San Francisco: North

The Parks and Preserves of Novato

Robert Dollar Trail Google Street View
Fire Road in Indian Valley. Google Street View

In Novato and just west of Highway 101 is a series of parks and preserves that combine for thousands of acres of open space. There are wonderful running options in the mountains here, especially on the extensive fire roads that feature good good footing as they pass through grasslands, meadows, scrub, and some forested sections. Note the terrain is generally hilly — hard to find a level route! There are so many options in this area it’s hard to map specific routes. But here are a few recommendations.

Loma Verde, Ignacio Valley, Pacheco Valle, and Indian Valley form 3,000 acres of contiguous open space. Best bets for running:

  • Pacheco Valle: Chicken Shack Fire Road (narrower) is a 3.2 mile, 700-foot, steep uphill climb to Big Rock Ridge, through oak woodlands with views of Mount Burdell and Mount Tam. You can continue along Big Rock Fire Ridge Rd. (wider) for another 3.5 miles, climbing another 1,000 feet, through Loma Verde, Ignacio Valley, and Lucas Valley. ROUTE MAP
  • Indian Valley Preserve. More shaded, gentle terrain here. A nice route is to combine the Ad and Gloria Schwindt Trail with the Indian Valley Fire Rd. and the Pacheco Pond Trail (~3.5 miles one-way).   TRAIL MAP
Indian Valley Rd. Google Street View

Little Mountain Open Space Preserve/Verissimo Hills/Stafford Lake. Located a few miles west of Indian Valley, there are several hundred acres of trails, plus a multi-use path and some decent roads for running. It’s one of the better spots for a more level route. Here’s a scenic run of up to 11 miles, divided into a few sections. Park at the end of Kathleen Drive. ROUTE MAP (Up to 11 miles, 680 foot gain):

  • 1 mile along Doe Hill Fire Rd., for a 2-mile out and back
  • Then, take the path through Ohair Park for 0,5 miles to Novato Blvd.
  • Multi-use path paralleling Novato Blvd. for 2.5 miles to Stafford Lake Park
  • Option: from Novato Blvd., take Indian Valley Rd. to the Indian Valley Golf Club. 2.6 miles out and back on a quiet, scenic road, with views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
  • Alternatively, park at Stafford Lake Park and combine a few miles of the multi-use path and Indian Valley Rd.

For more challenge, there are hundreds of acres of additional fire roads in the adjacent Verissimo Hills, and also just south of Little Mountain Preserve at the Big Trees hiking area into the Indian Tree Open Space Preserve, where hilly trails lead through grasslands & redwood groves.