Length 5.8 mi · Climbing 1340 ft
The Barnabe Fire Road climbs steeply up a sunny, grass-covered ridge on the south side of San Geronimo Valley. The payoff is a commanding view of grassy coastal hills and redwood-clad ridges, with hawks circling below.
The most popular way to reach Barnabe Peak is Bill's Trail, and it's the route recommended by most guidebooks. Bill apparently doesn't like climbing, because his trail has a ludicrously shallow 5.4% grade. Each of the huge switchbacks makes you walk a really long ways for a tiny elevation gain. Meanwhile, since the trail zig-zags through uninteresting woods, there's no scenery to speak of. The trail would actually be perfect for biking, but bikes aren't allowed on it (although they may be in the future). On foot I think it's a tedious three miles. Oddly enough, Bill's Trail doesn't quite reach the summit: to get the really good views you have to puff your way up the last quarter-mile at a ridiculously steep grade.
The more rewarding way to reach the summit is by Barnabe Fire Road. It's a difficult climb, but the increasingly nice views help take your mind off the pain. The challenge of the climb and the magnificent scenery make for a very satisfying hike.
The main drawback of this hike is traffic noise, which is most noticable at the beginning and end. A little traffic noise even drifts up to the summit sometimes, although it's minimal. Also, the beginning and end of the hike are a little dull: the beginning because you're walking alongside Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, which has a constant flow of traffic, and the end because the scenery on the descent doesn't compare with the views from the summit.
The soil along this the Barnabe Fire Road is gravelly and well-drained, so except for some small patches it doesn't get that muddy when it rains.
Start from the Camp Taylor parking lot. Cross the auto bridge and turn left. The road becomes the flat and easy Cross Marin Trail, which gives you a chance to get warmed up before the climbing begins. The dirt road is shaded by second-growth redwoods and runs alongside Lagunitas Creek. Cars whiz by on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.
The trail crosses Lagunitas Creek and Drake Blvd on a footbridge. Continue on until you see Barnabe Fire Road to your left.
The fire road immediately begins a steep ascent. The woods open up as the redwoods give way to oaks, and you soon get the first view of the redwood-covered ridge across the valley. Typically for east-west valleys in this area, the north side of the San Geronimo Valley is covered with grass dotted with a few oaks and the south side is densely carpeted with redwoods.
There's some tree cover as you climb, but the trail gets increasingly sunny. Immediately after passing an unofficial trail to the right, there's a nice view of the little town of Lagunitas, enfolded in its redwood-lined valley. Soon after, the trail breaks out of the woods, the road becomes somewhat less steep, and the really good views start.
Look for a faint, unmarked trail to the left of the fire road. This trail doesn't look official but it is, in fact, the Ridge Trail. Running along the ridge just a few feet from the fire road, it's steeper but offers much better views than the road. In particular, the trail has dramatic views of the treeless, rolling hills to the west that you won't see from the road until you're nearly at the summit.
The fire tower at the top of Barnabe Mountain comes into view. It's a relief to see the tower since that means the climb is almost over. You can hike up to the tower and walk around it. Descending from the tower, turn right at the dirt road intersection just below the fire tower. The best views of the hike are at this intersection.
The steep descent has plenty of views but isn't as scenic as the climb. Head through the Madrone Group Campground and cross Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. There's a little access trail across from the campground entrance that lets you reach the North Creek Trail. Turn left onto this trail and continue a short distance, past the trailer dump station, back to the parking lot.
© 2008, 2012 David Baselt