On these picture-perfect spring weekends, sometimes the hardest part of a hike is figuring out where to go. I was weighing hikes near Point Reyes on the coast and over in the East Bay hills, but I ultimately chose an unlikely spot, but one where I’ve since done a few very solid hikes – the Marin County city of Novato.
It was yet another segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, that 325-plus-mile network of trails that encircles the greater Bay Area. I have this semi-quixotic (maybe fully-quixotic?) plan to do the entire trail, piece by piece, and I wasn’t going to miss a chance to knock off another chunk. The trail is also growing each year as more land comes into public ownership so while it’s kind of a moving target, it’s been fun to piece the trail together.
This link was starting out at the Little Mount Open Space Preserve, which is on the northwest side of Novato and abuts Stafford Lake. Our route was to do a large loop, up Little Mount and connecting in with a few other trails and then returning through a residential neighborhood, which is actually part of the official Ridge Trail. Total distance was about nine and a half miles, although the last two were on city streets.
The trailhead starts in a few places around town. You can park on Vineyard Tree Road and then hike in, or you can do what we did – make use of the large parking lot by a dog park on Novato Boulevard and cut through nearby O’Hair Park and head out. The property is part of the Marin County Open Space District, as is the adjacent Mount Burdell Preserve, so the trails are well-marked – and well-used. Dense oak woodlands mark most of the trails, so even though there are parts that are exposed, there are enough places for shady respites that it’s never too challenging.
Given the season, this turned out to be something of a wildflower hike, with Indian paintbrush, shooting stars and other types well represented throughout. At the peak of the property, about 1,400 feet up, there are terrific views looking out toward San Pablo Bay and over the city of Novato.