3.8 mile nearly-level semi-loop along the edge of a Novato marsh.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 3.8 mile semi-loop hike with about 100 feet in elevation change,
is easy, and a good choice for beginners. Trailhead elevation is about 10
feet. The featured hike's high point is only about 72 feet.
Dirt fire roads and trails.
Under 2 hours.
Hot in summer, nice in spring.
From US 101 in Marin County exit San Marin Drive/Atherton Avenue in Novato.
Go east on Atherton Avenue about 0.2 mile, take the first left onto Binford
Road, drive about 0.2 mile and park on either side of the road near the
open space gate.
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
There is plenty of roadside parking. No entrance or parking fees. No restrooms,
drinking water, or maps are available. No designated handicapped parking,
but one trail may be accessed, with assistance (but avoid bringing anything
with wheels to Rush Creek in the wet months, when it's very muddy). There
is no direct public transportation to the preserve, but a few Golden Gate
Transit buses stop within walking distance: visit the Transit
Info website for details.
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phone, stores, and restaurants along 101 in Novato. No camping.
Two trails are multi use, and the other two trails restrict bicycles. Dogs
The Official Story:
Rush Creek 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).
David Weintraub's North Bay Trails (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Don and Kay Martin's Hiking Marin (order
this book from Amazon.com).
Barry Spitz's Open Spaces (order
this book from Amazon.com).
View photos from the featured
Creek Preserve is popular with local cyclists, dog
walkers, and joggers, who enjoy the easy access and flat trails. The
preserve transcends the trailhead atmosphere, where big rigs roar by on
US 101. The far side is pretty quiet, and teams with wildlife. If you
have binoculars, bring them for better views of the many birds.
There is really only one loop possibility.
A small trail (Barry Spitz calls it the One-oh-One Trail in his Open
Spaces book) skirts the edge of the preserve along Atherton Avenue,
then cuts through a housing development before entering the preserve again
at the junction of Pinheiro Fire Road and Rush Creek Fire Road. From here
you can take either trail back to the trailhead. This loop is about 2
miles (or about 2.3 miles if you take Rush Creek Fire Road and the Levee
Trail). The featured hike described below
takes place entirely within the preserve, and is a semi-loop trek.
For the featured hike, start from the
trailhead on Pinheiro Fire Road, a broad, dirt multi-use trail. Just
past the gate, a small trail (One-oh-One) heads uphill along the fenceline.
Stay on Pinheiro Fire Road. The trail drops down from the road
to the edge of the marsh, and cattails are the dominant plant here,
with sprinklings of dock, honeysuckle, common snowberries, and pennyroyal
among the 'tails. Look for a lovely stand of wild roses twinning
through the barbed wire fence. This initial stretch of trail is partially
shaded by California bay, coast live oak, buckeye, and black oak.
Poison oak thrives in this preserve, so watch out for those leaves of
In the damp pools of the marsh, a variety of birds abound, including red-winged
blackbirds and sandpipers. After a few minutes of walking north and
east, traffic sounds from 101 become muted. The trail follows the contour
of the marsh, and is almost completely level, making it an easy stroll,
although mostly unshaded, and therefore hot in the summer. In the
winter and spring, Pinheiro gets very muddy, with some standing water
covering the trail at times. To the south gentle grasslands rise to hills
of coast live and black oak and California bay woods, the territory of
hawks and vultures. Milkmaids and California buttercups dot the hillsides
in late winter, while shooting stars and miner's lettuce bloom on the
shaded slopes. Later
in spring, you might see pink flowered clarkia. Pinheiro Fire Road passes
a lovely solitary old valley oak. The trail heads slightly uphill and
enters the shade of a California bay wood. At 1.27 miles, a wooden
fence protects a rerouted junction; a blank signpost stands at the new
junction. Stay to the right here, on Pinheiro Fire Road.
The trail drifts south and edges near the
deepest pools of the preserve. There are often lots of egrets and
cranes here, and they provide an interesting contrast as they stand upright
in the water, mostly still, while small planes fly close by overhead on
the way to a nearby airport. At 1.66 miles, Pinheiro Fire Road ends as
the marsh peters out into dry land. A trail (One-oh-One, again) turns
right and heads out of the preserve on a straight, eucalyptus-lined path
near some houses. Stay to the left, continuing around the
In 1999 a bridge was constructed, making
it possible to cross a creek in the winter without soaking your shoes
(and at times, legs). This next section of trail is called Rush Creek
Fire Road, but as of this writing, there are no signs marking any of the
trails at the junction. Rest or pause under one of the large trees along
the trail and enjoy the view of the cove, and further to the west, the
slopes of Mount Burdell. A blue oak tree stands across the trail from
a buckeye. Deer seem to be around every corner, and paw prints in the
sand suggest that coyotes spend time near the water as well. Throughout
this grassland you might see coyote brush and a handful of shrubby manzanita.
In late winter, wild radish and suncups bloom in the grass. Bear left
at two unsigned rough junctions where trails drift to the right and head
passing a large cluster of California sagebrush, at the edge of the cove,
the trail curves to the left and then ends at 2.27 miles. What looks to
be a smaller continuation of the fire road is no longer blocked off with
a large pile of rocks, but the path leaves the preserve property after
a few yards. Turn left and almost immediately, look for a
small trail running on a berm through the marsh (now thankfully marked
with a blank signpost). Turn left. After a few feet, at 2.30
miles, the trail splits. Stay to the left, or you will be forced
to travel cross country (not so fun in wet months) to join the only proper
trail. The level path is lined with wild radish in spring. Look for
ducks, geese, and swans in the water, and pickleweed growing along the
water's edge. The trail meets up with Pinheiro Fire Road at a previously
encountered junction, 2.51 miles; turn right and retrace your steps
to the trailhead.
Total mileage: 3.78 miles
Last hiked: Wednesday, May
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page