Like Tiburon's Ring Mountain and Limantour Beach at Point Reyes, Novato's Mount Burdell Open Space Preserve escaped death by housing development through the efforts of conservation-minded citizens. So give thanks to your visionary neighbors as you enjoy a moderate, 3.5-mile loop hike on the preserve's main fire roads or a steeper mile-long spur with suburbia-minimizing views of open ridgelands, San Pablo Bay, and Mount Diablo on the way to the 1,558-foot summit.
The fire roads traverse rolling terrain, encircling expansive meadows, ducking into the aromatic shade of oak-bay groves, and skirting Hidden Lake, a shallow acre of ephemeral water teeming with vocal tree frogs during the rainy season. Serpentine rock outcrops along the preserve's lower Michako Trail, which begins an easy quarter-mile walk from the San Andreas Drive trailhead, support some of the best wildflower displays on the mountain. In a good year, yellow goldfields, orange poppies, purple royal larkspurs, pink owl's clovers, and many others adorn the lower slopes. Official trails are well marked, but the numerous bootleg trails can be confusing, so download a map from the Marin County Open Space District website. Also check for guided walks in winter and spring through the district and the California Native Plant Society's Marin Chapter.
Getting there: Exit Highway 101 at Atherton Avenue/San Marin Drive, turn west on San Marin for 2.2 miles to San Andreas Drive, turn right, and proceed 0.6 miles to the staging area on the right. Park on the street. No facilities.
Hike by Sue Rosenthal, originally published in the April 2008 issue of Bay Nature magazine