I've wanted to visit McInnis Park and the adjacent Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District ponds since I first saw the sprawling parks on the Marin County Bicycle Coalition Map. The problem had been getting to the remote location north of China Camp in San Rafael. As my family and I prepared to visit the farmer's market at the Civic Center this Sunday it dawned on me to bring the bikes along for a post-grocery adventure!
Today's ride is a tale of two parks. John F. McInnis Park is run by the county and features 450 acres with a myriad of free recreational activities such as multiple athletic fields, tennis courts, trails, a canoe launch, picnic areas, and a spectacular skate park. The pay-to-play features of McInnis are a golf course, miniature golf and batting cages. Las Gallinas Valley Sanitary District maintains adjacent public nature trails on 383 acres that are definitely worth a visit while you're at the park.
When you enter McInnis on Smith Ranch Road the left turn (Smith Ranch Road) leads to the nature trails, skate park, tennis area and a soccer/baseball field. Going straight (Main Drive) leads to the golf center and an additional soccer/baseball field combo. Thankfully the park is encircled by a path and you can park and ride from anywhere.
Simply head north and you will find the pond trails. If you're heading north on the paved Smith Ranch Road continue straight past the tennis/skate area. After winding down towards the bay you will see the main entrance to the water treatment plant that looks uninviting. As you stay left and enter the parking lot don't be deterred by the rough industrial feel or funky smell for a few feet down the trail your nose will be relieved and your doubts will be vanquished.
Four connected loops around the ponds and marshes make for numerous possible combinations of the nearly 4 miles of trail. Immediately after passing onto the gravel your worries wash away as vistas of marshes, distant hills, and contented looking avian species invite your mind to wander. During our short spin along the cool coast of the bay we saw a number of flowering plants, pelicans, geese, ducks, cormorants, a great blue heron, and numerous long billed little shorebirds. The easy pedaling along the predictable trail surface will only push your limits of relaxation.
Back in McInnis Park I could not resist a trip up the hill to the skate park. Posted rules state that bikes and scooters are not allowed, helmets are mandatory. When I visited this Sunday a few families had kids on scooters and the park was nearly empty. Of the half dozen skate parks I've visited as a biker this appears to be the best. A number of the features would be fun to ride and the large size means there's something for everybody. Above the skate park a small hill offers vistas and a little bit of trail to ride at the top.
After our next farmer's market we will return to McInnis Park with our bikes to explore the number of other paths, perhaps we'll even squeeze in a game of miniature golf...