Great trail on any day
The Oakwood Valley trail starts just a short distance from my house and as a result, I am very partial to it. The trail consists of two paths that make for a fun loop that takes only about 30-45 minutes at a brisk pace to complete and is about two miles. If a hiker is looking to spend more time on the trails, as with most trails in Marin, the hike can be extended to any amount of time by connecting up with the Alta Trail and continuing on into the hills above Tennessee Valley or Marin City. But let me first back up...
This trail starts on the left side of the road as you're driving to Tennessee Valley. I like this trail because it is less crowded than Tennessee Valley and offers a very different look and feel. As I mentioned, there are two paths that a hiker can choose that start about 20-30 meters apart.
The path on the left (as you look at the trails) has the more prominent sign and is a wider trail that winds through the Oakwood Valley alternating between canopies of fragrant Eucalyptus trees and open fields of sun (I know Eucalyptus are not Native but that's for another post to consider!) This part of the trail is a great place to let the dog run ahead and sniff all of the different smells along the trail. This path lazily winds around until the hiker comes to a fork in the road offering two excellent choices to explore. Going straight brings the hiker up a hill continuing on the trail and ultimately connecting with Alta Trail. Going to right takes the hiker across the bridge down the other side of the trail loop.
While at some points only 25 feet apart, this part of the loop is a narrow trail and offers a completely different hike than its wider counterpart. The foliage is more dense, the trees tend tend to be Oak instead of Eucaplyptus, and there are more significant elevation changes. I really enjoy this part of the hike because it gives me a sense of being in a different part of the world and I am constantly amazed that I walked there from my front door. As always, I'll leave out the minute details of the hike so that the adventurer can have their own experience, but I will say that one of the more interesting trees I have ever seen is on this part of the trail.
But wait... don't cross the bridge and turn back on the loop yet! There is a surprise that awaits ahead on the main trail and is the primary draw for me... or really for my dog, Gus. At the end of the Oakwood Valley trail, before the Alta Trail begins, is a small swimming hole (50 foot diameter) that is perfect for a pooch to cool off on a hot day. Gus absolutely loves this part of the trail and always anticipates arriving - often running full-speed to jump in. We usually collect sticks along the way to play fetch with the dog.
If you're looking for a more challenging hike to add on, the previously mentioned Alta Trail, begins at the swimming hole with a steep climb that keeps getting steeper. I wish I did this part more often because it offers amazing views and is great exercise. Alas, dogs are not allowed on this part of the trail, and as a result, we often turn back and head home from the swimming. I'll post more about this hike later, but if a hiker has time, going up the Alta Trail can easily add anywhere from an one to three hours to the hike.
One last point about swimming, Gus often gets pretty muddy on this trail afterwards (especially in the spring rainy season), but there is a small creek on the other side of the road, after the hike, that is clean and offers a great place for a dog to get wash off the mud.
Bottom Line: I really like the Oakwood Valley Trail because it is usually different depending on the time of day and season. It always offers a unique experience and is typically pretty quiet compared with the more popular Tennessee Valley.
Dogs: Off leash OK
Difficulty: Easy (walk or run it!)
Sun/Shade: A little of both
X-factor: A small pond at the end of the trail makes a great swimming hole for a dog
Map of Golden Gate National Recreation Area Trails (PDF file)