Stafford Lake County Park,
Marin County Parks,
Marin County
In brief:
1.7 mile loop through mostly wooded low hills close to Novato.

Distance, category, and difficulty
This 1.7 mile out and back hike is easy. Trailhead elevation is about 215 feet. The hike climbs to about 600 feet before descending back to the trailhead. Total elevation change is about 350 feet.

More sun than shade.

Trail traffic

Trail surfaces
Dirt trails.

Hiking time
1 hour.

Too hot in summer. Best in late winter and early spring.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Marin County, exit #463 (San Marin Drive/Atherton Avenue). Drive west on San Marin Drive about 3 miles, then turn right onto Novato Boulevard. Drive about 2.5 miles on Novato Boulevard, then turn left into the park. Once past the entrance kiosk, turn right and continue to the end of the paved parking area, about 0.4 mile from the entrance.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 38 6'34.54"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, stores, and restaurants back in Novato. No camping.

Trailhead details:
$5 single vehicle entrance fee ($2 to walk in); pay at the automated machine at the entrance if kiosk is unattended. Lots of parking in a paved lot, with some spillover parking in a dirt lot. Nice restrooms and drinking fountains throughout the park. No maps (at least when the kiosk is unattended). There's a pay phone just off the right side of the park road as you drive to the parking lot. There is no direct public transportation to this park. The nearest bus service is on Novato Boulevard and San Marin Drive. From there it's 2.5 miles to the park.

Park is open from 8 a.m. to dusk. No dogs. No bikes on the trail.

The Official Story:
Marin County Park's Stafford Lake page

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
Trails of Northeast Marin County is helpful navigating to the park and on the trail (available from Pease Press).
• Hiking Marin by Don and Kay Martin (order this book from has a useful map and descriptions of this hike.

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

View photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

If you live or work near Novato, you've no doubt visited Stafford Lake for a company picnic or friend's party. TrailheadThis Marin County park boasts a playground, picnic areas, softball fields, volleyball nets, lots of manicured green lawn, a disc golf course, and one hiking trail. The two-mile path is technically a loop, but one leg of the trail is undermaintained and tough to follow. It's long enough to provide some exercise satisfaction, but short enough for a quick get-away from a party, or to burn off any extra calories you may have consumed at a bbq.
     Stafford Lake, like the rest of Novato, is generally hot from late spring to early winter. If you plan on making a special visit to the park, spring is a good time for wildflowers, and in autumn the black oaks are pretty.Trail departs the developed area of the park
      Begin at the end of the paved parking lot. Although a dirt road leads off to the right, a sign points left to the Terwilliger Nature Trail. After a few steps on a paved path, you'll reach a T junction in front of the grassy lawn. Turn right; the path turns to dirt. With a small pond on the right and a seasonal creek on the left, willows thrive along the trail, along with some California bay, coast live oak, and buckeye. The broad trail emerges in grassland, and you'll walk past a large valley oak on the left. At 0.27 mile, just before a picnic area, follow the trail to the left (if you're visiting in the wet months of the year you may need to use the footbridge, on the far side of the picnic area). Woods on Terwilliger Nature Trail You'll cross the creekbed and step out at the edge of a flat grassy meadow. Steps are visible on the hillside straight ahead, but stay to the right as the trail curves around the hill. At 0.42 mile the loop begins, on the left, marked by a sign (the fire road only continues straight a few feet more, to the park boundary). Turn left onto Terwilliger Nature Trail.
     The narrow path heads uphill through grassland, with buckeye, coast live oak, white oaks, and California bay common trailside trees. Watch out for poison oak, which grows along the trail in shrubs throughout the grassland, and as a vine and ground cover in the woods. Terwilliger Nature Trail, open to hikers and equestrians only, ambles across the hillside, darting in and out of pockets of woods, occasionally turning right or left to make up elevation. Terwilliger Nature TrailThe grade is easy. At 0.64 mile you'll reach a signed junction. The loop trail begins to degrade straight ahead. Turn right, toward the viewpoint.
     Still weaving uphill through grassland and clusters of hazelnut, California bay, blue, black, and coast live oak, buckeye, and even a few redwoods, Terwilliger Nature Trail remains an easy ascent. Look for a shaded bench off to the left, with a nice view down to the lake. Back in the woods the trail splits, with arrows pointing both ways. When I visited in July 2002, the path extending straight looked brand new, so perhaps this is a reroute. I took the new trail, which soon leaves the woods behind for a final climb through grassland. A few short switchbacks later, at 0.84 mile, you'll reach the end of the trail and the park boundary. View to Stafford Lake You may want to sit on the bench and enjoy the views north of rolling oak-dotted hills. When you're ready to continue, retrace your steps back to the trailhead. (Note: the other end of the loop trail was overgrown when I visited, apparently a common situation. Paths that are part of the disc golf course add to the confusion. If you do attempt it, you may lose the trail -- but you can travel cross country since the flat meadow is nearly always visible downhill to the north.)

Total distance: 1.68 miles
Last hiked: Thursday, July 18, 2002