After Mount Tam, it’s one of the tallests peak in Marin
County, but that doesn’t mean you’ve heard of Mount Burdell. I certainly hadn’t until a couple of years ago when I hiked Olompali State Park. If you’ve never heard of that one too, that’s just as understandable. Both are in northern Marin outside Novato and both are entirely overshadowed by their more prominent and popular larger neighbor to the south. Anyway, the Olompali trail was a five-mile-long zig-zag path up to a summit with stunning views of San Pablo Bay and Novato. And just feet away is the peak of Mount Burdell.
For last weekend’s hike, I went to the other side of the mountain and headed up through the Mount Burdell Open Space Preserve, which is part of the Marin County Open Space District. There are numerous access points, all tucked right into Novato residential neighborhoods. I started at the end of San Andreas Road because there is ample roadway parking, and it is the bottom of a large loop. From there, you can either head left or right and ascend to the 1,558-foot-high summit of Mount Burdell.
Our three-hour hike lasted 6.1 miles, which may just be the maximum that could be done in that space. The most popular loop around most of the perimeter runs about five-plus miles so somehow we found a way to improve on that a bit. In any case, much of the hiking is on wide fire roads and is very exposed to the elements. This would be a painful midsummer heat, unless it’s done very early in the day.
The park, as mentioned, is a preserve so it’s home to a variety of animals – we only saw (a zillion) cows and hawks – but there was evidence of other animals to be sure. I was hoping this would be a wildflower hike, but we’re not quite there yet. The ascent can be steep or gradual, depending on your timing, but the nice thing is that despite about a half-dozen trails, it’s hard to get lost. Just look around and you can pretty much always spot downtown Novato, the Petaluma River and many other landmarks. We could easily make out the SF skyline too – yes, the view is that stellar from up there. (Look closely and that’s me atop the mountain in the
first shot in the attached photos.)
It’s been a dry season so far and most North Bay trails reflect that. Streambeds are virtually dry, and it feels drought-like in some places. There’s a lake in the middle of the 1627-acre preserve which is called Hidden Lake. An apt name as it was almost completely dry.
This is not a formal park so while there are trail markers throughout, there are no trailhead facilities so be prepared. Also, at the top of Mount Burdell, you can cross over into Olompali and come down the other side to make it an end-to-end hike of about 8 miles. Assuming you’ve coordinated some type of carpooling. And remember that Olompali, thanks to state budget cuts, is only open Saturdays and Sundays.
And who is the mountain named after? Among their vast holdings, the Burdell family owned the land that was Rancho Olompali and is now the state park and part of the preserve land. For those who are unaware, the Burdell family, namely a dentist and his much wealthier wife, developed much of the area that is now Point Reyes Station and had a colorful history, well-chronicled here.