About Buck Gulch Falls (Fairway Falls)
Buck Gulch Falls (I’ve also seen it called Fairway Falls) was one of three local waterfalls in the Ignacio Valley Preserve within the city of Novato north of the San Francisco Bay Area.
This waterfall was what I would categorize as the Marin County “Neighborhood Waterfalls” because there were a handful of waterfalls whose access trails essentially went by peoples’ properties into preserves or private property easements.
In this particular instance, the waterfall was accessed on a trail at the end of a residential street flanked on one side by a golf course and upscale homes on the other side (see directions below).
The falls itself was a modest 15ft tall or so, but there were reportedly more waterfalls further upstream on the seasonal creek that Google Maps called the Jan Jose Arroyo.
However, those waterfalls reside in the H Ranch Property, and the easements to the private land pretty much end at the Buck Gulch Falls so access to those upper waterfalls is prohibited.
Nevertheless, of the Novato Waterfalls that I’ve witnessed on my visit in late February 2022 (where we had a very dry January and February), this was the lone waterfall that actually still had flow (albeit a rather weak one as you can see above).
So that says something about the longevity of the Buck Gulch drainage beneath the Big Rock Ridge, which I’d imagine relies heavily on rain and coastal mist (as do other “backyard waterfalls” in Marin County).
I’m sure I’ll be coming back to experience this place under wetter conditions though with Global Warming really yielding an all-or-nothing pattern of extreme drought with extreme rains in between, who knows when that will be?
Anyways, visiting the Buck Gulch Falls involved a straightforward out-and-back hike at about 0.6-0.7 miles in each direction (according to my GPS logs) or roughly 1.2-1.4 miles round-trip.
Starting from the cul-de-sac at the end of Fairway Drive, I followed a short paved stretch before it gave way to a conventional dirt trail.
There were forks on the trail that ultimately converged on the same spot so I just stuck with the wider trail to the left, which promptly crossed a creek that still had water and was easy to cross without getting my feet wet.
I’m sure under much wetter conditions, it might be a challenge to get across this creek without getting water into the shoe or boot.
The trail then reached a trail fork roughly 0.2-mile from the start, where I kept left to continue another 1/2-mile towards the Buck Gulch Falls.
Note that the path on the right was the Spyglass Trail, which was one way to access the Big Rock Ridge at the top of the drainage.
The Buck Gulch Falls Trail narrowed a bit, and I did see (and hear) water in the creek, but there was a side drainage that supplied some of the water so it wasn’t necessarily an indication that the target waterfall will have decent flow.
By the way, there’s a separate trail that climbed above that side drainage, and my map seemed to suggest that it was another access to the Big Rock Ridge.
Anyways, sure enough, as I proceeded further along the trail with its pretty gentle climb, the creek went silent again as the creek’s water hid beneath its porous and loose-soiled surface.
After another crossing (which was dry during my visit), the trail eventually ended at the attractive Buck Gulch Falls.
Private property fencing and signs were surrounding the end of the trail, which made it abundantly clear that this was the turnaround point.
Overall, I wound up spending less than an hour on this trail, and this included taking pictures and chatting with a local playing fetch with his dog.
Buck Gulch Falls (or Fairway Falls) resides in the Ignacio Valley Preserve near Novato in Marin County, California. It is administered by the Marin County Parks. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
Since I drove to the Buck Gulch Trailhead from downtown Sonoma to the northeast, I’ll first describe the driving directions from there.
Then, I’ll describe the driving directions from San Francisco since I’d imagine the majority of visitors would likely be taking that approach from the south.
Approach From The North
From downtown Sonoma, I’d first drive south on Broadway (Hwy 12) towards its junction with the Hwy 121 after about 3.7 miles.
Then, I’d turn right and continue on Hwy 121 for the next 0.9-mile before turning left to continue on Hwy 121 and stay on it for another 6.6 miles.
The Hwy 121 eventually intersected with the Hwy 37, where I turned right and followed this road for 7.3 miles towards the 101 Freeway.
Once on the freeway, I’d then get off at the first exit, which was for Entrada Drive/Ignacio Blvd (exit 459B).
At the off-ramp, I then kept going straight until I turned right onto Ignacio Blvd, where I next followed this road for about 0.8-mile before turning left onto Fairway Drive.
Finally, I took Fairway Drive for the remaining 1.8 miles to the end of this residential street, where I then found street parking.
Overall, this drive took me between 30-40 minutes.
Approach From The South
From San Francisco, I’d make my way to the 101 North taking the Golden Gate Bridge and then continuing for nearly 21 miles before taking the Ignacio Blvd off-ramp (exit 459).
Once at the light, I’d then turn left onto Ignacio Blvd and follow this road towards Fairway Drive and ultimately to the end of Fairway Drive as stated above.
Barring traffic, this drive should take around 45 minutes or so.
For geographical context, Novato was 21 miles (roughly 30 minutes drive) southwest of Sonoma, 27 miles (about 30 minutes drive) south of Santa Rosa, 29 miles (over 30 minutes drive) north of San Francisco, 73 miles (under 90 minutes drive) north of San Jose, and 77 miles (under 90 minutes drive) southwest of Sacramento.
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