Ignacio Valley Open Space Preserve,
Marin County Open Space District,
Marin County
In brief:
2.1 mile out and back hike on fire roads above the College of Marin Indian Valley campus. Some sections of trail are incredibly steep.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
Can a 2.1 mile out and back hike really be considered moderate? If it's possible, this hike is a contender. Although much of the out-and-back hike is easy, there are 2 very steep sections that must be navigated coming and going. Total elevation change is about 600 feet. If you've got a trekking pole, take it.

Mostly exposed.

Trail traffic

Trail surfaces
Dirt trails and fire roads.

Hiking time
1 hour.

Hot in summer, but otherwise nice any time.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Novato, Marin County, exit Ignacio Boulevard. Drive west about 1.3 miles, then turn left onto Country Club Drive. Drive about 0.3 mile, then turn right onto Eagle Drive. Continue uphill about 0.4 mile, to the end of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS coordinates* for trailhead
Latitude 38 4'3.19"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging
Stores, gas, pay phones, and restaurants off Ignacio Boulevard in Novato. No camping.

Trailhead details:
No parking or entrance fees. Side of the road parking at the edge of a residential neighborhood. No drinking water, restrooms, designated handicapped parking, or maps. No wheelchair access. There is no direct public transportation to this trailhead. Golden Gate Transit bus #1 runs along Ignacio Boulevard. Visit the Transit Info website for details.

Preserve has one trail closed to cyclists, and a multi-use fire road. Dogs are permitted on leash on the trail; off leash under voice command on the fire road. Dog owners must have a leash for each dog.

The Official Story:
MCOSD's Ignacio Valley page
MCOSD office 415-499-6387

Map Choices:
• Download the pdf map from the MCOSD website.
Trails of Northeast Marin County is my favorite map (available from Pease Press).
• Barry Spitz's Open Spaces has a good map and trail descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).

Ignacio Valley in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

If I named this 450 acre Novato preserve it would go by Ignacio Ridge rather than Ignacio Valley. Although the property curves around Ignacio Valley, the preserve trails are strictly ascending routes to and along ridgelines. TrailheadOne short path, Halloween Trail, climbs to Big Rock Ridge and Pacheco Valle Open Space Preserve, and the other two trails, a footpath and fire road, traverse a ridge above the College of Marin and Indian Valley Open Space Preserve. Since there are merely three trails, and the only access is through Novato neighborhoods, Ignacio Valley is one of the least visited Marin Open Space Preserves. On this featured hike cyclist and equestrian encounters are especially rare, since the solitary trail departing from the trailhead is a hiking-only route.
    For a hike on Eagle Trail and Montura Fire Road, come prepared for a few dramatic elevation changes. Even though the hike is a little more than 2 miles round trip, there are two extremely steep sections of slippery fire road which present a challenge to descend. The ridgetop fire road offers good views, particularly to the east, and a pleasant variety of madrone, manzanita, and oak woodlands with a grassy understory. Eagle TrailIf you're deciding when to visit, the cool temperatures of spring, autumn, and late winter are preferable to the sweltering heat of a Novato summer. In autumn valley and black oak leaves are pretty, but the most stunning season may be mid-winter, when early wildflowers and manzanitas are in bloom.
     Start at the end of Eagle Drive, on hiking-only Eagle Trail. At first domestic noise from nearby houses is strong, but as the narrow trail ascends things quiet down a bit. Trailside vegetation is grassland with valley and coast live oaks, manzanita, monkeyflower, and toyon. After a short moderate climb, the trail sweeps left through a little patch of grassland and levels out a bit. Then a woodland of California bay, coast live oak, madrone, and manzanita closes in on the trail. Montura Fire RoadI saw a deer in the woods on both legs of my hikes, in the exact same location both times. At 0.21 mile, Eagle Trail ends at an unsigned junction with a fire road. A gate (marking private property) is visible to the right. Turn left onto Montura Fire Road.
    Massive, tree-size manzanitas are conspicuous along the broad, multi-use fire road as it winds uphill at a moderate grade. As Montura Fire Road climbs along the ridgeline, it steepens considerably. Coast live oak, madrone, black oak, and California bay shade the trail.The grade is steep, but not too bad, and as the trail reaches a crest at 0.35 mile there's a well-worn viewpoint on the left side of the trail, where you can stop and catch your breath. Look to the southwest for a view of the forested slopes of Big Rock Ridge, and east past Novato neighborhoods all the way to Contra Costa and Solano counties. Montura Fire Road, with a view to Big Rock RidgeOn a clear day, the towers of the Carquinez Bridge are visible. The fire road continues uphill, now at an easy grade. Coast live oak, madrone, black oak, and manzanita continue to dominant the landscape, but in occasional sunny patches on the left chamise grows in nearly pure stands. Since the fire road gets light use by humans, look for animal tracks. On my hike deer prints were common, but I also picked out skunk and raccoon, and coyote scat was particularly abundant where animal paths crossed the fire road. There are good views of Big Rock Ridge near the highest point along the trail, about 670 feet. The fire road begins to drift downhill, and it's easy going until you reach the first steep stretch of the rollercoaster section. On my hike I found this descent the worst, since the trail was covered with loose dirt and small stones. View to Mount Burdell from Montura Fire RoadI made it part of the way down by stepping sideways -- tedious, but better than falling. At the bottom of the hill the fire road climbs moderately, continuing along the ridge. Then you'll reach the second steep descent. This one was easier, since there was a "racing line" on one side; a smooth, hard surface than gave my boots good grip. The trail climbs again and passes beneath a power line crossing the mountain. Montura Fire Road continues uphill, then reaches an unsigned junction at 0.91 mile. The fire road on the right descends sharply to the College of Marin campus. Continue straight.
     Montura Fire Road climbs again, but any ascent seems easy after those nasty hills. Running slightly downslope to the right of the ridgeline, the trail emerges on the upper flank of a sloping meadow, at 1.03 miles. One of the steep section, shown on the return leg of the hikeCoyote brush and coast live oaks punctuate pretty grassland. If there were a bench along the trail, this would a perfect rest stop, but you might find a nice place in the grass. The Indian Valley campus is visible, along with Mount Burdell and in the distance to the northeast, Sonoma Mountain. A tiny path heads downhill to Pacheco Pond, but it's steep going in both directions -- this could be an optional add-on to this hike if you'd like to explore the southern corner of Indian Valley Open Space Preserve. Montura Fire Road does officially continue another 0.10 mile. A rough path best suited to deer continues to the preserve's boundary. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 2.06 miles
Last hiked: Thursday, October 31, 2002