Olompali State Historic Park
Olompali and Mt. Burdell Trails
2.75 miles round trip with 600-foot elevation gain
Olompali State Historic Park in Marin County embraces thousands of years of a history that is uniquely Californian—from the native Miwok to the Chosen Family Commune of the 1960s, from Spanish missionaries to the Grateful Dead rock band.
For the hiker, Olompali offers a colorful history lesson and a great walk in the park. “You can walk through a couple thousand years of history and get a feel for what the land looked like when the Miwok lived here,” explains state park ranger Fred Lew.
From what anthropologists surmise (they’ve surmised a lot because limited excavation at the park has turned up thousands of artifacts), the Coast Miwok lived in shelters made of sticks, tules and grass. They enjoyed lives, by all evidence, of abundance: they gathered acorns, hunted game in the mountains, ﬁshed from the shores of the nearby bay. Olompali (pronounced O-lum-pa-lee) was one of the largest villages in the San Francisco Bay area.
The arrival of Spanish missionaries and soldiers ended the Miwok’s way of life, though at Olompali they made a valiant effort to adapt. The Miwok learned to make adobe bricks at nearby missions and replaced their tule huts with adobe shelters. They planted crops, raised livestock. In 1843 Franciscan-educated Miwok leader Camillo Ynitia was given Olompali by the Mexican government; he was one of the very few native people to ever receive a land grant, and one later honored by the U.S. government.
A decade later, Ynitia sold his land. By 1865, Rancho Olompali, as it was now known, belonged to San Francisco’s ﬁrst dentist Galen Burdell and his wife, Mary. The Burdells raised cattle and developed a fabulous estate, complete with imposing mansion and a huge formal garden.
During the 1950s, University of San Francisco Jesuits used the property as a religious retreat. The Chosen Family Commune leased the estate in 1967. The Grateful Dead played here, and one of their album covers of that era features a view of the Olompali hills. After hosting a nude wedding ceremony and celebration that attracted nationwide media coverage, the commune disbanded when a ﬁre destroyed much of the old Burdell mansion.
The state purchased the land in 1977, and opened Olompali State Historic Park in 1990. Take a walk through Olompali history and you’ll see Camillo Ynitia’s adobe, the ruins of the Burdell mansion, and what’s left of Mary Burdell’s grand garden, where daffodils, planted here more than a century ago, still bloom each year. A barn, a blacksmith shop, the ranch foreman’s house and much more can be visited on this history walk.
Directions to trailhead: From Highway 101, a half hour’s drive or so north of San Francisco, and two miles north of Novato, get in the left turn lane for San Antonio Creek Road. Make a U-turn and drive south to the park entrance. If you’re heading south on 101, it’s a simple and clearly marked exit to the park.
The hike: Begin your exploration of the park’s historic structures. After wandering among the buildings and viewing interpretive panels, visit what’s left of the estate’s once fabulous formal garden, and hit the trail.
The trail’s a loop, so it doesn’t matter which way you want to hike it. Near the crest of the loop, you’ll get glimpses of San Pablo Bay. During spring, such wildﬂowers as purple iris, pink shooting stars, white milkmaids and orange monkeyﬂowers brighten park slopes. Keep an eye on the sky for golden eagles.
Olompali is now more than a walk through a historic park. A trail extension allows hikers to ascend the eastern slope of 1,558-foot Mt. Burdell. The path connects the 700-acre park with another 2,000 acres of Marin County parkland.
© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author. To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.