Las Gallinas Wildlife Ponds,
Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District,
Marin County
In brief:
4.6 mile out and back flat hike past water treatment ponds teeming with birds.

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.

Exposure:
Totally exposed.

Trail traffic
:
Light-moderate.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt fire roads.

Hiking time
:
2 hours.

Season
:
Good anytime.

Getting there:
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:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/473

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 38 1'32.33"N
Longitude
12231'3.68"W
(* 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. No camping.

Trailhead details:
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.

Rules:
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 trail.

The Official Story:
Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District website
Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District office 415-472-1734

Map Choices:
Trails of Northeast Marin County (map) is a great map of the area (available from Pease Press).
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



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The Las Gallinas Wildlife Ponds are also holding tanks for treated liquid waste. TrailheadYou'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. Approaching the wildlife pondsBy 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 district's lands.
     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. View westYou 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 park.
     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 the end of the trail  At 0.24 mile, a road veers left, heading back around the pond. Continue straight.
     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 straight.
     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. Returning on the trail, with a view of Mount Tam
      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. Wildlife pond
      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