Hikers: Nat and Bill (humans) | Willow and Niner (dogs)
Start Time: 7:00 am, Vineyard Road trail entrance
Indian Tree Open Space Preserve is located in west Novato, at the end of a quiet neighborhood on Vineyard road. This is a hike for tree lovers, as the trails ascend through dense groves of oak, bay and madrone, rewarding you with a lush redwood forest at the top of the mountain. We love this hike, and the Big Trees trail in particular, because of all that wonderful shade, cool temperatures and fog that kisses the mountain tops, making it a delight for the dogs and perfect hiking weather for humans.
This hike does have its share of steep ups and downs, but overall it is welcoming to all levels of hikers. This particular hike we mapped though is long, at 9 miles. So pack food and water for you and your dogs, take breaks and just enjoy yourself. Some of the narrower switchback trails do have poison oak on either side, so make sure you keep your dogs on leash and stay on the trails. Should you get any on you, don’t forget your handy Tecnu from our list of Hiking Essentials!
We started our hike at the mouth of Upper Meadow Trail, accessible through Vineyard Road. Dogs must be on leash on the trails and can be off provided they are under good voice command on the fire roads. Cyclists are not permitted on these trails, but depending on the time of day, you will come across other hikers and horses too.
We followed Upper Meadow Trail passing through fields of little wildflowers and into a wooded area that leads you down to your first glimpse of Indian Tree’s redwoods. The trails are narrow for the first part, so be courteous and get your dogs safely to the side to let other hikers and horses by. Our borrowed dog, Niner, whom we were babysitting for the weekend, has a very handy “perch” trick, giving him a job to do, balancing on rocks, tree stumps or anything available.
Teaching your dogs to perch on things is great for balance, it keeps their mind busy and working and most importantly when hiking, it gets your dog safely out of the way of others. This trick is especially nice if your dog is unsure about meeting other dogs, people or horses, or if the afore mentioned are nervous about your dog approaching them. Plus, it makes for a great way to practice your “stay” commands, they make for great photo opportunities and my favorite part, a fun thing to do for your dog, for which he will receive some yummy treats.
Do take some time to enjoy this first Redwood grove, do yourself a favor and look up!
We continued our way up Deer Camp Trail and began to work our way up the mountain. The ecosystem changes here on these switchbacks, and if you are as appreciative of moss as I am, this trail will not disappoint.
As you work your way up the switchbacks, you’ll get your first glimpse of the views this hike has to offer. At a signed junction, Upper Meadow Trail meets Big Trees Trail, we continued up Big Trees Trail which will be on your left.
Follow Big Trees Trail and prepare to enjoy the jewel of the mountain, a true Ewok forest (any Star Wars fans here?). This area is almost always moist and it is a welcome relief from all the work you have done on the climb. The light in this particular portion, is the stuff that dreams are made of for me. Mood, shade, fog contrasted by rays of light… Pinch me.
The Redwood grove spits you out into an open field and another junction. This is a great point to pull out the snacks and water (if you haven’t already) and take a breather enjoying the shade and cool weather. It is blissfully quiet up here, save for the birdsong above the giants. Let your dogs rest and sniff to their delight, but always be alert to other hikers and horses in particular.
When you are ready, rested and refueled, you can take Indian Tree Fire Road (on your left) all the way down, looping back to Upper Meadow Trail. Dogs can be off leash on the fire road, but please be respectful and kind and if you see or hear others coming, call your dogs and leash them up or step off to the side until they pass. Taking the switchback trails all the way down will make for an easy, but longer hike, so make sure you are prepared for that (food and water-wise). In all, we did the whole thing at a leisurely pace in about 9 miles and close to 4 hours. I will map a shorter route on a future hike, but if you have time and want a relaxed and shaded hike in a gorgeous setting, I recommend this one for sure.
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 Indian Tree:
From Hwy 101 in Novato, take the exit for San Marin Dr west 2.7 miles. San Marin Dr turns into Sutro Ave at Novato Blvd. Follow Sutro Ave 1 mile, turn right at Vineyard Rd and follow 1 mile. Trailhead is on the left where the paved road becomes a dirt road.