Family Hike to Pacheco Pond at Indian Valley Open Space Preserve
For a fun, easy, and educational hike that's perfect for families with small children, head to Novato's Indian Valley Open Space preserve and hit the trail to Pacheco Pond, which is especially appealing in the late winter and spring. During this time of year. you can find additional seasonal ponds elsewhere along the trail—they dry up in the summer and reappear after the winter rains. In addition to the short trek to the pond, the 885-acre preserve boasts a number of different intersecting trails which can be combined to make hikes of varying length, if you're up for something longer and more strenuous. Trails range from flat and easy (the kind that our kids like) to steep and hilly.
Start your hike at the far end of College of Marin's Indian Valley Campus and walk past the baseball fields. Follow path to the open space gate and trailhead, and take the first left onto the Pacheco Pond Trail just after the gate. Follow the trail up and over the hill. Alternatively, you can take the path to the Indian Valley Organic Farm and Garden and walk around the garden to intercept Pacheco Pond Trail and bypass the hill. If you're there on Wednesdays, make sure you pack a shopping bag or two—the farm is open selling fresh organic produce at bargain prices from 10 am to 3 pm.
Much of the trail is shaded by oaks, California Bay Laurels, and madrones, making it a pleasant hike on hot days. The Pacheco Pond Trail is a multi-use one that is open to hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians, so chances are you'll run into horses at some point. You'll also find a lot of dog walkers on the Indian Valley trails, and off-leash dogs are allowed on the fire roads.
Pacheco Pond is a placid little body of water replete with reeds, ducks, and a variety of different aquatic critters. It's a popular spot with local schoolchildren, and it's home to species like Western Toads, Pacific Treefrogs, newts, salamanders, and a wide array of insects. To get the complete rundown on all the critters that live here and elsewhere in the Indian Valley Open Space Preserve, make sure you visit the Marin County Open Space District's website for their online Open Space Field Guides (links are located at the bottom of the page). They're a great way to prepare your little naturalist for their outdoor outings.
If you continue on the Waterfall Trail up the hill, you'll end up at—you guessed it—a seasonal waterfall. The Waterfall Trail loops back and meets up with the Indian Valley Fire Road, which will take you back to the trailhead. For more information, access to the Open Space Field Guides, and printable trail maps, visit the Marin County Open Space District online.
To get there, take 101 to Ignacio Boulevard, and follow it west into the College of Marin's Indian Valley Campus. Drive to the end of the road; you can park at the far lot near the campus police station. The lot is free on weekends and holidays, but you need to buy a parking permit ($3, quarters only) during the week at one of the permit dispensers. The ball fields and path to the trailhead is just west of this parking lot. You'll also find restrooms and drinking fountains here.
You can also park for free off of Indian Valley Road in Novato, where you can hike approximately one mile on the Indian Valley Fire Road to where it meets the Pacheco Pond Trail.
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