What’s Best: Native woodlands on the wild, north face of Big Rock Ridge, with trails visited more by wildlife than people.
Parking: Two access options, depending on hike selected, both north of Marinwood and south of Hwy. 37 on Hwy. 101: Take Alameda de Prado exit just north of Marinwood. Or take the Bel Marin Keys-Ignacio Blvd. exit and go west on Ignacio Blvd. Agency: Marin County Open Space District
Three adjacent Open Space Preserves Pacheco Valle, Loma Verde, and Ignacio Valley, totaling 1,618 acres provide access to shoulders and ravines on the shady side of Big Rock Ridge. These steep woodlands and creek meadows that give way to bay wetlands were for 3,000 years the sites of Coast Miwok villages. Coast Miwok lived all over what is now Marin County, but these temperate bay-woodland environs were particularly desirable set on fresh streams in open valleys, with a backdoor entrance to the hills and a front door facing tidelands.
Alameda del Prado hikes: Chicken Shack Fire Road climbs a tree-shaded 1,300 feet to its terminus at Big Rock Ridge. Parking: Begin at Clay Court, which is right across from the freeway on-ramp for Alameda del Prado. The first part of the walk is up a paved easement that passes by a tennis club. You then walk up a fairly steep grade through sparsely growing oaks, reaching a first rise, where the road bends norhtward. Via Escondida Road joins from the right. Spaced between .25-mile to 1.25 miles from the Via Escondida junction are several trail junctions: Little Cat Road is first on your left; then Pebble Beach Road on the right; Halloween Trail, also on the right; and, finally Ponti Road coming up from the left. You’ll have to drop through a saddle to reach the end of Chicken Shack, another .5-mile away. A half-mile later, Chicken Shack ends at the ridge, at a three-way junction with the Queenstone Fire Road. To stroll with the deer in oak woodlands to a waterfall try the Pacheco Creek Trail. Parking: Go left from the freeway exit on Alameda del Prado. Then go right on Pacheco Creek Drive. Heading into the narrowing valley, look for the trailhead at the end of the drive. The inviting trail amid stately oaks crosses the creek several times. The going gets sketchy as the trail starts to climb, but you’ll want to continue a short distance to a waterfall, a good one to visit after rains. You can continue up the steep ravine deer do but it becomes very steep and overgrown, and you are not a deer.
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Ignacio Boulevard hikes: The Halloween Trail is a steep and sometimes rugged ascent toward a view ridge through a woodland garden. Parking: Turn left from Ignacio Boulevard on Carnoustie Drive. Then go right on Burning Tree Drive. Park on-street at Obertz Lane, at the MCOSD sign. The trail begins at the property line of a trophy home, gaining elevation from the get-go and quickly entering a grove of wavy, deep-maroon manzanita “burning trees.” Overall, the trail makes its 600-foot climb in several steep pitches, reaching flatter grasslands in between, where you might spot wildflowers.
The hike up Pebble Beach Fire Road penetrates mixed woodland trees to a view spot on the ridge. Parkng: Turn left off Ignacio on Fairway Drive. Then make your first left on Alameda de la Loma and your first right, on Pebble Beach Drive, which you take to the top to a MCOSD gate. The road climbs at a reasonable grade through oaks, offering tree-filtered views of the baylands. After less than .5-mile, the Winged Foot Road comes in from the right, which is accessed from the paved road of the same name off Fairway Drive. Keep left, dropping through a saddle to the final steep push up to Chicken Shack Fire Road having gained a net 400 feet during the mile-long hike.
Bike: For a meaty woodland ride, try the Ponti-Pebble Beach loop, which takes you on 5 different roads on a 7-mile swing through the Loma Verde and Pacheco Valle open spaces. Start at Pebble Beach Fire Road as per hiking description. After the first 1.25 miles and 400-foot climb, go right on Chicken Shack Fire Road, grinding up 700 feet over a mile-long stretch. Then hang a left down Ponti Fire Road, reaching Pacheco Creek Road after 1.5 miles. Ride surface streets out Pacheco Creek and continue on Alameda del Prado. Turn left across from the freeway on-ramp, near Clay Court, heading up past the tennis club to get on Chicken Shack Fire Road. Take Chicken Shack up for 1.25 mile climbing 500 feet to where you veer right and come down Via Escondida Fire Road. Keep left on the way down, and then go left on Alameda de la Loma, which you ride back to the Pebble Beach trailhead.
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