Old St. Hilary's Open Space Preserve,
Marin County Open Space District,
Marin County
In brief:
1 mile loop on a grassy ridge with million dollar views of the bay and San Francisco.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 1 mile loop hike is easy, with about 75 feet in elevation change.

Totally exposed.

Trail traffic

Trail surfaces
Dirt fire roads and trails.

Hiking time
Less than 1 hour.

Good anytime

Getting there:
From US 101 in Marin County, exit Tiburon Boulevard. Drive east about 3.5 miles, and turn left on Lyford Drive. Drive about 0.8 mile uphill, and bear left on Sugarloaf (Lyford ends to the right, and another access gate to the preserve is visible). Drive 0.1 mile more, and turn right onto Heathcliff. Continue a short distance to the end of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 3753'15.67"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phone, stores, and restaurants a few miles east or west on Tiburon Boulevard. No camping.

Trailhead details:
Side of the road parking in a residential neighborhood. No parking or entrance fees. No maps, or toilet facilities. No designated handicapped parking, and trails are not wheelchair accessible. There is no direct public transportation to the preserve, but Golden Gate Transit's #10 bus runs on Tiburon Boulevard, and you could walk uphill to the preserve from there.

Trails are multi-use. 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:
MCOSD's Old St. Hilary's page
MCOSD field office 415-499-6405

Map Choices/More Info:
• Download the pdf map from the MCOSD website.
• Barry Spitz's Open Spaces has a simple map and preserve descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).
• Don and Kay Martin's Hiking Marin has a useful map of the preserve and the surrounding area (order this book from Amazon.com).

View 28 photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

The million dollar views enjoyed by Tiburon peninsula residents can be yours too, during the time you spend at Old St. Hilary's Open Space Preserve. TrailheadExpansive vistas of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, Angel Island, and the Marin Headlands make Old St. Hilary's a must for folks searching for the perfect picnic spot with a view. This small parcel of ridgetop grassland, just 117 acres, is an enclave for spring wildflowers (common and rare), and the trails provide great exercise for locals and their dogs.
     Old St. Hilary's hosts two official trails, although some unofficial paths are well-worn. Vistazo Fire Road crosses through grassland further down the hill, and can be accessed by either end of Vistazo Street. Vistazo Fire Road is a little over a quarter mile long, and does not connect to the preserve's main, ridgetop trail, Heathcliff Fire Road. You may want to combine a visit to Old St. Hilary's Open Space Preserve with a stop at Old St. Hilary's Church and the surrounding botanical gardens, both in the preserve's southern corner. The pathway to the church is off Vistazo West.
     Start at the open space gate at the end of Heathcliff. Heathcliff Fire RoadHeathcliff Fire Road, open to hikers, cyclists, and equestrians, skirts a small rocky outcrop, then sweeps through grassland and begins a brief climb. Right away you'll have great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. When I visited in March, weeks away from spring, the grass was dotted with Fremont's camas, suncups, checker-blooms, and johnny-jump-ups. Coyote brush shrubs punctuate the hillsides. Ignore a sidepath that heads right, and continue south on Heathcliff Fire Road.The wide dirt trail descends briefly, then regains altitude and climbs a bit more to a crest. From here you'll have perhaps the bay area's premier view of Angel Island, as well as San Francisco and the east bay.The preserve border  Heathcliff Fire Road drops sharply to the preserve's border, at 0.43 mile. From here, a trail continues onto private land (luxury houses may be built on this land, but a battle rages and the outcome is uncertain), on the other side of a fence. Walk past the open space sign, and turn right onto a small unsigned path before you reach the fence (or, if you like, retrace your steps to the trailhead on Heathcliff Fire Road).
     Irises and bluedicks may be seen flowering together in late winter off the side of the path. The unnamed path descends and ascends gently, then drops down to a creek crossing. A plum tree flowers near a clump of poison oak and coyote brush. Path through grasslandBoards help you cross the creek during wet months, and the path continues across the hillside. In spring, look for blossoms on lupine as well as false lupine on the sides of the path. As houses come closer into view, stay to the right as the path splits at 0.77 mile; the left leg ends at the Lyford Drive Trailhead.
      The path heads back to the ridge line, climbing easily through coyote brush and grassland. At the crest, the path joins Heathcliff Fire Road at a previously encountered junction, at 0.89 mile. Turn left and retrace your steps to the trailhead, savoring the views north.

Total distance: 1 mile
Last hiked: Tuesday, March 6, 2001