Marin owes its natural charm to an abundance of parks and preserves. While most locals and visitors head to Mount Tamalpais, the Marin Headlands and Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin’s open space preserves are the truly the county’s hidden gems. Five of the best are described below. For complete information, including trail maps, see the Marin County Parks’ website www.marincountyparks.org/Depts/PK/Divisions/Open-Space
Bolinas Lagoon: A wide, shallow lagoon swept by tides, fog and winds, the preserve is a rich coastal habitat for birds and marine mammals. Harbor seals lounge at low tide on exposed mudflats, and egrets and herons wander the shoreline. The lagoon is an important stopover point for birds that migrate along the Pacific flyway. Millions of shorebirds and other waterfowl visit the mudflats and quiet waters each year.
Cascade Canyon: This lush 498-acre preserve near Fairfax protects pristine natural habitat in the Corte Madera Creek watershed. Cascade Falls, at the head of the main canyon, is an especially popular destination in the winter and spring when flows are at their peak. The preserve’s creeks are a wildlife magnet and provide some of the best steelhead trout spawning habitat in the county.
Loma Alta: At 1,592 feet, Loma Alta is one of the highest points in Marin. The ridge divides the four major watersheds of the county and the 509-acre preserve encompasses most of the grass-covered southern slope. The Smith Ridge Fire Road and the steep Gunshot Fire Roads access the summit, which has sweeping views of the Ross and San Geronimo valleys, and San Francisco in the distance. The Loma Alta Fire Road continues north then drops off gradually to the Big Rock trailhead at Lucas Valley Road, an important link in the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
Roy’s Redwoods: Located in the rural San Geronimo Valley, Roy’s Redwoods is a haven for big tree lovers. From the main entrance along Nicasio Valley Road, you enter a picturesque meadow surrounded by bay trees and towering redwoods. From the meadow, choose from a number of shady trails that loop through this 293-acre preserve.
Ring Mountain: This windswept ridge on the Tiburon peninsula rewards you with million-dollar views of San Francisco Bay and southern Marin. Perfect for kite flying, picnicking and trail running, the preserve also shelters ancient Miwok rock carvings, strange circles and shapes, embellishing a large boulder near the summit. The preserve’s unique geology and microclimate provide a home for a number of rare plants, including the Tiburon Mariposa Lily, found nowhere else on earth.