The single best moment of last weekend’s hike came as I hit the Big Ridge at the top of the trail. I had finished a series of long, pensive switchbacks when I emerged into a clearing and could see the entire world. Well, at least the San Francisco skyline, several bridges, Mounts Diablo, St. Helena and Tam, and, much closer, the lush expansiveness of Lucas Valley. I don’t have enough jaw-dropping moments in my life, but this was one of them. Turning a corner and encountering that ‘are-you-kidding-me?’view, I instantly forgot about how my water had accidentally leaked from my Camelbak (ugh!), how I was a bit sore from climbing so quickly, how I had a million and one things to do at work and home, and I just stared. Clear green hillsides, bright blue sky dotted with only partial clouds, and a sense of being in a special place were a winning combination.
It was my second trip to the Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve, but the first time on the western section of it that starts at the Big Rock. Yes, it’s a big rock, and it’s your landmark as you drive west on Lucas Valley Road from Highway 101. Drive about 5+ miles and stop and park at the big rock where there’s space for about 20 cars along the sides of the road. You can either head north or south on portions of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
I headed north, up to the Big Rock Ridge Fire Road, a steady and moderate ascent up to more than 1,800 feet. It’s a largely exposed hike as is often the case around these northern Marin open space sections, so it was progressively windier as I ascended. My handheld wind-tracking device (aka, an iPhone) showed up to 20-mph gusts in a few places, but I’m not sure it was quite that windy. Still, it’s an epic panoramic hike, though largely an out-and-back one.
My trek up the ridge to the top (the summit is the second-highest point in Marin County, behind only Mount Tam) was terrific in so many ways. It’s a busy place with a mix of mountain bikers and hikers, but my 7-plus-mile hike was spread out enough that I never felt crowded or hurried. There’s a large section midway up the route where you are crossing onto and off of private property, but everything is well-marked.
This being wildflower season, they are starting to appear in flourishes around the area, and the Lucas Valley hillsides are no exception.
(By the way, Lucas Valley is not named for George Lucas. His Skywalker Ranch is just to the immediate west of the property I was hiking on, and he’s owned significant land there for more than three decades, but the area was named for a 19th-century rancher named John Lucas.)
Lucas Valley has staved off development well over the years with a number of substantial open space preserves as well as private ranches that aren’t being developed either. Years ago, there was an effort to widen Lucas Valley Road into a four-lane route to better connect the highway with Point Reyes. I’m glad that didn’t happen, and the result is a lush and lively network of hiking trails, hillsides and sweeping views for all of us to enjoy.