Hike 1: Mount Burdell (1) | Novato, CA.

Posted by on Aug 7, 2014 in Dog Hikes | 3 Comments
Hike 1: Mount Burdell (1) | Novato, CA.

Hikers: Nat and Carol (humans) | Willow, Glory, Elvis and Kacee (dogs)

Start Time: 7:00 am, San Carlos trail entrance

Mount Burdell is located in the Novato Valley. Covered in grasslands and Oak Tree groves, its summit rises to 1,558 feet, offering some of the best views in the area.

It is home to many rare species of birds, deer and squirrels and it is often grazed by domestic cattle.



Some trails are more frequented by visitors than others and it offers a varying degree of loops to satisfy everything from leisurely strolls, to intensive, ass-burning climbs.

Dogs are a common sight at Burdell, some of who have been walking these trails together for years.

Burdell is one of those rare places in Marin where you can find some off-leash friendly areas. It is wide and expansive, so you can see well ahead if someone is coming.

On leash areas are marked on the posts located at intersections on most of the trails. Some of the fire roads are off-leash friendly provided you have your dog under voice control at all times.

If cattle, deer and squirrels prove to be too tempting for your dog, then please keep them on leash, especially in the oak groves where these guys tend to hang out.


Though the oak groves offer some welcome shade, this hike is in great part exposed to the sun, so bring a hat, sunscreen and don’t forget your water and snacks. Shoes with good traction are a must here since the terrain can be gravely and loose in the dry season.

There are many trails and loops to be found on Burdell, this one in particular is a nearly 6 mile hike if you include the challenging and steep Old Quarry Trail. If you are just getting started, work your way up to this one guys, both for you and your dog’s sake.



We started early, at 7:00 am to avoid the heat. At this hour, there is a delicious cool mist blanketing the rolling hills and very few (if any) people to be found. Don’t think you’ll get cold and pack fat jacket, you’ll be shedding that within the next 15 minutes. Burdell is always good for calorie burning. You will need a light jacket on the way down from the Quarry Trail summit, when the wind changes and you are damp from sweating on your way up.



From the San Carlos Way trail head, we took a right onto the San Marin Fire Road. Dogs can be off leash here as long as they are under voice control. I normally like to keep Willow on leash for the first mile. It’s a plethora of smells, she’s excited and less likely to pay attention to me. Once we are deeper in and she’s had a chance to relieve herself and I make sure there is no cattle or other people/dogs coming, I let her off to indulge in some zoomies.




Follow this trail and you’ll come across your first hill on your left. This will take you to your first intersection. We made a right onto Salt Lick Fire Road. You get your first flat break here and the terrain smoothes out into Burdell’s signature red dirt. You’ll reach your first set of oak groves here too and find a couple of cattle drinking troughs. Keep your eyes out for cattle at all times, if it’s early enough, you might miss them but at later hours and especially if it’s hot and sunny, they like to hang in the shade.

If your dog enjoys the delicacies of cow poop, but you don’t, then I recommend keeping them on leash and have treats at the ready to reward those “leave it commands!






Our next intersection is Middle Burdell Fire Road, where we made another right. You will come across a cattle gate. If it is closed, you may open it to go through, just make sure you close it behind you, unless you want to be responsible for cows roaming into people’s back yards.

Once you come out of the oak grove you’ll catch a glimpse of the summit to your right. The morning light in this particular spot is stunning.




At this point you have the option of looping back down through the San Carlos Fire Road. In this case, we continued up towards the Old Quarry Trail, which will be marked by a post on your right. Take your time going up this trail, it only gets steeper, narrower and rocky as you go up. The views will be worth it once you reach the top. I have been hiking this trail for years now, and it still kicks my ass; so go easy and carefully. The Quarry Trail is a leashed trail, so make sure and keep your leash handy.




After a nice water/snack break and a chance to catch our breath and take in the views, we started our descent down the Cobblestone Fire Road (take a left  from where you came up).

Your legs and knees will likely be a little tired by now, so watch your step since the name of the trail hints, the terrain can be a little gravelly.




At the bottom of the hill, you’ll come across Middle Burdell Fire Road again, we took a left and followed that all the way down to the San Carlos Fire Road and back to the San Carlos trailhead.

Carol introduced me to this hike, and it is one we lovingly call “The Butt Kicker, and for good reason. It is a lot of work, but it is one of those very satisfying ones. Your body will be sore, but it will have gained so much in terms of sights, strength and experience, as well as shedding a few calories along the way.



Every time we hike with someone, we’ll ask these same questions and share their answers with you. I hope to highlight the things we all share as hiking enthusiasts, while learning from one another and creating a caring community of like-minded people.

In Carol’s Words:

Who are you/ who’s your canine hiking buddy? (names/ dogs age / breed(s))

  • Carol
  • Elvis Presley / 8 yr old Male / Pure-bred Mutt
  • Glory / 4 yr old Female / Lab/Aussie


When and how did you get started hiking together?

I’ve been an avid hiker for years, always having my Mom’s and/or friend’s dogs along for the fun. It just seemed natural to fold Elvis into the mix when I brought him home in 2006. The same went for Glory when we brought her home in 2010.

Why do you like hiking with your dog/ what do (both) get out of it?

I love having the companionship on the hikes. As I find myself hiking solo more times than not, these days, I feel safer having them by my side. They aren’t the biggest dogs (30/40lbs, respectively) but they will certainly protect me when push comes to shove.

I can’t speak for them, but whenever they see me putting on a certain pair of green Merrells they tend to get a wee bit excited (letting out numerous “Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go! squeals) – which tells me they love it just as much as I do. Elvis, perhaps not so much during the rainy season… 😉

It’s also a great time for us to learn and grow.  I’m not a perfect owner and they are not perfect dogs, but together we can try to be our best selves and the time out on the trails (when alone) gives us the opportunity to do so.

What’s your favorite trail to hike and why?

I have so many!  Sticking to my tried and trues…I’d have to say my hands-down favorite is Big Trees (Novato/Wild Horse Valley). It’s like having Lake Tahoe in your own backyard. Green pretty much all year round, and if you go at just the right time – there is a glorious mist that follows you the whole hike.

Second runner-up (which I find myself doing the most) is the Old Quarry Trail on Mt. Burdell (Novato/San Marin).  It’s what I like to call a quick butt-kicker.  The “up” is an all uphill, intense and breathtaking (both literally and figuratively) trek; while the “down” lets you enjoy all the open and vast gorgeousness the mountain has to offer (especially on misty and/or cool mornings).

Lastly is the Pacheco Valle Open Space Preserve (Chicken Shack Fireroad/Big Rock Ridge). Being a fire road, the dogs are able to be off-leash [when suitable].  It’s a constant uphill climb (solid butt kicking) that offers up a bevy of Mother Nature’s surprises with incredible views at the first summit (our usual stopping point) and then allows you to continue all the way into Lucas Valley (making for an incredible day hike).

Do you and your dog have any rituals while hiking? (i.e. we always pack a lunch, we sit at the top for a while etc.)

We usually just enjoy our accomplishment once we hit the top of whatever trail we are climbing, maybe taking a selfie or two to commemorate a job well done.  😛

What is the one thing you would advise other dog hikers?

Just be courteous. Respect the fact that you are not the only ones on the trail (it doesn’t belong to anyone but the squirrels), and not everyone (people and pups) you encounter is interested in a meet and greet. 

See you next time hikers! Hope to see you on the trail. Be safe and be kind to others and help keep our trails enjoyable and protected.


Nat + Willow 

Directions to Mt. Burdell:

South access: from Hwy 101 in Novato, take the exit for San Marin Dr west 2.1 miles. Turn right onto San Carlos Way and follow to end (dead end).

East access: from Hwy 101 in Novato, take the exit for San Marin Dr west, turn right at Redwood Blvd, turn left at Wood Hollow Dr, and turn left at Fieldstone Dr. Trailhead is on the right.

West access: from Hwy 101 in Novato, take the exit for San Marin Dr west 2.3 miles. Turn right onto San Andreas Dr and follow approximately 0.5 miles. The gate is on the right (before dead end).

1 Comment

  1. linda
    August 29, 2014

    your pictures have shown me a whole new mountain. I have taken its beauty for granted. Lesson: look up when hiking Mt.Burdell.. not down looking for snakes!


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