4.6 mile out and back flat hike past water treatment ponds teeming with
Distance, category, and difficulty:
Trails are completely flat, and this 4.6 mile out and back hike
is very easy. A good choice for parents with strollers and people in wheelchairs.
Dirt fire roads.
From US 101 in Marin County, exit Lucas Valley Road/Smith Ranch Road. Drive
east about 0.7 mile on Smith Ranch Road, then at the McInnis Park entrance,
turn left to remain on Smith Ranch Road. Drive on Smith Ranch Road about
0.8 mile, to the signed trailhead at the end of the road.
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:
Pay phone, gas, restaurants, and stores back toward 101 on Smith Ranch Road.
Parking for about 10 vehicles in a gravel lot. No parking or entrance fees.
One designated handicapped parking spot, and trails are wheelchair-accessible,
though likely to be muddy in winter and early spring. Wheelchair-accessible
restroom in the building near the start of the trail. Drinking water near
the information signboard, a short distance from the trailhead. No maps
available. There is no direct public transportation to the wildlife ponds,
but several Golden Gate Transit buses stop at the Lucas Valley Bus Pad on
101. From there it's 1.5 level miles to the ponds.
Dogs allowed on leash. No posted rules regarding horses, which you are unlikely
to encounter. Bikes are permitted, but not on the last mile of the public
The Official Story:
Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary
Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District office 415-472-1734
Trails of Northeast Marin County (map) is a great map of the
area (available from Pease
Hiking Marin by Don and Kay Martin (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a good map of the wildlife ponds and
nearby McInnis Park.
View photos from this hike
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Las Gallinas Wildlife Ponds are also holding tanks for treated
liquid waste. You'll have better luck selling this hike to your friends
or family by describing it as an easy stroll along a marsh and past ponds
teeming with birds, rather than explaining that you'll be walking on service
roads that wind past pools of effluent near a sewage treatment plant.
It's not as grim as the it sounds. Not only is there no nasty smell at
Las Gallinas (at least there wasn't on my visit), but the sanitary district
has created a warm and welcoming environment for recreation and education.
The sewage treatment facility was assembled
in 1985. Waste is initially processed at the plant across the street from
the trailhead, then the treated sewage is either stored in the adjacent
ponds, recycled as irrigation water,or discharged into Miller Creek, which feeds into San Pablo Bay. By reclaiming
waste water, drinking water is conserved, and a nice side benefit is the
easement permitting use of 3 1/2 miles of trails on the sanitary
The flat trails are perfect for jogging,
or for easy family strolls. There are picnic tables a short distance from
a trailhead, nicely landscaped grounds, and one of the most beautiful
public toilets in the bay area. Since there is no fishing permitted,
the ponds retain a sense of peace and quiet sometimes lacking around local
lakes, ponds, and shorelines.
The logical hike is an out-and-back semi-loop,
combining a walk along the marsh to the edge of the property (near Hamilton Field), with a circuit of a wildlife pond. You
can extend a hike to the wildlife ponds by beginning back at McInnis Park
and walking either on the road, on a trail bordering the golf course (passing
an old Nike missile site), or a levee path at the eastern edge of the
Start at the parking lot and take the
brief connector path to the east. Walk north, initially on pavement,
across a bridge where Miller Creek makes its way toward the bay. On
the other side of the bridge, the trail splits just before an information
signboard. Continue straight.
The wide gravel road (used by district
vehicles) skirts the primary wildlife pond, where you might see ducks,
geese, and white pelicans. Don't be surprised if you glimpse movement
just beneath the water's surface; huge fish (carp, I think) swim
in this pond. Signs warn that the water contains waste effluent. Yellow
star thistle, dock, and fennel line the trail, with cattails closer to
the water. At 0.24 mile, a road veers left, heading back around the pond.
There are nice views west to Big Rock Ridge,
south to China Camp, and even further south to Mount Tam. Traffic noise
from US 101 is just barely audible, but fades with every step. At 0.53
and 0.66 mile, you'll pass restricted roads heading off to the left. Continue
The trail leaves the ponds behind, and passes
a bare field. Some shrubby willows and a few out of place pines line the
path on the left, while coyote brush gives way to pickleweed on the right,
marsh side of the trail. Curving north, the trail offers views to duck
blinds on San Pablo
Bay, and all the way to Mount Diablo on a clear day. At 1.07 miles, marked
by a small sign, the public trail turns sharply right (the road to the
left is restricted). Turn right.
Blackberry brambles sprawl along the left
side of the trail. Further west, hayfields are irrigated with wastewater
recycled at the sewage treatment plant near the trailhead. The flat trail
bends left and continues north. Sharp-eyed hikers should be able
to make out the buildings of the former Hamilton Air Force Base to the
northwest. Back to the southwest, the blue-roofed Marin Civic Center is
visible. Along the trail, you might see salt marsh dodder, a plant that
in summer resembles dried clumps of cut grass. At 2.13 miles, the public
trail ends at an unsigned junction. A restricted road heads west, and
a small path continues north,to
a ramshackle structure that my topographical software claims is an old
rescue tower. Retrace your steps back to a previously encountered junction
at 3.99 miles, with the penultimate wildlife pond road, marked with
a small blue "public trail" sign. Turn right.
You'll have the opportunity to observe
birds in the ponds on both sides of the trail, and to savor more pretty
views of Mount Tam, San Pedro Mountain, and Big Rock Ridge. On my hike,
something had caught one of those huge fish and picked half of it clean
just off the trail. At 4.17 miles, a restricted road bears right at a
signed junction. Turn left, as directed by the public trail sign.
Following the contour of the pond, the
trail sweeps to the left, passes the picnic area, and reaches a previously
encountered junction at 4.60 miles. On a warm July afternoon a king snake
crossed the trail in front of me along this stretch. Turn right and
retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Total distance: 4.62 miles
Last hiked: Monday, July 9, 2001