Mt. Burdell

I don’t know if it was the moon I saw over Mt. Burdell yesterday, but when Diana said she wanted to hike somewhere new, I immediately thought of this hike.  I have always loved it, but seldom do it.  The biggest reason is that Olompali State Historic Park doesn’t open its gates until 10A.  But after yesterday’s race, this seemed like a most reasonable time.  I wanted to stretch my legs and make sure they still worked.   The park is modest, though on 700 acres. It is located 3 miles north of Novato and you can only access the park’s entrance on southbound Hwy 101.  It has a 3 mile loop trail and a 3.9 mile (one-way) trail to the top of Mt. Burdell’s 1,558’ summit.  Unfortunately this is one of the parks on the closure list!

The hike starts at the parking lot and goes on an historic walk  through an old ranch. There are several picnic tables in the shade of ancient oak trees.  The 1870s two story Burdell house is now the Ranger Station and other buildings include barns, a saltbox house, a few other structures we didn’t look at closely and the foundations of two prehistoric adobe brick houses are preserved here (the only adobe in Marin County).  The park also houses a rudimentary, reconstructed Miwok Village with structure replicas including bark and reed teepees and a well labeled native plant garden.  The Coast Miwok (San Pablo Bay came to where Hwy 101 is today) village site dates back to 500 AD.

After leaving this area you join the Loop Trail with a gradual climb paralleling a creek, going past an old reservoir where we spotted a turkey and joining the junction of the Burdell trail in 1.5 miles.  From here the climb is gentle and gradual mostly in the shade of old oaks.  The views of the Petaluma River, San Pablo Bay, Mt. Diablo and Mt. Tam are fabulous.  Once you reach the summit you get even more views of Stafford Lake, Mt. Tam and the city of Novato.  You can continue the hike on several trails in the Marin Open Space Preserve.

Other than the signs we actually stopped to read, I realized I didn’t know much about this historical site that I potentially wouldn’t have access to a year from now.  This is what I learned.  The name “Olompali” comes from the Coast Miwok language and likely means “Southern village” or Southern people”.  Archeologists discovered a 1567 Elizabeathan silver sixpence here giving indication that they may have had contact with Sir Francis Drake or those who had traded with him. In 1852 most of the land was sold to James Black of Marin for $5,200. Then in 1863 it was transferred to his daughter, Mary Black, who married Galen Burdell.  Their son, James, transformed the area into a country estate. It was sold several times and intially used as a Jesuit Retreat.  The most famous tenant was the Grateful Dead (no wonder I like this place!).One of their album covers features a view of the Olompali hills.  After their departure, it became the hippie commune, The Chosen Family.  After hosting a nude wedding ceremony gaining national attention the commune was disbanded when a fire destroyed a good portion of the Burdell mansion.  The state purchased the land in 1977 and opened Olompali State Historic Park in 1990. Quite a history for such an unassuming place!

We loved this 10 mile hike with an elevation gain of 1,757′.  Here are the Garmin stats.




One thought on “Mt. Burdell

  1. Hi, you have inspired me and Thom to take a hike here, I have always be intrigued by this park. Thanks for the kick in the pants to do it!! Jane

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