Rush Creek Open Space Preserve,
Marin County Open Space District,

Marin County

In brief:
3.8 mile nearly-level semi-loop along the edge of a Novato marsh.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 3.8 mile semi-loop hike with about 100 feet in elevation change, is easy, and a good choice for beginners. Trailhead elevation is about 10 feet. The featured hike's high point is only about 72 feet.

Mostly exposed.

Trail traffic

Trail surfaces
Dirt fire roads and trails.

Hiking time
Under 2 hours.

Hot in summer, nice in spring.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Marin County exit San Marin Drive/Atherton Avenue in Novato. Go east on Atherton Avenue about 0.2 mile, take the first left onto Binford Road, drive about 0.2 mile and park on either side of the road near the open space gate.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 38 7'6.63"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Trailhead details:
There is plenty of roadside parking. No entrance or parking fees. No restrooms, drinking water, or maps are available (you can use your smartphone to scan the QR code at the trailhead info kisok). No designated handicapped parking, but one trail may be accessed, with assistance (but avoid bringing anything with wheels to Rush Creek in the wet months, when it's very muddy). There is no direct public transportation to the preserve, but a few Golden Gate Transit buses stop within walking distance: visit the Transit Info website for details.

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phone, stores, and restaurants along 101 in Novato. No camping.

Two trails are multi use, and the other two trails restrict bicycles. Dogs are permitted.

The Official Story:
MCOSD's Rush Creek page.
MCOSD field office 415-499-6405

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
• Download the pdf map from the MCOSD website.
Trails of Northeast Marin County is my favorite map (available from Pease Press).
• David Weintraub's North Bay Trails (order this book from
• Don and Kay Martin's Hiking Marin (order this book from
• Barry Spitz's Open Spaces (order this book from

View photos from the featured hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

Rush Creek Preserve is popular with local cyclists, dog walkers, and joggers, who enjoy the easy access and flat trails. Photo of trailheadThe preserve transcends the trailhead atmosphere, where big rigs roar by on US 101. The far side is pretty quiet, and teams with wildlife. If you have binoculars, bring them for better views of the many birds.
      There are a few loop possibilities within the preserve and on adjacent neighborhood sidewalks. 101 Trail skirts the edge of the preserve along Atherton Avenue, then cuts through a housing development before entering the preserve again at the junction of Pinheiro Fire Road and Rush Creek Fire Road. From here you can take either trail back to the trailhead. This loop is about 2 miles (or about 2.3 miles if you take Rush Creek Fire Road and the Levee Trail). Photo of Pinheiro Fire RoadThe featured hike described below takes place entirely within the preserve, and is a semi-loop trek.
     For the featured hike, start from the trailhead on Pinheiro Fire Road, a broad, dirt multi-use trail. Just past the gate, a small trail (101) heads uphill along the fenceline. Stay on Pinheiro Fire Road. The trail drops down from the road to the edge of the marsh, and cattails are the dominant plant here, with sprinklings of dock, honeysuckle, common snowberries, and pennyroyal among the 'tails. Look for a lovely stand of wild roses twinning through the barbed wire fence. This initial stretch of trail is partially shaded by California bay, coast live oak, buckeye, and black oak. Poison oak thrives in this preserve, so watch out for those leaves of three.Photo  of the marsh  In the damp pools of the marsh, a variety of birds abound, including red-winged blackbirds and sandpipers. After a few minutes of walking north and east, traffic sounds from 101 become muted. The trail follows the contour of the marsh, and is almost completely level, making it an easy stroll, although mostly unshaded, and therefore hot in the summer. In the winter and spring, Pinheiro gets very muddy, with some standing water covering the trail at times. To the south gentle grasslands rise to hills of coast live and black oak and California bay woods, the territory of hawks and vultures. Milkmaids and California buttercups dot the hillsides in late winter, while shooting stars and miner's lettuce bloom on the shaded slopes. Later in spring, you might see pink clarkia. Pinheiro Fire Road passes a lovely solitary old valley oak. The trail heads slightly uphill and enters the shade of a California bay wood. California bay woods on Pinheiro Fire RoadAt 1.27 miles, you'll reach a junction. Stay to the right here, on Pinheiro Fire Road.
      The trail drifts south and edges near the deepest pools of the preserve. There are often lots of egrets and cranes here, and they provide an interesting contrast as they stand upright in the water, mostly still, while small planes fly close by overhead on the way to a nearby airport. At 1.66 miles, Pinheiro Fire Road ends as the marsh peters out into dry land. A trail turns right and heads out of the preserve on a straight, eucalyptus-lined path near some houses. Stay to the left, continuing around the cove. 
      In 1999 a bridge was constructed, making it possible to cross a creek in the winter without soaking your shoes (and at times, legs). Photo of Pinheiro Fire RoadRest or pause under one of the large trees along the trail and enjoy the view of the cove, and further to the west, the slopes of Mount Burdell. A blue oak tree stands across the trail from a buckeye. Deer seem to be around every corner, and paw prints in the sand suggest that coyotes spend time near the water as well. Throughout this grassland you might see coyote brush and a handful of shrubby manzanita. In late winter, wild radish and suncups bloom in the grass. Bear left at two unsigned rough junctions where trails drift to the right and head uphill. After passing a large cluster of California sagebrush, at the edge of the cove, the fire road curves to the left and reaches a junction at 2.27 miles. The fire road continues to the right, toward the Petaluma Ridge March Wildlife Area.Trail across the levee Turn left and almost immediately, look for a small trail running on a berm through the marsh (now thankfully marked with a blank signpost). Turn left. After a few feet, at 2.30 miles, the trail splits. Stay to the left, or you will be forced to travel cross country (not so fun in wet months) to join the only proper trail. The level path is lined with wild radish in spring. Look for ducks, geese, and swans in the water, and pickleweed growing along the water's edge. The trail meets up with Pinheiro Fire Road at a previously encountered junction, 2.51 miles; turn right and retrace your steps to the trailhead.

Total mileage: 3.78 miles
Last hiked: May 9, 2001
Previous visit: March 3, 2000