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Secret sky hammocks on Mount Tamalpais offer dazzling views of the Bay Area

The Bay Area is viewed from a hammock high on Mount Tamalpais. | Source: Sean Campbell for The Standard

In the woods of Marin County’s Mount Tamalpais, where trails wind through towering redwoods, secret hammocks strung together by renegade net weavers offer a secluded perch to take in one of the most expansive views of the Bay Area. 

Some of the nets, woven to the trunks of redwoods and moss-laden Douglas firs, hang up to 80 feet above the forest floor and offer a dazzling vista of fog funneling into the bay through San Francisco’s Golden Gate.

But even to the most frequent visitors of the area, many of the locations and creators of these hidden sky hammocks remain a mystery. And the only way to find them without a guide is to walk the forest trails with your neck craned toward the sky.

The sun rises over the Bay Area, viewed from a hammock hanging 60 feet above the forest floor.

Just a short drive from San Francisco, the trails of these coastal mountaintops have long offered a peaceful refuge from city life. But weekend crowds, desperate to get a taste of solitude and adventure, are notorious for filling up the trails, making the sanctity of these secret hammocks all the more important to their creators. Those who weave the nets often demand an oath of secrecy in exchange for their coordinates.

Woven together in different styles of intricate knots and varying types of rope, it’s unclear how long many of these nets have hung from the mountain’s treetops—people with knowledge of their whereabouts are few and far between.

Even Joshua Heitzmann, supervising ranger for Mount Tamalpais State Park, said he wasn’t aware of the hammocks, nor was he sure if they violated the park’s rules. 

The craft of tree net-making has taken off in recent years, with some creators selling their products for upward of $15,000.

Marin County local and net-maker Sean Campbell, who started his company NetsbySean in 2020, said he’s looking for a balance between building his business and sharing his love for nets without ruining the privacy they’re made for.

He described watching a net he made near the Golden Gate Bridge become a dumping ground with vandalism and graffiti after people he didn't know found it. Done improperly, the nets can also damage the trees they’re attached to. 

Some of the hammocks are so secret, Campbell said, that he was once blindfolded before his friend would take him to one of the spots.

“The fact that it’s secret is what makes it cool,” Campbell said. “If you happen to find them, good luck.”

Campbell said he started looking for the nets on the peaks of Mount Tam in 2012 and has since located about 17—though they’re sometimes cut down or destroyed by the elements. Campbell refused to publicly disclose the locations of the nets he’s found, though he did note he’s woven some in San Francisco as well.

Sean Campbell lies in a hammock on Mount Tamalpais on Friday. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

For those looking to find one of these clandestine roosts, be warned: The climbs are treacherous, the nets are unpermitted and some may be more secure than others. Your best bet is to hike along the mountain ridges and look for trails that seem to veer off the beaten path.

The risk is high, but the reward is getting to eat lunch, read a book or take a date to one of the most epic spots in the entire Bay Area.

David Sjostedt can be reached at david@sfstandard.com