Homestead Valley Wildflower Treasure Hunt

Iris douglasiana

Douglas iris, Iris douglasiana

Homestead Valley is a fun place to look for wildflowers in Marin County. It’s like a combination of a maze and a treasure hunt. There are many intersecting trails, so you need a good map to find your way around the maze. As for the treasure hunt, the maps show you where many interesting flowers are located, but it takes some work to find them! Fortunately, the Homestead Valley Land Trust provides a wonderful, annoted map of the area.

Note: Click on any photograph to see a larger image.

The Hike

Homestead Valley

Looking back up the path from the trailhead, through the brush

This is an interesting mixture of deep-shaded forest (including a grove of redwoods), open meadow, scrub brush and grassy hillsides. There is a wide variety of habitats and therefore a wide range of flower types, all in a fairly small area.

Trails here cross over a number of different land management units. Some of the trails are in Marin Country Parks open space, managed by the Homestead Valley Land Trust. Portions of the trails are in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The area is right on the edge of Mount Tamalpais State Park, if you are looking for additional places to hike.

Homestead Valley wildflower hike

Climbing up the hill, from forest to open hillside

I highly recommend getting the Homestead Valley trail map, which provides great detail on the trails here. In addition, go to their blooming now page and click on the most recent date listed. Here you will find another copy of the map that lists the flower species that have been seen this year, along with notations on the specific locations where these flowers were found. I never would have found some of the amazing flowers in this area without the help of these maps!

We started at the trailhead on Panoramic Hwy, #9 on their map, because I knew there was parking along the roadside. There are a number of trailheads listed on the map, but the website doesn’t make it clear what the parking situation is like. Several of the trailheads are on residential streets, some are private roads. If you start at Panoramic Hwy you will be parking on a public road that is easy to access.

Homestead Valley

The trail takes you through these amazing moss covered trees

There are many options with interconnecting trails. Unfortunately, there are very few trail markers, so you have to keep track of each turn as you follow the map. I understand that in the future the Homestead Valley Land Trust hopes to place trail markers using the numbers that are on the map, which would be very helpful.

We wandered quite a bit, which was a good thing. Every section has a different selection of flowers. The trek we took covered about 3 miles with a fair amount of ups and downs, but the trails are not difficult. We didn’t need our hiking sticks.

Here’s the track that we followed.

Move your mouse along the elevation graph to show the location on the map. Refresh the page if you need to re-center the image. Note that the distance is approximate, as I often take little side trips to find flowers!

Timing is Everything

Since this is in Marin County I expect that there will be a long flower season. Our hike was in early March and some of the early blooming plants (such as Fetid adder’s tongue) were already finished. Lots of early season flowers, and a very large number of plants that were getting ready to bloom. I suspect that you’ll find something there any time from January through July.

I should mention that there is poison oak in many of the areas, so be careful if you wander off the path.

Directions

From Highway 101 near Mill Valley, take the exit for Highway 1 (exit 445B if you are heading south on 101) towards Stinson Beach. This is also known as Shoreline Highway. The road takes a sharp left turn in downtown Mill Valley. After 2.6 miles you will turn right onto Panoramic Highway. About 0.8 of a mile later you will come to the “Four Corners” junction of Panoramic Highway, Muir Woods Road and Sequoia Valley Road, where you’ll see a sign that directs you to Muir Woods, Mill Valley and Mt. Tamalpais State Park. Just before this intersection there is parking along the side of the road. The main trailhead is right at the junction, on the same side of the road as you will be parking.

There are no restrooms at this trailhead, or on any of the trails.

The Flowers

Click on any photograph to see a larger image.

We found quite a few Checker lilies on the hillside path near 4a on the Homestead Valley map. You can see the mottled appearance. I’ve never come across so many at one place before!

Checker lily, aka Mission bells, Fritillaria affini

Checker lily, aka Mission bells, Fritillaria affini

What is interesting about this location is that you can also find the Marin Checker Lily, which is similar but not “checkered” as strongly. The California Native Plant Society lists this as a rare/endangered plant. An exciting find!

Marin checker lily, Fritillaria lanceolata var. tristulis

Marin checker lily, Fritillaria lanceolata var. tristulis

Footsteps of Spring – you have to see this “in the wild” to understand why it has that name. Here’s a closeup of the plant:

Footsteps of spring, Sanicula arctopoides

Footsteps of spring, Sanicula arctopoides

We always found them in groups, arranged along the path as if they were marking every footstep that “spring” had taken.

Footsteps of spring Sanicula arctopoides

Sometimes flowers are easy to find, sometimes you have to look under the leaves of the plant. It is easy to miss Fairy bells if you don’t look.

Fairy bells aka Drops of gold. Prosartes hookeri

Fairy bells aka Drops of gold. Prosartes hookeri

Fremont’s death camas is common in many places this time of year. Beautiful, but all parts are poisonous.

Fremont's death camas, Toxicoscordion fremontii

Fremont’s death camas, Toxicoscordion fremontii

In addition to what I show above, we found:

  • Sun cup, Taraxia ovata
  • Blue dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
  • Indian warrior, Pedicularis densiflora
  • Purple sanicle, Sanicula bipinnatifida
  • Starry false lily of the valley, Maianthemum stellatum
  • Mosquito bill, aka Foothill shooting star, Primula hendersonii
  • Oakland star tulip, aka Oakland mariposa lily, Calochortus umbellatus
  • California buttercup, Ranunculus californicus
  • Wild strawberry, Fragaria vesca
  • Common trillium, Trillium chloropetalum
  • Pacific trillium, Trillium ovatum
  • Milk maids, Cardamine californica
  • Miner’s lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
  • Western houndstongue, Cynoglossum grande
  • California man-root, Marah fabacea

The following are non-native plants that we found on the hike as well:

  • White flowered onion, Allium triquetrum
  • Rosy sandcrocus, Romulea rosea
  • Bermuda buttercup, Oxalis pes-caprae
  • Scarlet pimpernel, Lysimachia arvensis
  • French broom, Genista monspessulana
  • Scotch broom, Cytisus scoparius
  • Forget me not, Myosotis latifolia

You can see larger copies of all of these photos (and purchase copies, if you wish) at the Charlie Russell Nature Photography website.

I would like to thank Sandy Steinman and his Natural History Wanderings website for letting me know about this wonderful place to find wildflowers.

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