While not as iconic, renowned, or tall as southern Marin's Mount Tamalpais, Novato's Mount Burdell offers its own kind of charm and appeal for families looking for an easy outdoor outing. Mount Burdell Open Space preserve boasts plenty of wide fire roads and trails that are perfect for a hike with small children. Those after more challenging treks can head uphill and look for the seasonal Hidden Lake, hike to the top of the 1,558-foot peak for amazing views of the San Francisco Bay Area, and even drop down into neighboring Olompali State Historic Park.
Wildflowers of all different colors are beginning to make an appearance, and seasonal streams burble and splash their way down the hilside. Keep an eye open for birds of all sorts, including red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, and wild turkeys, as well as a variety of colorful butterflies. Late winter and early spring is really a magical time of year here!
One of the things I love most about winter in Marin is being able to hike to a beautiful waterfall, and when it rains families have many to choose from. The waterfalls in our list here all involve hikes of varying length, and all are perfect destinations for a family outdoor outing. There's something for hikers of every ability here.
All of these waterfalls are at their most spectacular after the big rainstorms we've been having this winter. This also means the trails will be pretty muddy, so make sure you put on the rain boots and dress the kiddos in something that you don't mind getting dirty. Here are four of our favorite Marin waterfall hikes, in order of difficulty (although all of them are family friendly). All but one of these hikes (Cataract Falls on Mt. Tamalpais) are on lands administered by Marin County Parks; visit their website for more info and to download printable trail maps for each preserve.
When it rains, we love to head outdoors and take a waterfall hike! Hikes with the family are especially fun when there's something exciting to see at the end of the trail, like a rushing waterfall. Marin's waterfalls are some of the county's hidden treasures, and are best appreciated when they're running full force in winter and spring. The Fairway Waterfall, also known as Arroyo de San Jose Waterfall, is a seasonal waterfall that can be found on a trail at the end of Fairway Drive, in Novato's Country Club neighborhood.
The trail to the Fairway waterfall is short and easy and the trailhead is conveniently located, so it's a perfect hike for kids. So bundle up, put on those puddle stompers and raincoats, and head outdoors for a waterfall hike! After our recent winter storms, the waterfall is flowing in full force, so you will not be disappointed.
Just north of Novato, on the eastern slopes of Mount Burdell, lies Olompali State Historic Park. This gem of a local resource is often overlooked by families as they drive by on Highway 101, but it's well worth a visit. With miles of hiking trails, historic sites spanning 8,000 years of human habitation, and sweeping views of the Petaluma River Valley, Olompali has much to offer for visitors of all ages.
The story of Olompali starts with the Coast Miwoks, who lived on the site for thousands of years. Olompali was one of the primary Miwok settlements in Northern California until the 1850s. At the park, you'll find evidence of their presence here in the form of a "Kitchen Rock", a large stone used as a mortar by the Miwok people to grind acorns and seeds, and a reconstructed village with redwood bark and tule reed kotchas—traditional Coast Miwok dwellings. There's also a native plant garden with educational panels describing how the Miwok used each plant for food or medicinal purposes.
When the rains comes down like it has recently, it's time to gather up the kids, put on the rain boots, and hike to a waterfall in Marin. One of our favorite local waterfall hikes is the Waterfall Trail at Indian Valley Open Space Preserve in Novato, a short and easy hike that almost anyone can manage. We've even seen sturdy offroad strollers on the trail.
To get there, take the Indian Valley Fire Road from either of College of Marin's Indian Valley Campus or the Indian Valley Road trailhead to where it meets the aptly named Waterfall Trail. On they way you'll be accompanied by a rushing stream that runs along the trail. Cross over a little wooden bridge into the woods and follow the trail—you'll hear the waterfall before you can see it.
Every December, Marin's power grid is yet again put to the test by the annual unveiling of the Rombeiro Christmas House on Devonshire Drive in Novato. Sure, every neighborhood has its decorated houses, but the Rombeiro house is a different thing altogether. Edmundo Rombeiro and his family have been putting together this Christmas house to end all Christmas houses for the past 24 years, and every year it gets bigger and more outrageous.
Twice a year, warehouses in Bel Marin Keys area of Novato open their doors to the public to offer terrific wholesale deals direct to you! This year’s sale will take place from Thursday November 17 to Saturday November 19, from 10 am to 5 pm.
Hiking with children is a great way to get them into the outdoors and introduce them to nature, but it can be a bit of a challenge. Small legs seem to tire out faster than larger ones, and when they outgrow both the stroller and the backpack it's best to seek out some shorter hikes with few hills or elevation changes that the whole family can enjoy with a minumum of complaining. One of our favorite easy family hikes can be found at Rush Creek Open Space Preserve, on the northern end of Novato.
This 552-acre preserve features wide and gentle trails that are perfect for families. They're easily manageable with an off-road capable jogging stroller, and kids' bikes should be able to tackle the fire roads with ease. You'll share the trails with plenty of hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders, as well as birders checking out the countless shorebirds and waterfowl that make their homes in the adjacent wetlands.
Want to tour Novato's spectacular holiday lights the old fashioned way this winter? Book a trip via horse-drawn carriage or wagon from Gary Sello and Indian Valley Carriage. Novato residents have probably seen Gary and his team cruising the streets at Christmas time, especially near the famous Rombeiro Christmas House on Devonshire Drive.
50-minute tours start at Center Road and Wilson Avenue (across from Miss Sandie's School) at 5:30, 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30 pm, and include a pass by the famous Rombeiro house on Devonshire Drive (and maybe even a stop to tour the inside, depending on schedule and how busy the house is). Gary's carriage seats six average size adults, and his large covered wagon seats twelve. The wagon also has rain protection, although tours will be canceled in the event of heavy rain or wind. Reservations are required, and tours do sell out during the holiday season, so reserve your spot early!
We've ridden in Gary's covered wagon before, and it's spacious and comfortable with plenty of room, and it's also a lot of fun. So get your friends and family together and book a tour before they're sold out.