Skywalker Easement,
Marin County Open Space District,
Marin County
In brief:
5 mile out and back from the side of Lucas Valley Road to the shoulder of Loma Alta.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 5 mile out and back hike is on the moderate side of easy, with about 1100 feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is about 650 feet. The hike climbs to 1592 feet, descends to 1310 feet, then returns to the trailhead.

Exposure
:
Full sun.

Trail traffic
:
Light.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt fire roads.

Hiking time
:
2 1/2 hours.

Season
:
Hot in summer, nice in spring.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Marin County, exit Lucas Valley Road. Drive about 5.3 miles west on Lucas Valley Road. When you pass Big Rock on the right, continue west, find a place to safely turn around, then park on the side of Lucas Valley Road, just past the 25 MPH right curve road sign.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
http://www.transitandtrails.org/trailheads/77

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 38 2'51.70"N
Longitude
12237'18.71"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
No services in the immediate area, but there's a mini mart back towards US 101 on Lucas Valley Road. Gas, pay phones, stores, and restaurants a short distance either to the north or south on 101. No camping.

Trailhead details:
Room for 3-4 cars in a tiny pullout along Lucas Valley Road. Be very careful along the side of the road here, for the pullout is just past a blind corner. No entrance or parking fees. No maps, drinking water, or restrooms on site. There is no designated handicapped parking, and trails are not well suited to wheelchairs. There is no direct public transportation to this trailhead. Golden Gate Transit buses #41 and 44 only travel as far as the junction of Westgate and Lucas Valley Road.

Rules:
Trail is multi-use (although there is no equestrian access from this trailhead, and cyclists will have to lift their bikes over the fence). No rules are posted regarding dogs or hours of access.

The Official Story:
MCOSD field office 415-499-6405
MCOSD's home page (there is no specific info about the easement at this time)

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
• Download Loma Alta's pdf map from the MCOSD website.
• Don and Kay Martin's Hiking Marin has a useful map of the preserve 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 trail descriptions.

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

View photos from this hike.




Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page


The Skywalker Easement closes a gap in the Bay Area Ridge Trail, and permits passage from Lucas Valley Road to the top of Loma Alta and into Loma Alta Open Space Preserve. Trailhead Although the land on both sides of the easement's fire road is simply average pastured grassland, there are (perhaps literally) million dollar views from the highest elevations. Other than the views, the most unique natural feature is a sweep of serpentine rock near the trailhead, host to a stunning display of common and rare wildflowers during spring.
     All trail users should note that the terms of this easement demand that visitors stay on the fire road. Do not travel cross country or go exploring here, as the easement could easily be revoked. A deal between Lucas Films and Marin County permits trail use in exchange for Lucas's development on the north side of Lucas Valley Road, just west of Big Rock.
     The easement is probably at its best in spring, when the wildflowers are blooming, but I'd like to visit again on a clear winter day, to see how far the views stretch from the top of Loma Alta. Like neighboring Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve, the easement fire road has almost no shade, and is ill-suited to a hot summer day.Ascending
      Start at the double entrance stile. Once you squeeze through, a signpost is the sole assurance that you're in the right place. Walk to the right a few steps, then turn left onto the fire road. In May when I visited, there were carpets of flowers blooming on the hillside to the right. Although appearing to be a single plant from a distance, the display was a combination of tidytips, creamsacs, and a tarweed-type of flower (madia or layia). The broad fire road begins to ascend at a moderate grade, through grassland.Thanks to the serpentine soil along the trail through here you might see some unusual spring flowers such as Douglas' sandwort and blue field gilia, as well as more common blossoms including California poppy, Ithuriel's spear, creamcups, clarkia, checkerbloom, yarrow, mule ear sunflowers, and bellardia. Cattle graze this ranch and although there were cow patties on the trail, I saw no bovines on my visit. Along the ridgeAfter an initial climb the trail levels out a bit, and at 0.68 mile, you'll reach a junction with a gated fire road, on the right. Continue straight.
     The grade picks up again, and a few small coast live oaks and California bays provide scarce shade. Poison oak, coyote brush, and blue elderberry are occasional along the trail. In spring, more flowers sprawl on the sloping hillside to the right, and you might see a stunning collection of linanthus, paintbrush, bluedicks, tarweed, goldenfields, creamcups, columbine, blue larkspur, popcorn flower, fiddlenecks, seep monkeyflower, and false lupine. The fire road sweeps right around the curve of the hillside and the ascent stiffens slightly. As the trail crests and reaches the ridgeline, finally you'll be able to look ahead and see the course of the fire road. Grassland still dominates, and there are unobstructed views west downhill that include a gorgeous valley. In May there was so much narrow-leaf flax blooming that the grass was tinged light blue in sections. Patches of goldenfields provided a cheerful yellow contrast. At 1.31 miles, you'll reach a cattle gate. Be sure to close the gate behind you, or instead squeeze through the stile.At the top of Loma Alta, with a view to Mount Tam  The fire road continues to climb, here taking a moderately paced direct tack uphill. At 1.46 miles, another private fire road departs to the right. Continue straight.
     As I climbed the hill, I wondered what to call this apparently unnamed fire road. Since it's the Skywalker Easement, a Star Wars related theme is tempting. Tatooine Trail? Princess Leia Lane? This was a good distraction on the final somewhat sharp stretch to the summit. Some flowers persist in May, and blue-eyed grass, checkerbloom, yarrow, and mule ear sunflowers mix through invasive thistles. A few rock outcrops interrupt an expanse of grassy rolling hills. The fire road crests at the top of Loma Alta, and there are magnificent 360 degree views. To the east Lucas Valley opens to San Pablo Bay and reveals a look all the way to Mount Diablo. Big Rock Ridge and the steep course of Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve's Luiz Fire Road is visible to the north.The entire ridge of Mount Tamalpais looms over White's Hill to the south, and sharp-eyed hikers gazing west might be able to make out the fire lookout at the top of Samuel P. Taylor's Barnabe Peak. (If you are ready to end your hike, this is a logical turnaround point; continue to the end of the segment and you'll face more climbing on the return leg.) ReturningThe summit is treeless and when it's windy you probably won't want to linger. Continue downhill a few feet to a junction with yet another private fire road, at 2.07 miles. Continue to the right.
      The fire road ascends briefly, then begins a long moderately steep descent to the left of a wide grassy gulch. As the trail heads downhill, you'll have views on the left, of Loma Alta Open Space Preserve and Sir Francis Drake (the road). At 2.49 miles, you'll reach a junction with 2 private fire roads, and the signed gated entrance to Loma Alta Open Space Preserve. This is the turnaround point for the hike, and the end of the easement. Retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 4.98 miles
Last hiked: Thursday, May 16, 2002