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Home | Hiking with Kids in Marin: Mount Burdell Open Space Preserve

Hiking with Kids in Marin: Mount Burdell Open Space Preserve

Mt Burdell

While not as iconic or tall as southern Marin's Mount Tamalpais, Novato's Mount Burdell offers its own kind of charm and appeal for families looking for an easy outdoor outing. Mount Burdell Open Space preserve boasts plenty of wide fire roads and trails that are perfect for a hike with kids of all ages, as well as some amazing views.

Those after more challenging treks can head uphill and look for the seasonal Hidden Lake, hike to the top of the 1,558-foot peak for amazing views of the San Francisco Bay Area, and even drop down into neighboring Olompali State Historic Park. Mount Burdell is popular with mountain bikers and equestrians, too.

Mt Burdell

Wildflowers of all different colors, like California poppies, buttercups, and Douglas iris,  are making an appearance, and seasonal streams burble and splash their way down the hilside. Keep an eye open for birds of all sorts, including red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, and wild turkeys, as well as a variety of colorful butterflies. Spring is really a magical time of year here!

Mount Burdell wildflowers poppies

One of the great things about Mount Burdell are the many different options you have for a hike here. You can stick to the relatively flat San Marin and Big Tank Fire Roads and Michako Trail, all of which cross the sweeping grasslands that cover the lower slopes of the mountain, or challenge yourself with a hike further up the mountain on the San Andreas Fire Road, where you can continue on to Hidden Lake or ascend to the summit.

Mount Burdell Meadow

Another favorite hike here is the Dwarf Oak Trail, which offers some lovely scenery and great views of the North Bay. You can start this hike on the trailhead on Novato Boulevard, near San Marin High School, and follow the trail onto Mount Burdell, where it intersects with San Andreas Fire Road. Along the way, you'll pass through open grasslands and lush forests. Much of this hike is uphill, but it's a relatively gentle climb and so rewarding!

Mount Burdell Dwarf Oak Trail

The fire roads and intersecting trails make for a good assortment of loop hikes that are suitable for a family with smaller kids who aren't going to be up for climbing up onto the mountain. These trails are popular with hikers, mountain bikers, and dog walkers. Keep in mind that the Marin County Open Space District (MCOSD) allows off-leash dogs under voice control on fire roads.

There's also a chance that you'll encounter a herd of dairy cows while on the trail at Mount Burdell. They're pretty placid animals, but they can be big and intimidating to children, so keep that in mind. Our kids of course always want to run up and say hello to the cows the moment they see them. Make sure you firmly close all the cattle gates that you encounter, lest you inadvertantly cause a bovine breakout.

Mt Burdell

If You Go

The trails on Mount Burdell wind through grasslands and oak and bay forests. Since chance are you won't be in the shade all the time, sun protection in the form of sunscreen and hats is a must, as well as plenty of drinking water. Make sure everyone has masks or other face coverings for when you can't keep a six-foot distance between other groups on the trail.

No water or restroom facilities are available. Keep in mind that rattlesnakes and mountain lions are spotted in the area from time to time, so don't let kids run ahead on the trail ahead of the grownups in the group. Also, make sure you check everyone for ticks after your hike, especially if anyone's been walking off the trail in the tall grass.

Mount Burdell rock formation

There are numerous trailheads in northern Novato that lead onto the Mount Burdell preserve, but the most popular and easily accessible one is near the end of San Andreas Drive. To get there, take Highway 101 to the San Marin/Atherton Avenue exit; go left onto San Marin Drive and follow it to San Andreas Drive, right before the San Marin Plaza shopping center. Turn right on San Andreas and follow it up the hill—you'll probably see cars parked on the side of the road near the clearly marked trailhead.

Mt Burdell

To learn more about Mount Burdell, visit the Marin Parks website, where you can download a handy printable trail map and check out their online field guides to the birds, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals that inhabit the area. The Parks Department also offers naturalist-led Nature for Kids outings on Mount Burdell (currently on hiatus due to COVID-19). They're a great way to introduce the little ones to the great outdoors and learn more about the plants and wildlife that make the preserve their home.