What’s Best: Walk, pedal or run along a large lagoon and through a huge wetland to the shores of the San Pablo Bay.
Parking: From Hwy. 101 take the Ignacio Blvd.-Bel Marin Keys exit and turn right on Bel Marin Keys Blvd. Follow the boulevard for almost 2 ml, passing Pacheco Pond, and park on the right in an unimproved lot near the water just before entering the Bel Marin Keys residential area. Agency: County of Marin; California Department of Fish & Game
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Hike: Bel Marin Keys lagoon (2.5 ml.); San Pablo Bay (5.25 ml.)
Bel Marin Keys is a 70s-style residential community surrounded by a system of lagoons that are fed, via locks, by Novato Creek. For both hikes, head through the opening in a chain link fence, taking the broad, unpaved path that runs along the water’s edge. To your right, or south, are agricultural lands, oft-slated for development, that now appear to be included in a proposed wetlands restoration. You’ll curl around the south shore of the wide lagoon, headed for a large stand of eucalyptus trees at a ramshackle homestead that is the end of the Bel Marin Keys lagoon hike.
To San Pablo Bay, turn right, following the road when you reach the first stand of eucalyptus. The road continues due east along a canal. In the distance, you’ll see a small structure, which is an old pump house at the shore of San Pablo Bay. But you won’t be able to see water until you get there and walk up to the levee. The last few steps take you to a vast sheet of water eastward and thousands of acres of marshlands spreading out to the west. You may see hunting shorebirds or a curious sea lion.
Bike: Park at scenic Pacheco Pond and ride to San Pablo Bay, as described in hike above. Curious cyclists will also find other roads, heading south toward Hamilton Field. Bel Marin Keys is a low-key family bike outing. Be Aware: Some roads are private; heed signs. To head northbound toward Novato, turn left on Frosty Lane, just as Bel Marin Keys Boulevard bends to the right, or east. A dedicated bike path runs .75-mile north along a railroad easement, under Hwy. 37 to Hanna Ranch Road, which is just south of the Vintage Shopping Center on Rowland Avenue in Novato. Ride up, next to the freeway, to the end of Hanna Ranch Road, and drop down to Rowland via some unsigned and unsightly dirt roads. From here you can go north on Rowland, turn right on Rowland Way, and connect with Novato.