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
Dirt fire roads and trails.
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
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:
Gas, pay phone, stores, and restaurants to the east on Novato Boulevard,
around downtown Novato. No camping.
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.
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
Little Mountain page
Verissimo Hills page
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.
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
my mind, the names Little Mountain and Verissimo Hills are
incomplete monikers for these two Marin County Open Space Preserves. 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.
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. In 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. Little 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.
At 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. The 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
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.
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.
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
Total distance: 5.10 miles
Last hiked: Monday, June 11, 2001