2.8 mile loop traversing oak woods above the College of Marin Indian Valley
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.8 mile loop hike is short, but there are several very
steep segments of trail, and so I consider it moderately easy. Total elevation
change is about 600 feet. Preserve elevation ranges from about 135 to 1000
feet. There is one flat easy trail, and a handful of trails that climb up
and down the canyons. One trail climbs to the preserve's highest spot.
Mix of sun and shade.
Dirt fire roads and trails.
Nice in late winter for wildflowers and waterfall.
From US 101 in Marin County, exit Ignacio Blvd. Drive west on Ignacio Blvd.
about 2.2 miles, through the gate into the Indian Valley campus of the College
of Marin. Continue about 0.4 mile to parking lot 7, on the left side of
the road (the campus is small, so you can park and walk from elsewhere,
if need be).
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, and restaurants back near 101 on Ignacio Boulevard. No camping.
Pay the $1 parking fee at one of the automated boxes. There are no maps
provided at the preserve. One portable toilet sits at the start of
the trail; the bathrooms alongside the sports fields are sometimes open,
sometimes locked. Drinking water is available near the restrooms. There
must be pay phones somewhere on campus, but they are none near the trailhead.
There are no designated handicapped parking spots close to the trailhead,
and to get to the trail you must walk/roll on the street. Golden Gate Transit's
#1 bus stops at Indian Valley College. Visit the Transit
Info website for details.
Most trails are open to hikers and equestrians only. A few trails are multi-use,
and some are signed hiking only. Dogs are permitted on leash on trails;
off leash under voice command on fire roads. Dog owners must have a leash
for each dog. The College of Marin trailhead is open from 7 a.m. to 10:30
The Official Story:
Indian Valley page
MCOSD field office 415-499-6405
Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Download the pdf
map from the MCOSD website.
Trails of Northeast Marin County is my favorite map (available
from Pease Press).
Hiking Marin by Don and Kay Martin (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a detailed map and brief preserve descriptions
Barry Spitz's Open Spaces has a good map and trail descriptions
this book from Amazon.com).
View photos from this hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Valley is a great all-year-round place to hike. There's
a flat, lovely trail great for an easy and simple (as well as surprisingly
cool) summer stroll, and some fabulous trails that climb the shady sides
of Big Rock Ridge. On a hot day Indian Valley seems cooler than almost
anywhere else in eastern Marin. The heavily wooded slopes of Big Rock
Ridge provides lots of shade, and there is often a delicious breeze drifting
through the canyon to the west. As summer drifts into autumn, the preserve's
black oak foliage perks up the drab and dry hillsides. Hard to believe
that Indian Valley's many seasonal creeks, bone dry most of the year,
become engorged with runoff in the wettest months of winter and spring.
All that moisture ensures substantial swaths of wildflowers in summer,
both in the preserve's grassland and wooded sections.
This preserve gets a lot of use from equestrians
and joggers, but most visitors stick to flat Indian Valley Fire Road,
an ideal trail for a daily stroll or dogwalk, and you may have the hills
to yourself. For more of a challenge, you can create a loop on several
trails (some of them signed hiking only) that climb through mixed
woodland. Although these trails are short, they do wander up and down
on moderate to steep grades.
Start your hike at the edge of parking
lot 8, to the right of the police station at the west end of the campus.
This area is managed by the City of Novato. The trail immediately splits,
and either way is an option; to keep things simple, bear right.
A paved path skirts the ball fields and passes some restrooms,
then meets an unsigned junction at 0.14 mile. Continue straight.
At the far edge of the fields you'll pass through a gate and reach the
boundary with the open space preserve, at 0.23 mile. Indian Valley Fire
Road heads straight, while two other trails begin to the right and left.
Continue straight on Indian Valley Fire Road.
This wide dirt trail, open to hikers, cyclists,
and equestrians, cuts through the remains of a marsh, damp all year round
and replete with blackbirds and cattails. Coyote brush, sagebrush, and
poison oak accompany a few bushes of manzanita to the right. On the left
side of the trail, thick stands of California bay and coast live oak thrive.
At 0.46 mile, two trails begin on the left at a signed junction. Continue
straight on Indian Valley Fire Road.
Look to the right for a large rockcut.
Moisture loving plants such as hazelnut, creambush, and buckeye blend
into a woodland dominated by coast live oak and California bay. The creekbed
on the left may be dry in the summer, but in the winter waterfalls cascade
down the slopes filling the channel. In autumn you might see red
honeysuckle berries dangling from trees and shrubs. At 0.62 mile, Wildcat
Trail sets out to the left from a signed junction. Continue straight.
Indian Valley Fire Road maintains a level
grade. At 0.78 mile, Indian Valley Fire Road continues straight toward
the preserve boundary, while Buzzard Burn Access breaks off to the left.
Turn left onto Buzzard Burn Access.
Broad multi-use Buzzard Burn Access crosses
a creekbed and begins to climb gradually through a forest of California
bay, buckeye, madrone, coast live, blue, and black oak, and manzanita.
Although the thick tree cover obscures any views, these woods are scarcely quiet, and you might hear
the sounds of nearby Novato civilization, such as a squeaky fan belt or
the whirr of a lawnmower. The grade picks up, and Buzzard Burn Access
ascends steeply through a mixed woodland with prominent black oaks and
some very large manzanitas. In summer dragonflies and butterflies float
lazily through the warm air. As the trail crests and narrows, morphing
into Hill Ranch Trail (there is no sign, although bikes are not permitted
any further on this trail), look to the left for partial views back downhill
to the east. A few huge old and gnarled blue oaks grace the hilltop. Hill
Ranch Trail takes a brief dip downhill, then resumes a climb at a reasonable
grade. Manzanitas, some as tall as fully grown neighboring madrones and
coast live oaks, tower over the trail. At 1.22 miles, Hill Ranch Trail
reaches an undersigned junction (Hill Ranch's continuation uphill out
of the preserve is now obstructed). Turn
left to continue on Hill Ranch Trail (there is some debate about trail
names here; some maps show this section as Wildcat).
Diminutive Hill Ranch Trail starts a moderate
descent, winding through California bay, with madrone, coast live oak,
black oak, and more big manzanitas creating a pleasant mix of vegetation.
Bikes are prohibited from this trail, but keep an eye out for equestrians.
The trail emerges into oak-rimmed grassland, and a series of fences help
to keep visitors off a sloping meadow. Hill Ranch Trail skirts the meadow
and then heads back into the woods, descending all the while. California
bay dominates the landscape along the trail, and a few small seasonal
creeks cross the path. Look for hazelnut shrubs and some ferns, indicative
of the moist conditions in the low reaches of this canyon. At 1.50 miles,
Hill Ranch Trail ends at an undersigned junction. Wildcat Trail starts
to the left, while Alexander Trail heads steeply uphill to the right.
Turn right onto Alexander Trail (if you'd like to shorten the hike,
and avoid the steep grades on Alexander, turn right and
take Wildcat to Indian Valley Fire Road, then turn right and return to
Hiking only Alexander Trail immediately
takes a steep course uphill, weaving through buckeye, California bay,
and black oak. The trail crests at a small grassy spot, where a break
in the tree cover permits a view north to Mount Burdell. Coast live oak,
madrone, and more massive manzanitas provide shade, but this is a lightly
wooded area with some grass in the understory. Alexander Trail follows
the contour of the hillside at a reasonable grade. There are lots of black
oaks along the path, and they provide some fall color in October. This
is one of the prettiest stretches of mixed woodland I can think of, with
lots to look at in every season. There is a similar blend of oaks and
manzanita a few miles north on Olompali State
Park's Loop Trail. Curving right, the trail ascends steeply again.
Some giant manzanitas mark a transition downhill. The path is very steep
in parts, so harsh that I thought back to the previous ascent with fondness.
The worst is over soon enough, and Alexander Trail resumes a slight descent.
At 2.04 miles, a trail departs to the right at an unsigned junction. This path is a shortcut
uphill to Waterfall Trail. Continue straight.
Twisted manzanitas, along with madrone,
and oaks, lines the path. At 2.08 miles, Alexander Trail ends at a signed
junction. You can extend this hike (a fine consideration in winter when
the water is flowing) uphill along the creek on Waterfall Trail, and then
return to Indian Valley Fire Road on Jack O. Burgi Trail. But for today,
turn left onto Waterfall Trail.
Once over (or through) the creekbed,
the hiking and equestrian trail splits at an unsigned junction. Either
way is an option, as both paths reconnect downhill. Waterfall Trail descends
easily, following a discrete distance from the creek, which is totally
dry except in winter and spring. California bays are common, and they
shade the trail almost completely. A bridge helps hikers cross without
getting their feet soaked in wet months. At 2.38 miles Waterfall Trail
ends at a previously encountered junction with Indian Valley Fire Road.
Turn right and retrace your steps back to the trailhead on Indian
Valley Fire Road.
Total distance: 2.83 miles
Last hiked: Tuesday, October