Home > Golden Gate Transit, Hike, North Bay > Bayside Marin: Las Gallinas Wildlife Ponds and McInnis County Park

Bayside Marin: Las Gallinas Wildlife Ponds and McInnis County Park

February 19, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

This bayside Marin hike is a nice option for winter, with plenty of birds and little mud, and also a great summer outing when the temperatures rise at inland parks. A variety of land uses can be observed on this tour, which passes wildlife ponds, sanitary district facilities, remnants of a Nike missile site, an old Air Force base, hunting blinds, an air strip, a skate park, golf course, and other recreational facilities.

Places visited: Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District Wildlife Ponds, McInnis County Park
Approximate Length: 9.5 miles
Hiking time: 5 hours
Map: None online; see Google Map below
Terrain: Mostly flat with a couple of easy climbs, dirt and gravel paths
Transit schedule: Golden Gate Transit 70/80
Start and end point: Lucas Valley Bus Pad

Getting to the start point:

  • From San Francisco, take Golden Gate Transit Route 70 or 80 bus from Mission Street and 1st Street (stop is right in front of the Walgreens on Mission). You can also pick up Route 70/80 at different points along its route along Mission, up Van Ness, and west on Lombard to the Golden Gate Bridge. Check the current San Francisco System map to see if there is a stop closer to you. Take the Route 70/80 to the Lucas Valley Bus Pad.
  • From the Peninsula and South Bay, take Caltrain to the final San Francisco stop. Walk on 3rd Street towards Market, turn right on Mission, to the Golden Gate Transit stop at Mission and 1st. Or, from BART, take a San Francisco BART train to Montgomery Street station. Exit the station, walk Market Street towards the water/ferry building, turn right on 1st Street, and walk one block to the corner of Mission and 1st. Take the Golden Gate Transit Route 70 or 80 bus from here (stop is right in front of the Walgreens on Mission) to the Lucas Valley Bus Pad.
  • From the East Bay, take a San Francisco BART train to Embarcadero station. Walk on Market Street away from the water/ferry building to 1st Street, turn left on 1st Street and walk one block to the corner of Mission and 1st. Take the Golden Gate Transit Route 70 or 80 bus from here (stop is right in front of the Walgreens on Mission) to the Lucas Valley Bus Pad.
  • From the North Bay: Take Golden Gate Transit Route 70, 71 or 80 from any of the stops along its route. If you are coming from Petaluma/Cotati/Rohnert Park/Santa Rosa, you will be taking Route 80. From locations in Novato, San Rafael, and Marin City, you can take any of the three buses. Get off at the Lucas Valley Bus Pad.

Notes:

  • This trip includes a full tour of Las Gallinas and McInnis Park. If you enjoy bird watching, you a may want to return and try different routes around the ponds. If you end up spending a lot of time at the ponds, you may with to skip the loop through McInnis Park. To do this after exiting McInnis across the stone bridge, just reverse the beginning of the directions and head back the way you came instead of turning in at the Bay Trail.
  • This hike can be done year-round, with winter being especially good for bird watching. There is one short section at the start of the Bay Trail around McInnis that can be muddy after heavy rains. However, the rest of the route is on graveled and/or raised levee paths that stay relatively dry.
  • This is a good hike for a picnic lunch; there are plenty of benches and picnic tables at different points in this route. There are a couple of restaurants on Smith Ranch Road, but otherwise not too many food options along the route.
  • Getting to the southbound Lucas Valley Bus Pad is a bit confusing due to poor signage. Be sure to read the end of the directions for this route so that you do not make any dangerous crossing of freeway on-ramps.

Directions:

  • From the transit stop, turn right to start walking east on Smith Ranch Road.
  • Continue along the sidewalk, passing offices and businesses, until you see sports fields on your left.
  • Turn left at the McInnis County Park sign, onto the dirt path beside the road.
  • Shortly, turn right and head up the next street, passing a golf course on your right.
  • At the top of the road, turn left through the parking lot and head towards the tennis courts. (You also have the option here of going up and over the hill on stairs. When you get to the top, stay left and head along the trail that meets up with road running past the skate park.)
  • Turn right at the path in front of the tennis courts.
  • Pass through a parking lot and past a skate park on your left, and continue straight up the dirt road.
  • At the top of the road are remains of a Nike missile site that you may wish to explore before continuing on. At this point, you can also see down to the marsh area below (your destination from here).
  • When ready continue down the path as it curves right and left.
  • At the bottom, pass through a gate and maintenance yard. Do not turn right towards the golf course, but instead continue through the lot.
  • Pass through a second gate on the other side of the maintenance yard and out to the street.
  • Pass a sign to the Bay Trail on your right, but continue straight.
  • Turn right just before the Las Gallinas parking lot, crossing over a stone bridge.
  • Continue straight on the path, passing a first pond with a wildlife island in the center.
  • Continue straight past the next two junctures.
  • Continue following the trail as it curves left and then right.
  • At the juncture, head right.
  • Continue straight until the trail ends at the edge of former Hamilton Air Force Base.
  • Turn around here and head back the way you came.
  • At the juncture, turn right.
  • Follow the trail as it continues straight and then veers left towards the ponds.
  • At the juncture stay right to continue around the ponds.
  • Continue to stay to the right, keeping the ponds on your left, and make your way around the outer edge of the ponds.
  • At the final pond, you will see the wildlife island in the center of the pond again.
  • Turn left to go around the last pond.
  • Turn right and head back over the stone bridge.
  • Turn left at the road.
  • Turn left at the Bay Trail sign that you passed earlier.
  • Head straight out on the dirt trail. If it has rained recently, this section may be a bit muddy. Shortly, however, you will be through this section.
  • Veer right and up onto the raised and narrower levee trail.
  • Turn right at the next intersection (straight heads out towards the neighborhood and eventually meets up again with your trail; however, the suggested route is shorter and travels through an interesting marshy area).
  • Turn right at the T intersection. In front of you just before you turn is a bench and a view of the airstrip.
  • After turning right, continue on the trail, passing the golf course on your right.
  • After passing the parking lot past the golf course, turn right and head towards the road.
  • Cross to the other side of the street and turn left. (It is easier to walk on this side of the road).
  • Continue straight at the intersection, crossing street and then the railroad tracks and the next street.
  • Continue straight on Smith Ranch Road, back towards the bus pad.
  • At Redwood, cross to the opposite side of Smith Ranch Road and continue on Smith Ranch towards the bus pad.
  • Carefully cross the freeway on/off ramps and cross underneath the freeway.
  • At the light, cross halfway and turn left at the pathway.
  • Follow the path as it curves left (the freeway cloverleaf will be on your left) and meets up with the southbound Lucas Valley Bus Pad. Congratulations, you made it!
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  1. February 20, 2010 at 6:55 am

    can you provide some information on the photograph?

    • February 21, 2010 at 3:55 pm

      Georgia – The hawk in the photo is one of many birds that can be seen on this hike. I took some photos of some of the other birds that were out in the ponds, but I don’t have much of a zoom lens. With this one I was able to get close enough to take its photo as it took off. The hawks at Las Gallinas (in winter) were flying quite low to the ground compared to the hawks flying high overhead that one typically sees in the Marin Headlands during the fall.

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