the 1940s by a Marin landowner, William Kent, Jr., who leased them to Bay Area families. In 1960, the state acquired the land and they became the focal point of controversy between leaseholders and the state. Their future unresolved, the structures fell into a sorry state and were threatened with destruction until the park restored them in 1980. Each building received a new roof and interior; woodstoves, tables, and sleeping platforms were installed, and steps and paths built. On April 1, 1984, 10 of the 14 original cabins (some were beyond repair) were included in the state environmental campground system. They were made available for $12/night!! Its now $100/night but still worth every penny in my opinion.

Inside Cabin 7

Window view

Some of you may have been lucky enough to see the exhibition  “Life Surrounding a Cabin: Dorothea Lange at Steep Ravine” which was shown at the Marin History Museum in late 2006 and then subsequently at the SF Public Library in early 2008 and at the Bolinas Museum and Stinson Library in mid 2008. The images they used are from the rich archive of the Oakland Museum of California.

Dorothea and her family rented a cabin at Steep Ravine in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Her images look like they were taken in the same cabins yesterday.

“I began to wonder what it was that made us all feel, the minute we went over the brow of that hill, a certain sense of – not peace, particularly, or enjoyment – freedom. Then, I thought, I could do a real sequence, a series of photographs on the subject of freedom, of which the cabin would be the device.”
– Dorothea Lange

You can book the cabins online if you’re lucky – they seem perpetually booked out. But mid-winter, or even better mid-winter storm, there are often last minute cancellations to be nabbed. Cancellations more than 48 hours in advance can be booked online. Otherwise you have to head to the Pan Toll Ranger’s Station near Mt. Tamalpais to get in the 2pm daily lottery for available cabins.

Stormy sunset


  1. Thanks, Dear Donald. I’ve had some mind altering experiences at Steep Ravine, during the summer solstice especially, with the sun softly setting and and the sea like a Nam Jun Paik minimalist video!


  2. David Trubridge January 22, 2010 at 2:33 am

    This looks like the most amazingly beautiful place – please book me up and I will be there! I have the fondest memories of sleeping under trees in Point Reyes.


  3. David. Its not the Bay of Fires or the Bay of Islands but it does have its own definite power. Next time you are in the Bayarea I’ll see if we can find a cabin for a night or two. Its a great place to talk, read, play cards and sample single malt.

    I love the simplicity of the cabins.
    No electricity – just whatever you bring with you – candles, coleman lamps, headlamps.
    No running water – just a faucet about 20 feet away with water from the local stream.
    No heating – just an open wood fired stove.
    No bedding – just raised wooden platforms with the thermarests and sleeping bags you bring with you. Or the futon and duvee as we have done on several occasions.
    But there is cell phone reception so you can email and talk out – maybe that’s a mixed blessing.


  4. […] retreat in NorCal Steep Ravine. I’ve posted about this special place a few times – here and here. Each time I go, its a great mix of the familiar and the totally new. This trip Sandra and […]


  5. […] Ravine is a stunning place, with a rich history aptly described by fellow blogger Donald Fortescue.  The first time I reserved a Steep Ravine cabin, I think it […]


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