1.8 mile loop round the base of a little hill. Good hawk watching.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 1.8 mile loop hike is easy, with about 140 feet in elevation
Shaded at first, than mostly exposed.
Less than 1 hour.
Nice year round.
From US 101 in Marin County, exit San Marin Drive/Atherton Avenue. Drive
east on Atherton Avenue for about 1.7 miles, then turn right on Olive. After
about 0.6 mile, turn left on Deer Island Lane. After about 0.2 mile
bear right and look for the small parking area by the Open Space sign.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 38° 6'8.00"N
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phone, stores, and restaurants available back to the west in Novato.
Parking for about 4 cars. No entrance or parking fees. No toilet facilities,
drinking water, or maps are available. No designated handicapped parking,
and trails are too narrow for wheelchairs. There is no direct public transportation
to this trailhead.
No bikes. Trails are open to hikers and equestrians. Dogs are permitted
on leash only.
The Official Story:
Deer Island page
MCOSD field office 415-499-6405
Download the pdf
map from the MCOSD website.
Trails of Northeast Marin County is my favorite map (available
from Pease Press).
Open Spaces, by Barry Spitz, has a decent map, with trail
and preserve descriptions (order
this book from Amazon.com).
North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub, has a detailed topographic
map and preserve description (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Hiking Marin, by Don and Kay Martin, has a good map and short
preserve description (order
this book from Amazon.com).
View photos from
the featured hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
of the first things you may notice at Deer Island is
that it is a popular place for dog walking. Almost any time of day
you'll likely cross paths with locals and their canine friends. Deer Island's
easy 2-mile loop trail provides terrific daily exercise for man and beast
(as well as grandma, mom, and child). The loop trail skirts this 134-acre
preserve oddly situated on the edge of a mixed industrial and residential
neighborhood, where you'll find oak grassland, California bay woods, and
substantial wildlife. I think of Deer Island as a real island; a sea-level
enclave where a little ecosystem thrives.
Start at the junction immediately
past the entrance stile. Bear left on signed Deer Island Loop Trail.
The narrow flat trail, open to hikers and equestrians only, runs through grassland, parallel to a road servicing
a junkyard and storage units. Be grateful to be on this side of the
fence. In August and September you may notice the "local color,"
as the preserve's ample supplies of poison oak turn brilliant red. Deer
Island Loop Trail climbs gently through a dense patch of California bays. As
the woods thin to mixed oak grassland, traffic sounds from Atherton Avenue
and CA 37 are audible. But on Deer Island, it's amazing to witness
the dramas of the natural world. You may see geese flying in formation
and a woodpecker settling on an overhead branch. On one hike, copious
amounts of skunk fur were scattered under a California bay. Vultures
and hawks commonly keep a look out for squirrels preoccupied with acorn
hunting. Many of Deer Island's small mammals dine happily on curly
dock; the reddish seeds of that plant are evident in their scat in autumn. In
spring, you might see purple Ithuriel's spear and bluedicks. Deer Island Loop Trail winds under mostly California bays, with a few white oak, coast
live oak, and buckeye for company. There's a huge fig tree on the left
side of the trail, ignored and gnarled, but still producing fruit. At
0.44 mile, a spur trail heads out of the preserve to the left. Continue
on Deer Island Loop Trail. Just a bit further along, De Borba Trail
heads uphill at a signed junction at 0.58 mile. (This trail is an option.
For a hike that's a little shorter, but with more elevation change,
turn right and ascend to the preserve's high point, then descend to the
junction with Deer Island Loop Trail, a few feet from the trailhead.) Remain
straight on Deer Island Loop Trail.
The marshes of Novato Creek,
and water treatment ponds are visible on the left. Look for two shallow
caves off to the east (hill) side of the trail. I've always been too chicken
to check them out. Coast live oaks dominate the landscape, but also look
for blue and
black oaks (most conspicuous in autumn when they shed their leaves). One
August when I was here, thistles had shed their seeds and it appeared
to have snowed along the trail. I think this stretch of trail is
the loveliest, with a view to Big Rock Ridge across 101, and graceful
coast live oaks and buckeyes in the grassland. You will probably
see raptors overhead, and deer are common. In the winter the air
is still and the hillsides brighten with green fresh grass. By May,
the grass is waist high and choked with thistles. Deer Island Loop Trail
passes a perfectly shaped buckeye tree. In mid spring the sweet smell
of its blossoms waft through the air. At 1.76 miles, a dead-end path,
Russell Antonio Trail, begins on the left. Stay to the right on Deer
Island Loop Trail.
You'll pass an old fallen-down house to
the left. On a May hike here, I came upon a dead squirrel in the middle
of the trail. The squirrel had obviously not died a natural death. Bobcat
or coyote? I couldn't tell. As you return to the parking lot, a few steps
before the end of the loop, the other end of De Borba Trail meets Deer
Island Loop Trail at a signed junction. Continue straight to the trailhead.
Total distance: 1.78 miles
Last hiked: Wednesday,
May 9, 2001