Summiting Marin’s Mount Burdell isn’t on many bucket lists, but it should be, especially when a good rain scrubs the sky clean and the sun comes out a day or two after. At just over 1,500 feet, it’s the highest peak in north Marin, and the summit payoff is plentiful. Starting from a simple staging area off a residential road in Novato, the moderate 5.5-mile (round-trip) trail meanders across green hills studded with barren oak trees whose craggy and leafless branches look like something out of a Tim Burton movie. Hop across seasonal streams before ascending the mountain by way of a narrow and forested gorge. After a bit more than 2 miles, you’ll reach the gently rounded peak.
Take a little time to explore the top of Mount Burdell; rocks were mined up here to make San Francisco’s cobblestone streets. There aren’t any 360-degree views, but there are multiple vantage points, including views of the Petaluma River, Mount Saint Helena, and Mount Diablo. Descend via the Cobblestone Fire Road, passing Hidden Lake, whose waters are teeming with busy and noisy frogs.
Print a map before you go. Driving from Hwy. 101 in Marin, exit San Marin Dr./Atherton Ave. Go west on San Marin Dr. for 2.5 miles, then make a right on San Andreas Dr. Follow it to the end and park. Enter the open space gate and take the trail right (the wide fire road that goes straight is what you’ll come down.) In 0.4 mile, turn left at the signed Michako Trail. Cross a couple of streams, and in 1 mile take the San Carlos Fire Road left. In 1.3 miles, take Old Quarry Trail left and continue uphill. Nearly at the top is Burdell Fire Road. Turn right and go 0.25 mile to a great view, or take an unsigned trail uphill to the rock wall for great northern views. Hike down the Cobblestone Fire Road. After a mile is Hidden Lake. Go right on Middle Burdell Fire Road. After a half-mile, the trail merges with San Andreas Fire Road, which takes you back to the staging area. Dog-friendly!