Novato's Rush Creek Open Space Preserve provides a unique opportunity to walk or bike near undeveloped marshland in the San Francisco Estuary. It is a very popular spot for families, dog walkers, bird watchers, native plant enthusiasts, cyclists and equestrians.
The preserve is home to hundreds of waterfowl that make their winter home here. The coves and inlets provide shelter from the weather, and the marsh waters and grasses provide abundant food. This area has habitat for several endangered species of birds, including the San Pablo song sparrow, California black rail, salt marsh common yellowthroat, and the California clapper rail. The hills are beautiful also, vivid green with burgeoning wildflowers. We saw irises budding, as well as shooting stars, milkmaids and buttercups. Bring your binoculars and some shoes that you don't mind getting muddy, and head out for a beautiful hike or bike.
The route that we suggest is to enter the park at the Atherton Avenue at Bugeia Lane entrance, and head along Pinheiro Fire Road next to the Valley Memorial Park cemetery. The Binford Road (frontage road) entrance is very muddy this time of year.
The trail takes about half a mile to come to the serene and beautiful Cemetery Marsh, with ducks, marsh and shore birds easily viewable. From there, take a right to go on the Rush Creek Fire Road to a four-way junction at the head of the marsh. Take the center fire road that follows the topography along Rush Creek and the Petaluma River Marsh Wildlife Area (California Dept. of Fish and Game). The road turns into a trail that was developed in 2003 when Marin County Open Space District (MCOSD) was able to purchase 200 additional acres to expand the open space.
The trail, called Bahia Trail, is a fun up-and-down multi-use track with vistas through the trees to the numerous inlets along the marsh and out to Black John Slough. There are several places where unofficial paths lead to the water's edge and provide possible picnic spots. Planes from nearby Gnoss Air Field buzz by frequently. We saw some cool aerobatics flown by a little red stunt plane out over the water.
The trail signs direct your route to the end of Bahia Trail at the end of Bahia Drive. From there we turned around to go back and quickly caught a small unsigned single track on the left to climb up to the Bahia Ridge Trail fire road to take us back. This ridge route takes you through a rare stand of Blue Oaks. The grassy oak studded ridge looking out to the north bay provides a unique experience. The ridge trail comes back to Cemetery Marsh at the four way junction. From there it is a short retracing of your steps to the car.
See the book "Hiking Marin: 141 Great Hikes in Marin County" for more details. Click here to go the Marin Trails website, where you can find more information about the book.