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Golden Hour at Big Rock Ridge

This trail in Lucas Valley has been on my list for a while. I’ve visited the trailhead – marked by the eponymous boulder – before, just to scope it out, and I guess all this time I’ve been waiting for the right set of conditions, since much of the trail is exposed.

Cool temperatures and partly cloudy skies – readily available between bouts of Bay Area winter rain – set the tone for a more comfortable hike. I set out in the afternoon with a rough idea of summiting the second-highest point in Marin during golden hour.

Immediately evident as I started out on the trail were the strong winds, which seemed to be gusting as high as 20mph (at a guess). My weatherproof jacket did a decent job of breaking the wind and I occasionally grabbed the hood just to help keep the wind from blasting me in the face and drying out my eyes.

lucas valley and clouds
barbed wire loop and fence

The first part of the hike features a nice walk through the woods with some uphill sections and one or two footbridges. A cattle gate and a long section of barbed wire fencing marks the edge of private property – hiking is permitted by agreement with the landowner. I paused here and took my time with the camera thanks to the beautiful conditions. Big, expressive clouds glided across the sky, pushed by the powerful wind, while the sun peppered the landscape with hazy light.

The trail continues west for a little more than a quarter mile before bearing to the north. At the turn, there’s a great view down the valley interrupted only by one of the large hills that keeps the famous Skywalker Ranch out of sight (it’s a nice-looking hill though, with a dramatic slope).

This is where the uphill slog truly begins. I wouldn’t see anyone else on the trail for the rest of the afternoon. I can’t say I blame anyone for not being out that day – it’s an arduous climb, and despite the sweeping views, the wind was strong and cold enough to make the top of the ridge somewhat inhospitable. I’d figured on being able to take a rest at the top, but it was so uninviting that I took my photos and headed right back down.

A large communication station sat at the summit, with no visible human or animal activity. It hummed ominously as I approached the barbed wire fence for a nice view of Novato and Mt. Burdell. Though I’m in Novato regularly, I enjoyed getting a different perspective on it; almost all of it could be seen in one vista.

lucas valley at dusk

I followed the same route back down without incident and reached the sharp turn with the valley view just around sunset. The scene was bathed in warm, orange light. A bird with an obnoxious call yammered at me for much of the remaining hike, but in spite of this, I enjoyed the calm that seemed to settle over the area as the sun disappeared.

I’m glad to have hiked Big Rock Ridge, but I would say it wasn’t as rewarding as other hikes in the area. I’d probably turn back sooner – probably around the 2-mile mark – if I were to do the hike again.