Olompali State Historic Park,
California State Parks,
Marin County
In brief:
3 mile loop through grassy woods at a historic park.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 3.1 mile loop hike is mostly easy, with one moderate climb. Trailhead elevation is about 100 feet. The park's high point is about 1480 feet. The featured hike climbs to 1130 feet. Total elevation change is about 1030 feet.

Almost totally shaded.

Trail traffic

Trail surfaces
Dirt trails.

Hiking time
2 hours.

Nice all year, although hot in summer.

Getting there
From US 101 in Marin County, exit Atherton Avenue. Head west, cross 101, then turn north onto Redwood Boulevard. Drive north on Redwood Boulevard to the park entrance on the west side of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 38 9'5.19"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Pay phone, stores, restaurants, and gas south on 101 in Novato. No camping.

Trailhead details:
Large parking lot. $8 entrance fee, paid through self-registration. Map under glass at information signboard, but there are none to take with you. There's a portable toilet on the side of the lot. A few Golden Gate bus lines run on 101, but there is no safe way to cross from the northbound to southbound side of the highway. No designated handicapped parking, but wheelchair users should be able to navigate (with assistance) to Miwok Village.

No bikes. Trails are open to equestrians and hikers. Dogs are not permitted. Park is open 10 a.m. to sunset.

The Official Story:
CSP's Olompali page.
Park office 415-892-3383

Map Choices:
• Download the park map pdf from CSP's website.
• Download the Mount Burdell pdf map from the MCOSD website.
Trails of Northeast Marin County is my favorite map (available from Pease Press).
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of an Olompali hike.
• Don and Kay Martin's Hiking Marin has a great map and trail descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).
• David Weintraub's North Bay Trails features a useful map and park descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).

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

View 46 photos from the featured hike (Loop Trail, without the out-and-back extension to the stone wall)
View photos from the featured hike (Loop Trail and out-and-back to the stone wall)

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Olompali State Historic Park is an interpretive and educational site with great hiking. Parking lotThe park has recreated some Miwok structures, and kept standing some not-so-elegant 20th century buildings accompanied by non-native plants. Families with small kids will probably enjoy the short flat walk to Miwok Village, and hikers who are fond of northern Marin County's oak-sprinkled landscape should be delighted with the Loop Trail, which winds through oak habitat, California bay, buckeye, and lots of lovely madrones. Determined hikers can trek all the way to Mount Burdell, a more than 8 mile round trip.
      I don't think there's a bad time of year to visit Olompali. In winter you'll find hillsides refreshed with green grass, small seasonal waterfalls, and blooming manzanitas. Wildflowers sprawl throughout grassland and woods in spring. Historical areaSummer is hot, but the trails are mostly shaded. In autumn, the deciduous oaks (including black, blue, Oregon, and valley) and fruiting madrones put on quite a show.
     For the featured hike, begin at the parking lot. The start of the Loop Trail is visible at the end of the lot, but take the gravel road to the right (near the portable toilet) toward the historic area. A long somewhat scrawny hedge is comprised of pomegranate shrubs, and in early autumn birds feast on the pretty fruit. The wide path winds levelly past some old buildings (most of them pretty sorry looking), a funky stone fountain, and a panoply of strange alien trees, including Chinese chestnut and Japanese cedar. You will probably hear and see small airplanes buzzing around from the airport just across the highway, and traffic noise is constant. Loop TrailJust past a restored barn, at 0.20 mile, the gravel road sweeps to the right, while a smaller path continues straight. Take the trail straight.
      The Loop Trail breaks off to the left at 0.26 mile, but continue straight on the other end of the Loop Trail, which is signed toward Miwok Village. Only hikers and equestrians are permitted on this trail, which passes through eucalyptus, buckeye, California bay, and white oaks. At a clearing on the left side of the trail, at 0.33 mile, structures from the Miwok days have been built, including kotchas (houses); one made from tule reeds, another from redwood bark. If you're visiting with young kids, this may be your turn-around point (there are picnic tables clustered around).
      From here the trail continues, diving back under tree cover and crossing Olompali Creek. Loop Trail starts a climb, passing a small reservoir on the right. Loop Trail California bays dominate through this stretch, but you might also see a few madrones and some hazelnut. Olompali Creek, which flows year round, follows along the trail. A new portion of trail veers right, departing from the old eroded route. Continue along the creek, but then at an unmarked junction at 0.50 mile, veer left and uphill, away from the creek.
      Sunlight is largely blocked out by towering California bay, madrone, coast live oak, and a few black oaks. Hazelnut, creambush, and ferns thrive in the shade. The new path feeds into the old trail, curves right, and takes a more direct route uphill through the forest. There are some huge madrones mixed through the other trees, and their bare patches of reddish wood seem to glow. Other than one small grassy spot, there is virtually no undergrowth in these woods, and this is one place where you can see the forest for the trees. Path to the stone wallLoop Trail climbs easily on a narrow course. As the trail curves right, madrones, California bay, coast and black oaks allow some grass to take up residence, and it feels like the whole forest is about to open up to grassland. Instead, the trees thicken and you'll reach a signed junction under the trees at about 0.94 mile. The trail to the right continues an ascent to Mount Burdell (topping out at over 1550 feet). If you want to avoid the moderately steep climb to the stone fence, turn left, otherwise turn right onto Mount Burdell Trail.
     After just a few feet, at about 0.97 mile, look to the left for a bench and narrow trail. On my last visit, the path was conspicuous, with a small barricade blocking off an eroded section, but even if that's gone, the path is signed "not a through trail." Head up the unnamed path.
     The landscape is gorgeous, with black oak, manzanita, California bay and madrone lining the tiny path, but the ascent is a steep and rocky one.Stone wall This is an old-fashioned kind of trail, with no switchbacks to ease the climb. Deer are common. A few bare spots permit some long views east. The grade calms down as the path plateaus. There is one last short steep bit, then you'll emerge in a beautiful grassy meadow. Trails scatter (there are quite a few deer trails as well), but stay to the left and aim for the stone wall. At about 1.26 miles the path ends at the preserve boundary and the wall. In the 1880s Chinese laborers built a series of stone walls throughout what is now Olompali, and this segment stretches uphill toward the top of Mount Burdell, although there is no connecting trail. Retrace your steps back to the previous junction at about 1.55 miles, then turn right and retrace your steps to the junction with Loop Trail at about 1.58 miles. Continue straight on Loop Trail.Loop Trail
     Monkeyflower remains blooming along the trail into the summer, adding a burst of color. As you angle along the hillside, you may catch a glimpse to the east through a break in the trees. Loop Trail crosses a seasonal creek populated by California bays and ferns, then reemerges into a mixture of Oregon oak, madrone, and a few huge manzanitas. Switchbacks make the descent an easy one. You may hear hawks screeching overhead. Gradually, the trees thin and views to the east open up. You may want to pause to admire some of the largest manzanitas in the bay area, mixed through an open woodland of black oak, madrone, blue oak, Oregon oak, and valley oak. Miwok Village is visible downhill to the left. Loop Trail makes a sharp turn to the left above the parking lot, then drifts down to a junction at about 2.90 miles. If you go straight you'll end up at the previously encountered junction near the old barn, so turn right and return to the parking lot.

Total distance: about 3.07 miles
Last hiked: Friday, October 5, 2001