Hiking with Kids in Marin: Deer Island Open Space Preserve
July 20, 2011Posted by pamela |
One of the great things about living in Marin is that you're never far from open space and nature. A favorite Marin spot for a quick outdoor getaway is Deer Island Open Space Preserve in Novato. Just a few minutes away from Highways 101 and 37 it's a calm oasis of nature that's perfect for a short and easy hike with children.
Despite its name, Deer Island really isn't an island. It used to be at one time, but now it's a hill surrounded only by seasonal wetlands. The 135-acre preserve boasts two main trails, the Deer Island Loop Trail, which circles the preserve, and the De Borba Trail, which goes up and over the hill. Two short spur trails take you to other parts of the preserve.
The 1.8-mile Deer Island Loop Trail is relatively flat and even with only minor elevation changes and is good for families with kids. It passes through grasslands and oak and bay forest, and provides plenty of stunning vistas of northern Marin, including wetlands and Novato Creek. There's even a tumbled-down old farm to look at along the way. You'll see plenty of birds, either in the trees and sky overhead or in the nearby creek and ponds (where we saw a white pelican swimming around placidly). Wildflowers abound here in the spring, and we actually saw plenty while hiking here in the middle of summer.
Deer Island is a popular place, and you're bound to run into other hikers, runners, and dog-walkers on your visit; bicycles are not allowed, however. Make sure you bring plenty of drinking water, as there's neither water nor restroom facilities nearby. Hats and sunblock are advised, too, since much of the trail winds its way through open grassland before entering the forest shade. There's also plenty of poison oak along the trail as it passes through the forest, so keep an eye open and remember the saying "leaves of three, let them be." Also remember to check everyone for ticks after your hike, especially if anyone has gone off the trail into the grass.
To get to Deer Island Open Space Preserve. take Highway 101 to the Atherton Avenue exit in Novato. Head east on Atherton Avenue, then turn right onto Olive Avenue. Follow Olive Avenue until you reach Deer Island Lane, then turn left. Go about a quarter mile and you'll see the trailhead and parked cars on your right. Like all Marin County Open Space District preserves, entry and parking is free.
Before you go, make sure you visit the Marin County Open Space District's Deer Island page to download a printable trail map, and to check out their open space field guide to get an idea of the kinds of birds, butterflies, and animals you might run into on your outing.