Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Marin Waterfall Hike - Arroyo de San Jose Falls - 3/30/11

Arroyo de San Jose Falls a.k.a Fairway Falls

          The past week or two I seem to have been on a waterfall tip so I decided to continue the trend and check out a waterfall I’ve never visited before in Novato called Arroyo De San Jose. Arroyo De San Jose is a seasonal creek with a series of four waterfalls and several magnificent cascades. The canyon is quite a contrast from the rest of the topography in Novato.
          To get there take Ignacio Blvd exit in Novato and head west. Then take a left on Fairway Dr. and follow it a ways to its terminus at a large iron gate. Plenty of street parking is available.
          After parking my car I proceeded past the iron gate and soon crossed the creek on a provided wooden plank. The trail leads into an open clearing with a trail junction and I took the left fork heading towards the falls. Protruding from the tall grass were an abundance of deep purple irises.

Wild Iris

          I passed a rock alongside the trail with a couple of Western Fence Lizards sunbathing. The blue bellies contrasted well with the bright orange lichen on the rock.

Western Fence Lizard a.k.a. Blue Belly

Western Fence Lizard

          Some folks might not realize it, but these lizards provide a nominal service by helping protect us from Lyme disease. The western black-legged tick is what transmits Lyme disease to a human being. The same ticks also like to feed on Fence Lizards whose blood contains something that eliminates Lyme disease from the tick resulting in very few cases of Lyme disease.
          The trail leads back along the creek and into forest cover. Milk Maids were plentiful and the occasional Hounds Tongue could be seen. Pale white Irises were scattered about. The trail crosses the creek which is easily forded and starts to gain elevation slightly. The trail seemed to be pretty popular. It was around 5PM and there were quite a few people out and about. The first waterfall and most peoples final destination was not far up the trail. When I arrived I took off my shoes and soaked my feet in the creek. It was still hot out and even in the canyon it proved to be fairly warm.

Arroyo de San Jose Falls

          The falls drop in two tiers, with a pool below the shorter top tier. You can access the pool fairly easily and it is a great place to soak the feet as well. Moss and ferns surround the pool and cover portions of the rock face of the falls really giving the place a good feeling.

The Top Tier

          To the right of the falls is a use trail that continues up Arroyo de San Jose to more waterfalls and cascades. Right from the get go the trail gets very steep. There is a reason a lot of people stop at the first waterfall! The narrow eroding trail splits into many use paths that all seem to intersect, none of which could be considered a real trail. Nevertheless for a surefooted hiker it’s not that big of a deal. The second waterfall is just up the path but is difficult to get a good vantage of for photos. Scrambling down to the creek proved to be difficult but was doable. The waterfall was under heavy tree cover and was shady and dark.

Second Waterfall

          I climbed my way back up to the trail and continued onward and upward. I soon entered grassland habitat and more wildflowers made an appearance. Along the way I saw Death Camas, Red and Blue Larkspur, Shooting Stars, Blue Dicks, Lupine, Irises, Buttercups and more.

Henderson Shooting Stars

Blue Dick

Woodland Star

Death Camas a.k.a. Star Lily

          Not far up the trail is the third waterfall which has a few large Buckeye trees at its base. The water falls in a horsetail pattern and drop quite a distance. I believe it is the tallest of the four waterfalls. I scrambled down to the bottom of the falls but again the terrain made it difficult to find a good vantage.

Third Waterfall

          As I was climbing back up the rugged hillside I noticed a good view of the falls from a different angle. There happen to be several red larkspur in the area which provided a nice addition to scene.

Third Waterfall with Red Larkspur

          The trail wraps around the rocky face of the falls and then climbs right along a steep cliffs edge to the top. A group of young adults were hanging out at the top so I continued up creek to explore the cascades and pools.


          Standing there in this lush creekbed and watching the whitewater cascade over the mossy rocks got me wondering about how I’d never been here before. I’d heard about it many times and even talked about going in the past, but now I know I’ve been missing out!
          I followed the creek back to the trail and continued upward toward the fourth waterfall. The sun was setting and I knew I had to pick up my pace. I tend to stop and admire the littlest of things so it is a hard thing for me to do sometimes. Undulating a bit, the trail leads me further uphill when I’m startled by a Red Tailed Hawk taking flight from the creek just ahead of me. It was an exhilarating experience because I almost felt it’s presence before I even saw it. I trekked up the trail for another minute or two before reaching the fourth waterfall.
          There is a beautiful cascade leading up to the waterfall itself with bright earthy moss blanketing the surrounding rocks.

Cascade Above Fourth Falls

          The fourth fall reminds me of a giant half cylinder, with the water pouring into it. I climbed below which offers an awesome view of the falls and some great mossy rocks in the foreground. The sun was setting behind Big Rock Ridge and cast a nice glow on the crest of the falls.

Fourth Waterfall

          With daylight running out and wanting to get home to see my wife I decided to head back down the trail. I was distracted many times along the decent by wildflowers, wildlife, and waterfall watching.


  1. Aha! So you found it, Cole! Isn't it amazing? Did you check out its "sister" falls - Pacheco Valle? Both are pretty darn amazing. I wonder if you had a chance to read about this (relatively secret) paradise in one of my posts?

  2. Gambolin' Man, It truly is amazing. I have read your post and I agree it trumps all others when it's flowing. I did not get a chance to check out Pacheco Falls and with the lack of rains lately I've decided to wait until next season. Something to certainly look forward to!