Mt. Tamalpais Visitor Use Census and Survey

The district conducted a year-long survey and census of visitors to the Mt Tamalpais Watershed to better understand:

  • who is using the trail system;
  • times and patterns of use; and
  • visitor attitudes, preferences, and experiences.

Report and Distribution of the Data

The district contracted with Alta Planning + Design (APD) to develop the survey protocols and compile the results in manner compatible with the National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project (NBPD). The final report is available here: 2012-2013 Mt. Tamalpais Visitor Use Census and Survey. The data will also be made available on an open access database maintained by the NBPD

Click image to download report.

2012-13 Mt-Tamalpais Visitor Use Census and Survey cover page
Summary of Findings

Census and survey data were collected during 12 sampling periods that spanned a full calendar year and accounted for variations in season, time of day, and day of the week. Data were collected at 15 major trailheads that are representative of both high-use and low-use access points. In addition to district staff, the project was supported by Mt Tamalpais State Parks staff, Marin County Parks staff, and volunteers. A total of 82 people participated as surveyors. A total of 1,293 watershed visitors were interviewed.

Levels of Use

Over the course of the project, we observed approximately 13,100 individuals and 940 dogs. Access points with the greatest overall activity included East Peak, Phoenix Lake/Natalie Coffin Greene, and the Sky Oaks Watershed Headquarters' entrance. Annual activity was estimated using an extrapolation model, developed by NBPD and modified for Mt. Tamalpais-specific conditions by APD (Table 1).

Table 1: Estimated Annual Activity*

 Period  Low  Middle  High
 Weekly Activity
 19,000  33,000  56,000
 Monthly Activity
 86,000  146,000  279,000
 Annual Activity
 781,000  1,800,000  3,270,000

*The large range (from 781,000 to 3,270,000) is a result of the large variability in use by site: no people observed in some locations at some times (e.g., Pine Mountain in the winter at 7:30 a.m.) and over 500 people observed at some locations at some times (e.g., East Peak at 12:00 p.m. in the spring). 

Highest use occurs in the spring. Use also varies by day of the week, with approximately 75% of all visitors coming on Saturdays and Sundays. Overall, the weekend mid-day count period had the highest visitor activity, with 881 visitors and 55 dogs counted per hour. 

User Groups

Approximately 66% of visitors live in Marin County, 13% in San Francisco, 11% from elsewhere in the Bay Area, and 10% from further way. Over 75% reported visiting Mt. Tamalpais at least once a month, with 43% reporting weekly use and 16% reporting daily use.  

The vast majority of users observed were hikers or runners (70%); cyclists accounted for 30% and equestrians only 0.4%. Approximately 11% of users were accompanied by one or more dogs. 

Only 42% of visitors reported performing volunteer service in the last two years and of these, only 13% reported volunteering with local public land management agencies. The level of volunteerism was equally split between the district, the National Park Service, State Parks, and Marin County Parks and Open Space. 

User Experience

The overwhelming majority of visitors to the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed expressed satisfaction with their experience on the mountain. Approximately 95% rated as “Good” or “Great” the following:  

  • Trail conditions;
  • Interactions with District staff; and
  • Interactions with other Watershed visitors.

Nearly 25% of respondents took the time to praise the work of district staff.  

Concerns / Requests for Improvements

Commonly voiced concerns focused on parking, signs and maps, restrooms, access to drinking water, bikes, dogs, staffing levels, and invasive species control. 

  • Parking: Improvements were requested by 14% of interviewed visitors.
  • Signs and Maps: Improvements were requested by 14% of interviewed visitors.
  • Restrooms and Drinking Water: Improvements were requested by 10% of interviewed visitors.
  • Bikes: Approximately 4% of interviewed visitors asked for more trail access for cyclists while 5% requested greater enforcement of no-single track rules.
  • Dogs: Approximately 6% of visitors identified inadequate enforcement of lease requirements as problem, likewise the failure of dog owners to pick up their dog waste. A nearly equal number of visitors requested greater access for off-leash dogs.
  • Staffing Levels: An unsolicited 2% of interviewed visitors asked for a greater ranger presence. On a related note, only 1% of visitors reported ever feeling “unsafe”, but nearly 12% related a situation in which they got lost, were unprepared for the weather or trail conditions, or had a bad encounter with another person on the watershed.
  • Invasive Species: Approximately 4% of visitors noted problems with invasive species. Some asked for greater control; others requested the use or prohibition of specific techniques including prescribed burning, grazing, or herbicides.
Awareness of District’s Mission and Watershed as Water Supply

Survey results indicate that the majority of watershed visitors are aware of both MMWD as a land management entity and Mt. Tamalpais’ role in local water supply; approximately 93% of interviewed Marin County residents could name MMWD as the owner of the lands they were visiting. However, fewer people understood the vital role that the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed plays in water supply; only 75% of respondents knew the watershed is a source of municipal drinking water.