White Hill Open Space Preserve,
Marin County Open Space District,
Marin County
In brief:
Hour long hike through woods to grassy hills overlooking adjacent open spaces.

Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 2.3 mile out and back hike includes about 500 feet of elevation gain, on the first leg of the trip. It's easy.

More sun than shade.

Trail traffic

Trail surfaces
Dirt trails and fire road.

Hiking time
1 hour.

Nice any time.

Getting there:
From US 101 in Marin County, exit Sir Francis Drake/San Anselmo. Drive northwest on Sir Francis Drake about 6 miles, to Fairfax. Continue on Sir Francis Drake, and from the last Fairfax traffic light (at Oak Manor Drive), proceed about 1.2 miles. Just past the road to Bothin Camp on the left, look for roadside parking. (It's safer to park on the southbound side than it is to park on the northbound side and cross the road on foot.) There's a sizable turnout on the right, and if traffic is light, you may be able to carefully make a U-turn. If not, continue on Sir Francis Drake about 0.8 mile to San Geronimo Road and turn around there.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS coordinates for trailhead:
Latitude 38 0'15.07"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Stores, gas, restaurants, and pay phones in Fairfax. No camping.

Trailhead details:
A few side-of-the-road spots on busy Sir Francis Drake. No parking or entrance fees. No restrooms, water, or maps. No designated handicapped parking, and there is no trail access for wheelchairs. There is no direct public transportation to this preserve. Golden Gate Transit buses stop at Glen Drive, but it is not a safe walk along the road to the preserve.

Dogs are permitted on leash. Trails are multi-use.

The Official Story:
MCOSD's White Hill page
MCOSD 415-499-6387

Map Choices:
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
• Download the White Hill map from MCOSD.
Trails of Northeast Marin County (map) is a great guide to White Hill (available from Pease Press).
• Open Spaces:  Lands of the Marin County Open Space District, by Barry Spitz (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and good trail descriptions.
• Hiking Marin by Don and Kay Martin (order this book from Amazon.com) has a good map of the southern section and a suggested hike.
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order this book from Amazon.com), has a decent map and descriptions of the Ridge Trail segment though the preserve.

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

View photos from this hike.

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

White Hill Open Space Preserve, roughly shaped like the letter C, arches from Sir Francis Drake south to Cascade Canyon Open Space Preserve. Roadside parking along Sir Francis DrakeGary Giacomini Open Space Preserve abuts the preserve about half way through the parcel, on the west side. Unfortunately there is no (legal) route from the north to the south or western sections of the property, a shame since it's a break in what could be a continuous open space trail network, reaching from Big Rock Ridge all the way to the Marin Headlands. As it is, trails through the southern part of White Hill are a nice adjunct to Cascade Canyon and Giacomini Open Space Preserve hikes, and the northern trails offer a short but pleasant climb to a grassy ridge with expansive views.
     The entire preserve suffers with some of the worst trailhead parking in the whole bay area. The only access in the southern parcel is through Cascade Canyon's Fairfax neighborhoods, with virtually no parking at the end of the narrow residential streets. White Hill Fire RoadIn the northern area, parking is downright hazardous; a slight roadside pullout necessitates a dash along Sir Francis Drake to achieve trail access. There is a large parking pullout a bit further uphill, but it has been out of commission since the bridge construction commenced -- when the area is cleared out this will be the most logical access point, since you can enter the preserve through a slight footpath which climbs to meet the fire road.
    Begin on the southbound side of Sir Francis Drake. Cautiously walk downhill (toward Fairfax) about 175 feet, then turn right onto the paved road heading to Bothin Youth Group Camp. After about 500 feet, bear right and enter the preserve at the open space gate. Coast live oak, poison oak,and coyote brush line the level multi-use trail. The end of White Hill Fire RoadThis stretch was part of the access route to a railroad tunnel (now sealed) that was built in the early 1900's. At 0.17 mile, just before the property boundary, White Hill Fire Road departs on the right. This and every other junction in this part of the preserve was unsigned on my visit. Turn right.
    The broad multi-use fire road ascends at a moderate grade. You might notice poison oak, California bay, coast live oak, toyon, sagebrush, and madrone along the trail. Spring and summer wildflowers include buckwheat, mule ear sunflowers, and sticky monkeyflower. The rocky trail bends left and keeps climbing, with the grade pushing the limit of a moderate classification. Traffic noise from Sir Francis Drake begins to fade a bit. There are views south to the hills of the Tamarancho Scout Camp property. Two paths break off to the right some yards apart; one of them presumably is the route back down to Sir Francis Drake. Sherwood Forest Fire RoadSome redwoods come into view on the right, sheltered by a small canyon. As the trail continues to ascend, you'll pass through young groves of redwood, with hazelnut and creambush an understory accompaniment to poison oak. A few young Douglas fir are also present. At 0.73 mile an unsigned fire road begins on the right. Continue straight.
    After a few steps, White Hill Fire Road emerges from the woods and levels out along a grassy ridge. There are lovely views south to Mount Tam, and if you walk to the property boundary, at 0.85 mile, you should be able to make out the fire lookout on the top of Barnabe Peak, to the west. Although a well-worn path runs along the fenceline on the left, this is officially the end of White Hill Fire Road, and trails heading south are off-limits. Retrace your steps back to the previous junction, then turn left onto Sherwood Forest Fire Road.View east from Sherwood Forest Fire Road
    The dead-end trail, open to hikers, equestrians, and cyclists, drifts gently downhill through a corridor of coyote brush. There are head-on views of Loma Alta. As Sherwood Forest Fire Road curves right the vegetation shifts to grassland. Traffic noise can be plainly heard, but vehicles traveling Sir Francis Drake are not visible. At 1.22 miles, the fire road crests and ends in a tangle of broom. View east extend to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Retrace your steps back to White Hill Fire Road, then turn left and return to the trailhead.

Total distance: 2.18 miles
Last hiked: Monday, November 4, 2002