Play in the Rain, See Some Fish

Rains mean the fish may be spawning in Lagunitas Creek. Head out to look for the Coho Salmon and explore Kent Lake at it's only accessible end. A bit steep in places and the route can be tricky and dangerous. Use caution. Dogs on leash.

Finally, some rain! Dang rain!

We know we need the rain, but we got so spoiled with the good weather that we're quite ambivalent about it. We love to get outdoors, but the rain requires more thoughtful planning of our outings. This week we decided to hike along Lagunitas Creek to see if we can spot some spawning salmon. We also wanted a bit of shelter in the canyons and thought the Kent Dam area would be neat to explore. 

The parking area at Shafter Bridge (a.k.a Green Bridge) is open for parking through February. This makes visiting the area safer, because you don't need to park out on narrow Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, where hiking along and crossing can be dangerous, especially for kids. Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) opens the parking area for viewing of adult Coho Salmon. Each winter when the creeks swell the salmon swim up from Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean to spawn. Spawning usually peaks in December.

Seeing the Coho can be a hit or miss proposition, so it is good to have an additional destination to keep the interest. A couple of weeks back the Lagunitas Elementary school kids came to the viewing spot and saw quite a few, so we were hopeful.

However, we struck out. But with the rains predicted to continue there should be enough rain to swell the creek a bit, which may cause another run to come up. 

The west side of the creek (the side with the parking area) has a road along it that works best for looking for salmon. There is signage at the parking area providing tips for spotting salmon. In addition to the salmon, we looked for the human-made logjams in the creeks that were built to create pools and habitat for the salmon. Some have visible steel cables anchoring the logs, while other are more simple piles of logs. 

After moving southward along the creek we headed right up the paved Shafter Grade to view the lake. This is a bit of a tricky route because the road has several junctions. Most spur roads quickly dead end. After one false left turn, we found the correct left at a large flat landing. This road also has a junction at which you need to go right to get above Peters Dam. Shafter Grade continues up to Bolinas Ridge. Because the lake is low it is possible to cross in front of the spillway on a seasonal dirt road and then go back down the east side of the creek making the outing into a two-a-half mile loop hike.

We really enjoy seeing Kent Lake and the accoutrements of Marin water production. It is very different from Lake Lagunitas, which has been decommissioned from drinking water storage. Southern and Central Marin use up to one million gallons per hour and much of it comes from Kent. At the dam there are valves, pipes and equipment all over. The kids love it! Just keep a close eye on them.

After crossing below the spillway the road splits and the lower route heads down the north side of the spillway. At the base of the dam is a small concrete structure where a metered amount of water is let out of the lake to keep Lagunitas Creek flowing through the dry months. It's fun to take a peek in at the swirling bubbly water. When you are done exploring the area the road follows the east side of the creek back to Shafter Bridge. Cross the bridge and you are back to the car.

If 2.5 miles is not enough distance, then you can continue along the lake after crossing the dam to add a climb up to San Geronimo Ridge using Upper Peters Dam Road. The fire road climbs about 800 extra feet in elevation to a small peak along San Geronimo Ridge. The area is very forested and has a Pacific Northwest feeling with large moss covered Douglas Fir trees and a lush understory. Near the top the road is washed out and after passing the washout the road turns into a trail. Stay on the main path until you come to a well-traveled dirt road, San Geronimo Ridge Fire Road. Go left on San Geronimo Ridge Fire Road and back down to the Lagunitas Creek. The extension adds four more miles.

Important Notes: Be sure to stay clear of the spillway and where there are steep cliffs and loose rocks. Also, please respect the salmon spawning area and don't take your dog down to the water.

See the book "Hiking Marin: 141 Great Hikes in Marin County" for specific directions and hike details. Click here to go the Marin Trails website, where you can find more information about the book.


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