Angel Island is a perfect day trip, where the journey to the trailhead rivals
the hike for sheer relaxation and beauty. Since you can only reach Angel
Island by boat, sit back and enjoy the ferry ride, then climb to the top
of the island and back, with incredible 360-degree views nearly the entire
trip. Just keep an eye on the clock to make sure you catch that last ferry.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
Easy 5 mile loop hike.
Some shade, but mostly exposed.
Dirt trails and fire roads and some short segments on pavement.
Spring is best, but nice all year.
Unless you have a boat, Angel Island is only accessible by public transportation.
Contact Blue and Gold
Fleet, (415) 773-1188, for a ferry schedule.If you start a journey to Angel
Island from a location served by BART or Muni trains, it makes perfect sense
to take public transportation to the ferry landing at San Francisco's Pier
41. Take BART or Muni to the Embarcadero station, come above ground and
transfer to the F line (on the Embarcadero across from the Ferry Building),
and proceed west to the Fisherman's Wharf stop. Ferries to Angel Island
also depart from Tiburon and Alameda. If you want to drive to the ferry,
the easiest and most direct route to Fisherman's Wharf from the Bay Bridge
is via the Embarcadero. From the Golden Gate Bridge, take Lombard to Van
Ness to North Point, then park in one of the parking garages at Fisherman's
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS coordinates* for Angel Island trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
If you'd like an extended Angel Island visit, you can stay overnight in
1 of 9 primitive campsites, but you'll have to haul your gear about 2 miles
from the ferry to your campsite. Read CSP's campground
info (download pdf) for more info.
The $17.00 round-trip ferry ticket (on Blue and Gold from SF) includes park admission. You can also catch a ferry in Tiburon. Toilets and
drinking water are available at the trailhead. From the Angel Island website:
"Cove Cafe deli, bike rentals, and motorized tram tours are available
every day from April through October. Please note that bike rentals, tram
tours, and the cafe are CLOSED during the winter months (late November thru
February) and are open Thursday thru Monday during March and early November."
Some trails here are flat, and may be accessible to wheelchairs, but overall,
this hike is not suitable for chairs or strollers.
Park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. Dogs (except service animals) are not allowed on the island at any time.
The Official Story:
Ranger Office 415-435-5390
Angel Island Association Home
This hike is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles:
San Francisco, by Jane Huber (order
this book from Amazon.com). (Yup, that's me, the creator of this website.)
from CSP (download pdf)
map from CSP (download pdf)
The park map is available at the park's visitor center
and at the ferry landing.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of this
North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub (order
this book from Amazon.com), has a map and description of this hike.
Angel Island in a nutshell
-- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
San Francisco Bay's largest
island, rising out of the water between Marin
and San Francisco counties, has served as a cattle ranch, military base,
quarantine station, immigration facility, prisoner-of-war detention center,
and Nike missile site.When the federal government abandoned the island
in the late 1940s, it became part of the state park system, although missile
sites operated until 1962. Years of restoration, the elimination of planted
non-native vegetation, and the passage of time have allowed coast live
oak woods and grassy hills to make a comeback. Park staff have returned
the island's highest peak, Mount Livermore, to its original state by restoring
acres of dirt pushed off the summit by the military. With about 20 feet
added back to Mount Livermore's summit, the hill is a peak again, and
native vegetation has been reintroduced.
Angel Island offers two main hikes: a nearly
level 5-mile circuit around the island on a fire road, and this loop,
a combination of Northridge and Sunset trails, with a short out-and-back
spur to the summit. The park is busy during tourist season, but when I
visited with a friend in early summer, we disembarked from a nearly full
ferry, then watched as the crowds made a beeline for the visitor center.
On the trails, we crossed paths with only a dozen other hikers -- trails
are even quieter in winter, when clear days promise long views, and early
spring, when the wildflower displays are legendary.
Begin from the ferry landing on Northridge
Trail, which sets off to the left (north) of the restrooms. As it
leaves the shoreline area, this footpath climbs through pine, toyon, and
coast live oak, ascends some long steep stairs past a few picnic tables,
then reaches a cluster of eucalyptus and paved Perimeter Road at 0.1 mile. Continue on the far side of the pavement on Northridge Trail, entering
a more natural area where clarkia and Indian pink bloom in early summer,
freckling patches of grass beneath coast live oak. The narrow path winds uphill through
shaded woods of California bay and hazelnut. When Northridge Trail emerges
from the woods on the northernmost flank of the island, enjoy views north
across Raccoon Strait to the Tiburon peninsula. Wind through a patch of
manzanita charred by fire, where new shrubs are quickly reinvigorating
the hillsides. At 0.9 mile, turn left onto a fire road for a few feet,
then veer right, continuing on Northridge Trail. After one last foray
through chaparral, the path, still ascending easily, takes a long tour
through quiet woods of coast live oak, where you might also notice madrone,
gooseberry, huge thickets of hazelnut, and poison oak. Northridge Trail
levels out as it reaches a grassy plateau dotted with coyote brush, home
to iris, paintbrush, and zigadene blooming in spring; and coyote mint,
venus thistle, and buckwheat flowering in summer. There
are good views, west to Mount Tamalpais, and uphill to Mount Livermore's
summit. Under a few pines at 1.8 miles, Northridge Trail ends at a T junction.
Turn right, following the sign to Mount Livermore.
At an easy-going rate, the trail climbs
past coast live oak into grassland. You'll likely see butterflies, including
California sister and a variety of swallowtails, fluttering about in summer,
along with fast-moving swifts and more languid vultures and hawks riding
the thermal air currents. After two bends in the trail, the path makes
a final push to the summit, climbing through grassy slopes dotted with
young coyote brush, reintroduced during restoration of the peak. At 2.1
miles you'll reach the top of Mount Livermore, where views are simply
incredible, and even in summer's haze include the Golden Gate Bridge stretching
from San Francisco's Presidio to Marin's rolling Headlands, Alcatraz Island,
Mount Tamalpais, the downtown San
Francisco skyline, Mount Diablo, Treasure Island, and the Bay Bridge.
The picnic table and benches at the summit can be quite windy, but there
are a few other sites, off the slopes of the peak, that are more sheltered.
It can be tough to leave this idyllic setting, but remember that ferry
schedule. Descend back to the previous junction, then continue, to
the right, on Sunset Trail.
Dropping down onto the island's south slope,
there are unobstructed views downhill to Point Blunt, an active Coast
Guard station. This area is still scarred from development and restoration
efforts, which have left some burned pines and a sense of disarray. Sunset
Trail crosses an old, closed road, and begins to angle across a hillside
heading west. Bushes of sticky monkeyflower, coyote brush, poison oak,
and sagebrush frame awesome views of the Golden Gate and the world's most
famous span, with its distinctive "international orange" paint scheme
so pretty against a clear blue sky. Sunset Trail descends a ridge, offering splendid views of Sausalito, Belvedere Island, the Marin
Headlands, and Mount Tam, then veers right into coast live oaks woods.
At one last little sunny viewpoint a bench invites a lingering break,
and the trail then begins a campaign of switchbacks. Some shortcuts are
worn into the hillside here, but please stay on the trail, which is well
graded. Poison oak and Italian thistle crowd the trail in places in summer.
At 3.5 miles veer right on a fire road for a few feet, then turn left
back onto Sunset Trail. Switchbacks continue, mostly through California
bay and coast live oak woods. Just past a water tank and cluster of picnic
tables, the trail bends left, runs along the road, then ends at 4.6 miles.
Cross the road near a paved route descending to group picnic areas,
then veer right, following the sign to the dock area.
This wide trail starts out paved but soon
shifts to dirt. As you descend toward the visitor center, you might notice
several non-native plants, including pride of madeira, a shrub with big
purple flower spikes, and broom, a wispy bush that bears yellow sweet-smelling
pea-like blossoms. The trail turns sharply left, then ends at the side
of the visitor center, where a grassy picnic area fronts the shoreline
at Ayala Cove. Turn right and walk on a paved road the remaining distance
back to the ferry landing.
Total distance: 5 miles
Last hiked: June 30, 2003