Mount Burdell Open Space Preserve,
Marin County Open Space District,
Marin County
In brief:
5 mile loop through oak grassland in a preserve neighboring residential Novato. Hosts a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 5 mile loop hike is moderate. Trailhead elevation is around 335 feet. The elevation on the ridge runs just under 1500 feet. The climb to the ridge is somewhat steep. Old Quarry is very steep but short. There are opportunities to shorten the featured hike.

Mostly exposed.

Trail traffic

Trail surfaces
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time
2 hours.

Good anytime, although often muddy in winter and early spring.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Novato (Marin County) exit #463 (San Marin Drive/Atherton Avenue). Head west on San Marin Drive for about 2.5 miles. Turn north (right) unto San Andreas Drive, and continue about 0.5 mile. Look for and park near the Open Space gate. You can also enter the preserve through gates at San Ramon Way, San Mateo Way, Simmons Lane, and some small streets off Wood Hollow Drive.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 38 7'48.51"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, restaurants and pay phone a few miles south on Novato Boulevard. No camping.

Trailhead details:
No entrance or parking fees. There are no toilets, drinking water, or maps. Only roadside parking is available. No designated handicapped parking, and trails are not wheelchair accessible. Golden Gate Transit services San Marin Drive. You can get off a bus and enter the preserve at Simmons Lane or San Andreas Drive.

Cyclists and equestrians share most trails with hikers, but bikes are not allowed on a few trails. Dogs are permitted on this hike: they are allowed on leash on trails; off leash under voice command on fire roads. Dog owners must have a leash for each dog. Dogs are prohibited in the park's sensitive wildlife area, and are also not allowed on the adjacent state park trails.

The Official Story:
MCOSD's Mount Burdell page
MCOSD field office 415-499-6405

Map Choices:
 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website) has a simple map and a featured hike. Order this book from
• Download the pdf map from the MCOSD website.
Trails of Northeast Marin County is my favorite map (available from Pease Press).
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from has a great map and descriptions of a Burdell hike.
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order this book from, has a decent map and descriptions of the Ridge Trail segment though the preserve.
• Barry Spitz's Open Spaces (order this book from has a simple map and trail descriptions.
• Hiking Marin by Don and Kay Martin (order this book from has a detailed map and brief preserve descriptions.
• David Weintraub's North Bay Trails has a useful map and trail descriptions (order this book from

Mount Burdell in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Mount Burdell, MCOSD's largest open space preserve, provides many opportunities for loop hikes. The preserve's peak elevation is around 1,500 feet, and there are three routes up to the top, all of which require sustained, though not unreasonable climbs. Cobblestone Fire Road, reached from Deer Camp Fire Road or Middle Burdell Fire Road, is the most gentle route. Old Quarry Trail is steep, climbing about 700 feet in just over 1/2 mile. The third route is accessed from the northeast flank of the mountain, via Olompali State Park. But you don't need to climb to the top to have a nice hike at Mt. Burdell.  The "bowl," just a 1/4 mile stroll from the San Andreas Drive Trailhead, is a wonderful destination. Keep ascending uphill from there on your choice of trails for magnificent views of Mount Tam, Mount Diablo, and Big Rock Ridge, with huge specimens of valley oak, California bay, and buckeye trees sprinkled along the sides of the trails. San Andreas Fire Road
      The Bay Area Ridge Trail passes through this preserve, one of the last completed portions before the trail heads into Sonoma County. The out-and-back segment can be augmented with a foray into Olompali State Park, which sprawls across the northeastern face of Burdell Mountain.
      No matter what trails you choose, as you hike you will probably be serenaded with bird calls -- hawks shrieking from the woods to the south, vultures soaring and calling above the valley, and all kinds of other common birds, like hummingbirds (who buzz rather than sing), bluebirds, redwing blackbirds, and scrub jays. On one June hike, from the bowl I saw a large red tail hawk in a tree on the other side of a cattle fence, calling repeatedly, seeming to yell at the cows. Cobblestone Fire Road
      My favorite time of year to visit is late winter, when the hills are cool, breezy, and refreshed by the rain. That lush green early spring effect begins to fade around Easter. Spring wildflowers struggle for recognition in fields of drying blonde grass. After that, summer brings hot and dry conditions. With little shade a typical summer or autumn day can quickly become a dehydrating experience. Carry plenty of water. 
         For this featured hike, pass through the cattle gate and start up the broad San Andreas Fire Road, open to hikers, cyclists, and equestrians. After about 350 feet, San Andreas Court Fire Road doubles back to the right at a signed junction; continue straight on San Andreas Fire Road. It's not a super steep climb, but a good warmup on a chilly day. In the summer you may try to change your trajectory to spend as much time as possible in the shade of the coast live oaks and California bays. On the left at 0.13 mile, a stile marks an entrance to the sensitive wildlife area. Continue uphill on San Andreas. On a springtime hike I once saw a jackrabbit bounding under the trees on the side of the trail around here. At 0.2 mile, on the left side of San Andreas Fire Road, Little Tank Fire Road begins at a signed junction, with a gate just beyond. Stay on San Andreas, and as the trail crests at 0.25 mile, look for an early spring display of Chinese houses on the left side of the trail. The trail opens up into a valley, gently curved like the inside of a bowl, with rolling ascending grassy hills dotted with valley oak. Dwarf Oak Trail meets San Andreas Fire Road at 0.3 mile, at a signed junction. Continue on San Andreas. Some years in spring great carpets of johnnytuck and California buttercup sprawl through the grass. On the side of the trail to the right near a log, an unofficial path cuts through the valley and heads uphill. Stay on the fire road. High reaches of Mount Burdell
        San Andreas Fire Road keeps a mostly level course. Once here I came upon a deer. We eyed each other until it ran, then 100 yards down the trail another deer caught my drift and turning to run away, ran smack into a barbed wire fence. It fell down, then got to its feet and ran off. Talk about a bad day! This multi-use trail climbs moderately through valley oak, with happy looking fat squirrels chattering to themselves among the fallen leaves and acorns. Fiddlenecks and popcorn flowers are common in spring. Some short cuts have been carved through the grass at a few spots; please stay on the fire road. At 0.74 mile, Deer Camp Fire Road meets Middle Burdell Fire Road at a signed junction. Turn left on Deer Camp Fire Road, open to cyclists, equestrians, and hikers.View south from Old Quarry Trail
      You may notice that buckeyes have muscled their way into oak territory. These buckeyes are large, old, and vigorous specimens, and in late spring feature fragrant blossoms. Leafless in winter, buckeyes dangle golf ball-sized pods from their branches in autumn. Although the nuts look enticing, remember that all parts of the buckeye tree are poisonous to humans. In early spring buckeyes are easy to pick out from a distance in this part of the preserve. When the valley oaks get around to producing new, light green leaves, the buckeyes already boast dark green foliage. Deer Camp Fire Road winds uphill through buckeye, oak, and California bay, passing a cow-proofed picnic area (with a portable toilet sometimes available) on the left side of the trail. As the fire road drifts into open grassland it takes a turn to the east, and the only semi-steep portion of the road shoots uphill. If it's warm and still you may make the acquaintance of a swarm of flies. There is an enormous California bay tree standing alone on the side of the trail at a flat spot. Views south are spectacular, and include Big Rock Ridge and Mount Tamlpais. One June morning, wisps of fog were hanging off the ocean to the west like a pure white curtain. The slopes of the hill curve up to the north from the fire road, and short grass and sparse trees make it seem like a deceptively easy approach cross country, straight up the hill to the top of the ridge. Deer Camp Fire Road levels out, and actually descends a bit. In spring, you might see fiddlenecks, popcorn flowers, California buttercup, and bluedicks. At about 2.14 miles Deer Camp ends at a signed junction with Cobblestone Fire Road. Cobblestone (to the left) leads to the summit. (If you want to shorten this hike and save yourself some climbing, turn right and walk down this rocky and somewhat steep section of Cobblestone. Then turn left on Middle Burdell Fire Road and pick up the featured hike again at the second junction with Old Quarry Trail.) Turn left on Cobblestone Fire Road.Old Quarry Trail
      The broad multi-use trail climbs steadily. Shooting stars bloom in the shade of oak, buckeye, and California bay in late winter. Later in spring, you may see larkspur, iris, California poppy, and phacelia. Cobblestone is plagued with loose rock, and it only gets worse as you ascend. Tempering the climb, there are nice views south into Novato and beyond, to the bay, Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, Mount Tamalpais, and the east bay. A shortcut trail breaks off to the right. Stay to the left. Then another path departs on the left. Stay to the right. The trail is very rocky. In spring, broadleaf filaree, vetch, California poppy, California buttercup, bluedicks, and larkspur dot the grassland. At about 2.7 miles, Cobblestone Fire Road ends at a signed junction with Old Quarry and Burdell Mountain Fire Road. The actual summit of Mount Burdell is on private property, but from this vantage point there are nice views south. (You can extend this hike on paved Burdell Mountain Fire Road. Turn right and ascend very slightly on the paved multi-use trail. The fire road passes an unsigned trail that enters Olompali, then Burdell Mountain Fire Road descends a bit, passes huge piles of rock and ends, after just over a mile, at a locked gate with private property. The sign on the gate reads "Private property: keep out/bull pasture." This extension affords more views south, and at the gate, partial views east.) Turn right on Old Quarry Trail.Old Quarry Trail
     After a few steps through open grassland, the narrow trail, closed to cyclists, passes under a few trees. The descent is steep, but the real difficulty is with loose rock on the trail. Views out of the mini-canyon are pretty, but keep your eyes on the trail as long as your feet are moving. For the most part, Old Quarry Trail keeps to the open grassland, with sagebrush, sticky monkeyflower, and poison oak lending a chaparral feel in places. Look for mule ear sunflowers in spring. There is a stretch through a thick stand of trees, with a creekbed on the right of the trail. Then Old Quarry Trail emerges into the grassland, levels out, and reaches an undersigned junction with Middle Burdell Fire Road at 3.3 miles. Turn left onto Middle Burdell Fire Road.
     A few steps of flat trail are welcome. An illegal path on the left side of the trail descends sharply from the ridge to the fire road. Old Quarry resumes at about 3.32 miles, departing on the right side of the trail at a signed junction. Turn right.
     Descending again on a narrow course, Old Quarry passes oaks and buckeyes as it drops through grassland. At 3.6 miles, after crossing through a gate, Old Quarry Trail ends at a junction with San Carlos Fire Road (unidentified on the signpost). Turn right.
        Sights and sounds of urban life filter uphill from Novato. San Carlos Fire Road meets up with Salt Lick Fire Road at a signed junction at about 3.66 miles. Stay to the right on San Carlos as it meanders downhill, looping around a curve on the way to the signed junction with Michako Trail, beside an oak tree at 3.9 miles. Pause at this junction to admire the work woodpeckers have done in transforming the oak tree to a storehouse. There are so many holes in the bark (many filled with acorns) that the tree appears to have grown that way on its own (click here for photo). Turn right onto Michako Trail, which is closed to bicycles.Michako Trail
      The path winds levelly, crossing through a cattle gate and across some streams and damp seeps. An old cement well stands on the side of the deepest creekbed. Look in the dirt for bobcat tracks, which stand out from the many dog prints (bobcats' paws are similar to domestic cats, just bigger). In damp patches of the grass you might see meadow foam in spring. You may encounter cows through here, grazing from January to May. As Michako Trail nears a water tank on the left side of the trail at about 4.43 miles, the path meets Big Tank Fire Road. A rough path heads across to the fire road, but stay to right on Big Tank Fire Road, which then ends at a junction (unsigned) with San Marin Fire Road at about 4.60 miles. You might see owl's clover and creamcups along the trail in spring. Continue on San Marin, which quickly ends at Andreas Court Fire Road near some houses. Turn right and descend back to the trailhead -- in less than 0.1 mile there's an unsigned and well-worn shortcut on the left leading back to the gated preserve entrance.

Total mileage:  4.77 miles
Last hiked:  April 22, 2014