Leo T. Cronin Fish Viewing Area
Leo T. Cronin Fish Viewing Area
The Leo T. Cronin Fish Viewing Area, located along Lagunitas Creek in West Marin, is one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most popular fish-viewing areas. It is open to the public sunrise to sunset during the spawning season, which is mid-November through February.* The parking lot is closed the remainder of the year.
*Please note: The gate to the parking area will be closed for the season on Thursday, February 28, 2013.
When visiting the site, please remain behind the fence, minimize noise and avoid sudden movements so that salmon may spawn here undisturbed. Catching or disturbing the fish during spawning season is prohibited by law. Dogs on leash are allowed on roads and trails but not in the creek. Parking is limited to one hour during fish viewing season.
The area is named after Leo T. Cronin, a member of the MMWD board of directors for four years from 1991 until 1994. He was a leader in the movement to maintain and restore the fisheries of California and, in particular, Lagunitas Creek. He served as regional vice president of Trout Unlimited, was named Conservationist of the Year in 1979, and received the Distinguished Service Award in 1993.The fish viewing area was opened to the public and dedicated to Mr. Cronin in 1995 in his memory.
Each year, beginning in November, endangered coho salmon return to Lagunitas Creek from the ocean to spawn, or lay eggs. Threatened steelhead trout return to spawn starting in late December. The adult spawning runs coincide with the rainy season and continue for three to four months, sometimes longer. Lagunitas Creek is considered the home of one of the healthiest salmon populations in central California.
Improvements in Habitat and Public Access
In 2010, a variety of improvements to the viewing area were completed as part of the district’s Mt. Tamalpais Watershed Gateway Project*, including habitat improvements along the creek and additional public access amenities. Among the project elements was the resurfacing of the parking lot with an environmentally friendly permeable concrete that allows rain to percolate into the ground. Additional parking lot improvements include reconfiguring the area to create more parking spaces as well as providing parking for persons with disabilities.
*The Gateway Project was funded by Proposition 84 through the State Coastal Conservancy and by Proposition 50 through the California Resources Agency's River Parkways Program.
Directions to the Leo T. Cronin Fish Viewing Area
- From Highway 101, take the Sir Francis Drake Blvd exit and head west. Travel about 9 miles, through Greenbrae, Kentfield, Ross, San Anselmo, Fairfax, and out to the San Geronimo Valley.
- Continue west for about another 5 miles, past the San Geronimo Golf Course and past the towns of Woodacre, San Geronimo, Forest Knolls, and Lagunitas.
- Cross over Shafter Bridge, which is about ½ mile west of the Lagunitas store, and immediately turn left, into the parking lot of the Leo T. Cronin Fish Viewing Area. If you pass the sign on the right for Samuel P. Taylor State Park you have gone too far.
What You Might See During Spawning Season
Fish between two and three feet long and weighing as much as 12 pounds make the arduous journey from the ocean to Lagunitas Creek each year from November through February to spawn in the shallow gravel. The best time to see spawning fish is within a few days following a rainstorm.
Coho salmon fresh from the ocean can appear gray or olive, and over time develop their spawning colors. Three-year-old males turn bright red and grow a hooked upper jaw or “kype.” Females turn a more muted red and develop white tails as they excavate their nesting sites or “redds.”
Both male and female steelhead are silver, with spotted backs and a pink stripe along their sides.
Salmon and steelhead lay their eggs in gravel nests/redds. Females excavate redds by turning on their sides and quickly lifting their tails, drawing up sand and gravel, which then drift downstream, creating an upstream pit and a downstream mound. Eggs are then laid in the pit, fertilized by one or more males, and buried by the female. Coho redds can be up to 30 feet long and are typically lighter in color than the surrounding streambed.
Courtship involves males quivering against females and repeatedly crossing over them. The largest males chase off smaller rivals, including small two-year-old males called jacks, which are salmon that spend only six months in the ocean before coming back to spawn. Both male and female coho salmon die after returning to the stream where they were born and spawn. Steelhead trout may return several times to the same stream.
The coho and steelhead eggs hatch in four to six weeks and the young fish (“alevins”) remain under the gravel for several weeks, feeding off the leftover yolk. When the yolk is gone, the young “fry” then surface from the gravel and spend one to three years in the streams before making their way to the ocean in the spring. Only one in ten fry survive long enough to make the trip to the ocean.
Protection and enhancement of remaining habitat is of critical importance. Water diversions, urban development, ocean conditions, hatchery practices and overfishing have conspired to reduce coho salmon populations substantially from historic levels throughout their California range. Coho are now found in fewer than half of the streams they once inhabited in California. Lagunitas Creek has supported more than a third of the remaining coho in central California in recent years.
Lagunitas Creek also supports an important population of Central California Coast steelhead. Steelhead numbers have also declined throughout their range in California, but in Lagunitas Creek, as well as other small coastal streams, they are faring better than coho.
For more information, see our Lagunitas Creek Fisheries Program.