Heron's Head Park,
Port of San Francisco,
San Francisco County
In brief:
Easy 1.5 mile walk in a little coastal oasis surrounded by industrial San Francisco.

Distance, category, and difficulty
:
This 1.5 mile walk is easy, and the flat trail is wheelchair/stroller accessible.

Exposure:
Totally exposed.

Trail traffic
:
Light.

Trail surfaces
:
Dirt trail.

Hiking time
:
1/2 hour.

Season
:
Nice any time.

Getting there
:
From Third Street in San Francisco, turn east onto Cargo Way. Follow Cargo Way to its terminus at Jennings Street, turn left, then turn right into the parking lot.

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3744'23.46"N
Longitude
12222'34.44"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging
:
Gas, pay phones, stores, and restaurants in surrounding neighborhoods. No camping..

Trailhead details:
Paved parking lot. There are designated handicapped spots, and the trail is well-suited to wheels. Pit toilets and drinking water at trailhead. No parking or entrance fees. This trailhead is within walking distance of public transit -- SF Muni bus lines run down Evans Street. Read some cautions about urban hikes.

Rules:
Trail is open from dawn to dusk. Dogs are permitted on leash only.

The Official Story:
Port of San Francisco's Heron's Head page

Map Choices/More Information:
• Use a San Francisco street map to get there. AAA's San Francisco map is good.
• The Walker's Map of San Francisco, by Pease Press is helpful in reaching and walking the park.
• Download the PDF A Field Guide to 100 Birds of Heron's Head
Heron's Head article from Bay Nature



Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

There's an old joke about San Francisco real estate, that land here is so expensive because they're not making any more of it. Our small city's shoreline was altered by landfill and subsequent development in the past, but in more contemporary times the emphasis has been on coastal conservation rather than fill and build. What is now called Heron's Head Park is one of the last bits of artificially made city land. This small peninsula was born in the early 1970s, as part of a Port of San Francisco shipping terminal project that fizzled. The land remained, abandoned, until the late 1990s, when environmental groups cleaned up the site and opened it as Heron's Head Park. At first glance it's a strange location for bird watching -- Port of San Francisco cargo terminals loom directly to the north, and the old Hunter's Point Power plant (now being dismantled) wheezed just to the southwest. But this little scrappy spit of land is surrounded by water on three sides, with small patches of salt marsh protected on the south part of the park, and although this man-made habitat fails to resemble any of the other pristine natural bay area shorelines, it attracts a huge variety of waterfowl, shorebirds, and wading birds, as well as songbirds, owls, hummingbirds, and more.
    The trail runs less than a mile before it dead-ends at the bay, and the grade is perfectly flat, making this a great choice for a family walk with the very young or very old.It's also an exceptional choice for beginning birdwatchers -- bring binoculars and a field guide!
     Start from the gated entrance to Heron's Head Park and begin walking east on the wide dirt trail. Native plants dot the grass, including coyote brush, sagebrush, toyon, ceanothus, blue-eyed grass, and California poppy -- mostly introduced by the legions of volunteers who strive to make Heron's Head more "natural." Left to its own devices the land would be overtaken by fennel and some other non-native shrubs and small trees, some of which still remain. Interpretive panels along the trail offer information about the birds and habitat of the area. A narrow trail breaks off on the right, hugging the shoreline before departing away from Heron's Head Park into India Basin Shoreline Park. A path off to the left leads to the EcoCenter, and a few steps down the trail there's a small picnic area with tables and bbq grills. As the views begin to open up, birds are commonly spotted on the left, floating in water between Heron's Head and the port cargo terminal. I almost always see at least one western grebe; on other visits I've spotted harlequin ducks and other waterfowl fishing, plus Canada geese and great blue herons stalking the shoreline and cormorants swooping overhead. Along the trail white-crowned sparrows are common and hummingbirds zip around. Keeping to a level grade, the trail continues east, while the land surrounding the path shrinks, allowing still better views of the water to the north and the marsh to the south, protected by low fences. Here on one of my first Heron's Head walks I was reminded of my limited birdwatching skill -- even through binoculars and with a bird guide I could not ID several shorebirds and waders. Were the stocky birds constantly jabbing their beaks in the mud dowitchers? What about the drab small sandpiper-sized birds? I did see some familiar friends, including avocets and snowy egrets. Other more skilled bird-savvy photographers have seen and photographed an impressive variety of birds here, from kites to kestrels, kingfishers to oystercatchers. After about 3/4 mile, the trail ends at a viewpoint. Here there are nice views east across the bay and south toward the Hunters Point old naval shipyard. When ready, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Total distance: 1.5 miles
Last walked: August 14, 2013
Previous visit: April 28, 2011