Little Mountain and Verissimo Hills Open Space Preserves,
Marin County Open Space District,
Marin County
In brief:
5.1 mile partial loop on the fringes of a residential Novato neighborhood. Hosts a Bay Area Ridge Trail segment.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This is an easy 5.1 mile partial loop hike. Trailhead elevation is around 85 feet. The hike's highest point is around 525 feet. Total elevation change is about 500 feet. The first part of the hike, through Little Mountain, is very easy. Verissimo Hills' main trail is a roller coaster, with some steep stretches.

Exposure:
Mostly exposed.

Trail traffic
:
Light.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt fire roads and trails.

Hiking time
:
2 hours.

Season
:
Good anytime.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Marin County, exit San Marin Drive/Atherton Avenue. Drive west on San Marin Drive about 3 miles, where it crosses Novato Boulevard and becomes Sutro (stay in the left just before Novato Boulevard to continue straight across the intersection). Begin looking for side of the street parking; the trailhead (at O'Hair Park) is about 0.1 mile down Sutro on the right.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/433

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 38 6'57.90"N
Longitude
12236'37.43"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phone, stores, and restaurants to the east on Novato Boulevard, around downtown Novato. No camping.

Trailhead details:
No parking or entrance fees. Substantial side of street parking in a residential neighborhood. No restrooms, maps, or drinking water. No designated handicapped parking, and although trail access is unobstructed, trails are ill suited to wheelchairs. Golden Gate Transit bus #50 services Novato Boulevard, just a half block away from this trailhead: visit the Transit Info website for more details.

Rules:
Trails are open to hikers and equestrians. Dogs are permitted on leash on trails; off leash under voice command on fire roads. Dog owners must have a leash for each dog.

The Official Story:
Marin County Open Space District/Marin County Parks Department 415-499-6387
City of Novato Parks Department 415-897-4323
MCSOD's Little Mountain page
MCOSD's Verissimo Hills page

Map Options:
Trails of Northeast Marin County is my favorite map (available from Pease Press).
• Download the pdf map from the MCOSD website.
• Barry Spitz's Open Spaces has a useful map of these preserves, plus trail descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).
• Don and Kay Martin's Hiking Marin has a useful map of these preserves and the surrounding area (order this book from Amazon.com).
• The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and descriptions of the Ridge Trail segment.

Little Mountain and Verissimo Hills in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.

View photos from this hike.



Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page


In my mind, the names Little Mountain and Verissimo Hills are incomplete monikers for these two Marin County Open Space Preserves.Trailhead at O'Hair Park  Little Mountain should be Around But Not to the Top of Little Mountain, and I like to think of Verissimo Hills as Up and Down Verissimo Hills and then Up and Down Them Again. Established trails at Little Mountain skirt the single peaked "mountain," while Verissimo Hills Trail takes a roller-coaster course, visiting each knoll from top to bottom. Little Mountain's trails are mostly flat, with gentle switchbacks easing one short climb. Verissimo Hills presents more of a challenge (particularly if you have creaky knees), but hikers can turn back on the dead-end trail when weary of the serial ascents and descents. Together, these two small preserves, along with adjacent O'Hair City Park and North Marin Water District lands, provide a nice few hours of hiking at the edge of residential Novato.Little Hills Trail
     There are other trailheads from which hikers can explore these preserves. You can start at a pullout on Vineyard Road (just a short distance from the Indian Tree Trailhead) and walk into Verissimo Hills on the southern section of Stafford Lake Trail. Or park on the side of the street at the end of Center Road, where the eastern edge of the water district property connects Little Mountain and Verissimo Hills. Hikes can be extended to the south (Indian Tree) or north (on Dwarf Oak Trail to Mount Burdell), but there are no loop options available.
     Although the heat can be prohibitive in summer, this section of Novato is often breezy. There's not much to look at in summer though, especially compared to autumn, when the black oaks on Stafford Lake Trail are lovely. I missed the year's spring wildflower show, but the grassland of Little Mountain and Verissimo Hills should support nice but small patches of lupines and other common flowers. Doe Hill Fire RoadIn the wet months of winter and early spring, trails can get muddy, with considerable equestrian traffic.
      Start at the signed entrance to O'Hair Park, on Sutro Avenue. Several paths feed into the main route, Reuben Kaehler Memorial Trail, as it takes a level and straight course under some California bays, along Novato Creek. This Bay Area Ridge Trail segment skirts a hill (private property), then meets Little Mountain Trail at a signed junction at 0.15 mile. Turn left onto Little Mountain Trail.
     The narrow trail, open to hikers and equestrians only, climbs gently under California bay and coast live oak. Poison oak is the dominant understory plant, but you might also see ferns and common snowberry. Fences protect a single switchback. The trail leaves O'Hair Park and enters Little Mountain Open Space Preserve, but the transition is unmarked. View to Stafford Lake from Stafford Lake TrailLittle Mountain Trail continues an easy ascent, then leaves the woods for valley oaks and grassland. There are nice views of Big Rock Ridge and redwood-topped Indian Tree to the southwest. A few patches of fennel break the uniformity of the grassland, where you might see purple brodiaea in late spring. Little Mountain Trail makes a brief foray under some California bay and coast live oak near a seasonal creek, then descends, sweeping right near a neighborhood access path and crossing two small bridges. At 0.73 mile, Little Mountain Trail ends at a signed junction with Doe Hill Fire Road (also known as Little Mountain Access Road). Turn right.
     The broad fire road keeps a level pace as it runs parallel to a Novato neighborhood. Some coast live oak, California bay, valley oak and buckeye grace the hillside to the right, leading to the top of Little Mountain. Doe Hill Fire Road, a continuation of the Bay Area Ridge Trail segment, features a series of 5 paths that offer easy access to local residents; continue straight past each of these. Verissimo Hills TrailAt 1.44 miles, the trail seems to end at a fence, gate, and undersigned junction. Actually, the fire road curves left and ends at Center Road, but the obvious continuation of the hike is to pass through the gate into the North Marin Water District lands (Stafford Lake County Park sits a little further to the west). (You can follow Doe Hill Fire Road to the pavement, then turn right and squeeze through a fenced stile into the park, and you'll end up in the same place.)
     No bikes are permitted on this narrow trail, which soon reaches a cattle gate at 1.52 miles.Pass through the gate, and look for a trail visible across a somewhat blank area (not really a fire road, but more like a shabby valley between two hills) on the south hillside.The hiking and equestrian trail is poorly signed in this direction, but it obvious. Once past a large gooseberry shrub and several wild rose bushes, the trail rises to a mixed woodland of California bay, buckeye, coast live oak, and black oak. Steep descent and ascent on Verissimo Hills TrailThe short ascent is thoughtfully graded. Look for an early peek west to Stafford Lake at a switchback. At the crest, Stafford Lake Trail steps out into grassland. Soon after, at 1.82 miles, the trail splits at an unsigned junction. Stay to the left. The trail passes along a fence and climbs at an increasingly steep grade, to a hilltop and junction at 2.00 miles. Turn left onto Verissimo Hills Trail.
     The trail, open to hikers and equestrians only (although its steepness generally precludes horse use), plummets down a hillside. Deer are very commonly spotted in the open grassland and near clusters of coast live oak. At the bottom of the first hill, at 2.17 miles, Sanchez Fire Road departs to the left at a signed junction. Continue straight on Verissimo Hills Trail.
      The trail begins an ascent of the second hill. At 2.21 miles, Ravine Trail excuses itself from the climb on the right side of the trail at a signed junction. Continue straight on Verissimo Hills Trail.Near the turnaround point, there are nice views east
      The grade is moderate, and at the crest of this hill, there are compensatory views south to Big Rock Ridge, and north to Mount Burdell. Verissimo Hills Trail takes a short dip downhill and then back up again, before reaching a steep drop (and ascent) to the last hill. (This is a fine place to turn around if you choose not to continue to the final hill.) The trail is sharp enough to make weak knees tremble. The descent is over quickly, and then you must face the accompanying ascent. A coast live oak marks the top, and the trail continues somewhat gently downhill to the east, where on a clear day you might see across the bay to Mount Diablo. Press on if you like, but there are no more hills to climb, and the trail dead ends straight ahead downhill (who needs any more climbing at this point?). Retrace your steps back to the previously encountered junction with Sanchez Fire Road, at 3.22 miles. Turn right and head down the fire road.Sanchez Fire Road
     The fire road descends easily, and ends at a neighborhood access and Sanchez Way at 3.34 miles. Turn right and onto the sidewalk, proceeding to the end of Sanchez Way at 3.51 miles. Turn left on Center Road, and walk to the end of the road, at 3.66 miles. Turn right onto Doe Hill Fire Road, and retrace your steps back to the trailhead. (Option: you can also return the way you came, climbing on Verissimo Hills Trail, then descending to Little Mountain on Stafford Lake Trail. Your total mileage will be 5.38 miles if you exercise this option.)
     
Total distance: 5.10 miles
Last hiked: Monday, June 11, 2001