Our hike at Indian Valley Open Space Preserve was 5+ miles of green grass, muddy trails, waterfalls, newts, and wildflowers scattered along the trail! Located in Novato and tucked away in the hills where you find larger ranches and open space, Indian Valley Open Space Preserve is 558 acres of spring hiking bliss! If you are feeling up for a nice easy to moderate hike along some beautiful trails with a seasonal waterfall, this park is perfect!
Indian Valley Open Space Preserve
It has been a bit rainy here in Northern California ALL winter including our arrival at the parking lot at the campus of College of Marin. It had rained well the night before and we knew there would be a chance of rain that morning…we showed up at the parking lot to a complete downpour. Thankfully it only lasted a couple of minutes! We waited in the truck and got our hiking shoes on while the dark cloud above us passed. Following the directions from our AllTrails app, we headed out toward the baseball fields. Passing them we found our way to the Indian Valley trailhead. We opted to hike clockwise and started up Pacheco Pond Fire Road.
Pacheco Pond Fire Road
The slightly muddy trail started off at a moderate an incline which got our blood pumping and muscles warmed up. We followed the curves around the back of the College of Marin campus where the students have a great garden and orchard growing. Heading up the trail we paused several times to enjoy the view of the trail. At about a mile in you reach Pacheco Pond. As we approached we heard plop plop in the water. Frogs were jumping in from the shore as we got closer to them! The rain had started back up again so we stayed under the shelter of an oak tree as we admired the pond and a couple of ducks cruising across it.
Have you been on a trail and realized that the destination (in this case a waterfall) is not the most spectacular part of the hike? The views of the trail were so great with the wild irises growing in clumps along the trail, the yellow wildflowers dotting the grass and sides of the trails and the oaks leafing out. Spring in all her glory was present along the entire trail!
After Pacheco Pond, the trail became slightly more narrow and the lovely switchbacks started. It did not feel like we were climbing at all until we reached the junction with Jack Burgi trail and the tree cover opened up to cloudy skies above and tiny views of the bay in the distance. Dropping down a bit from here we were once again enveloped by the tree canopy and found our way to Ken Harth Waterfall Trail…yes, this is where the waterfall is!
Winding our way through bay and oaks trees we followed the trail up and down stone steps all the while following the flowing creek. At this point, we hadn’t encountered another soul on the trails and it felt like we had the entire Indian Valley Open Space Preserve to ourselves! Per the map on Marin County Parks website, we knew the waterfall was close and we could hear it but couldn’t quite see it.
We had hopped over the creek several times along the trail and came upon a spot where the rock below our feet was smooth and the creek was flowing over. Following the Water trail, we hopped across and peered down the 10′ foot waterfall that was flowing down this smooth rock! We had found it! Yes, sometimes we feel like we discover new places when we hike even though they are clearly marked on the park map! 🙂
Enjoying the sound of water flowing over the side and dropping into the creek below we followed the trail down to the base of the waterfall. The rock was so smooth and was one giant rock instead of multiple boulders with water rushing over. It made a softer more soothing sound. Avoiding the poison oak around the trail to the creek we hopped onto rocks in the middle of the creek and admired this beauty. Since the rock was so smooth and the water wasn’t gushing over the side it sort of made the rock look like it was melting. Check out the pics below!
Our first encounter with other life was a dog that came rushing down into the creek to join us followed by his parents. They were there to check out the waterfall also and we exchanged turns taking photos of each other with the waterfall in the background. Wishing we could have just hung out on a rock and stayed longer we said our good-bye’s and made our way up Susan Alexander Trail.
The Susan Alexander trail was narrow with poison oak reaching out from the grasses to try and grab us. Wildflowers were popping up through the grasses as well making it a slow go for us. Between admiring the flowers and trying to avoid the poison oak our split pace was pretty slow! This leg of the hike was short. The Susan Alexander trail drops you off on the Witzel trail. There are 2 ways to get back down to Indian Valley Fire Road both on the Witzel Trail. We took the bigger loop that meets the Buzzard Burn Fire Road.
Climbing a little higher on the Witzel trail gave us some pretty spectacular views as we reached a couple of the clearings along the trail. The manzanita, bay and oak trees were so pretty up there! We had to stop along the trail when we saw this huge, gnarly oak spreading out its crazy branches in every direction with lush grass and wildflowers below and views beyond. Not sure which part of the hike was our favorite. Can all of it be our favorite? After admiring the mighty oak, we headed down the nice wide Buzzard Burn Fire Road.
The fire road was a bit steep with a 20% grade at some spots. More and more people were on the trails here so we knew we were getting close to Indian Valley Trail.
Indian Valley Trail
It was like reaching civilization again when we hung a right on Indian Valley Trail, the final part of our loop hike, seeing so many people out on the trails. The rain had passed and people were out and about again! This part of the trail is wide, flat, and hugs the curves of the small creek that runs through. Still mostly shaded, this area is lush and green! Dogs walking along with their owners, signs of horse hoof prints in the dirt, mountain bikers ringing their bells and people of all ages were walking this path.
Indian Valley Open Space Preserve is a wonderful park to enjoy a beautiful easy stroll through the forest or make it into a longer moderate hike up into the hills. Go check it out for yourself! I hear spring is one of the best times to go because of the wildflowers but it would be great year-round with all the tree cover it would help keep you cool during the hot summer months.
Parking is $4 at the Indian Valley Campus College of Marin, there are kiosks to pay with cash or card. Bathrooms are at the baseball field. Guessing about 75% shade, dogs on leash ok, easy to moderate hike at 5.2 miles with 879 feet elevation gain/loss. Downtown Novato has some great places to eat! We weren’t too hungry so we stopped and grabbed a hot coffee to warm ourselves up and headed back home.
Things We Love
Having the right gear is so important to us! It can be expensive but if you buy quality gear that is right for your body and is versatile it is totally worth it! We love our Osprey backpacks for our day hikes! They are fully adjustable for height (definitely read the instructions when you get it so you can fit it to your body) and the hip straps are super comfortable. They hold quite a bit with a spot for a water bladder and a pocket on both sides for water bottles or whatever you want to put in there. Love all the pockets and storage this pack has to offer and also love the colors it comes in. For our rainy day hike we pulled out the bright green rain cover and our pack stayed completely dry. We’ve had these for over a year now and still look brand new! Yes, we take care of them but we also use them EVERY weekend and no signs of wear and tear yet!
Click on the link below to head on over to Amazon and see them for yourself! Let us know in the comments which pack you have and what you love about it! We are always looking for other opinions and suggestions on gear!