An easy under 2-mile loop through Sutro's woods in the heart of the City.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 1.8 mile loop hike is easy.
Dirt and paved trails.
Nice any time; usually muddy in winter.
Mount Sutro is nearly in the center of San Francisco -- from Laguna Honda Boulevard turn east onto Clarendon and drive uphill to side of street parking near the intersection with Johnstone Drive.
GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phones, stores, and restaurants in surrounding neighborhoods. No
Side of street parking. No designated handicapped spots. No restrooms or drinking water. No parking or entrance fees. The trails
are not suitable to wheelchairs. There are no paper maps offered, but the hike is well-signed. This trailhead is within walking distance of
SF MUNI bus and trolley lines. Read
some cautions about urban hikes.
No rules are posted.
The Official Story:
UCSF Mount Sutro page
Map Choices/More Information:
Use a San Francisco street map to get there. AAA's San Francisco map is good.
Map from Sutro Stewards
The Walker's Map of San Francisco, by Pease
Press is perfect for this hike.
I'm embarrassed to confess that it took me nearly 20 years of San Francisco living to discover the trails of Mount Sutro. I have no good excuse -- I even lived a few blocks away from Mount Sutro and never made it there. Too busy roaming around the outerlands of the bay area I suppose. If you want your never been to Mount Sutro excuse to end today, keep reading!
Even though it is one of the highest hills in town, the trails of Mount Sutro are not well known, perhaps because its forest blocks views and the land is quietly managed by UCSF. The hill (which doesn't feel much like a mount) was part of a massive land grant owned by Adolph Sutro, who planted acres of cypress, pine, and eucalyptus, transforming grassland and coastal scrub (look today at Twin Peaks for a comparison) into a dense forest. The property eventually became part of UCSF and in the early 2000's volunteers restored some old trails and built new ones, creating a compact trail network great for quick jogs and short hikes.
Mount Sutro does not host off-street parking, but there are 7 main access points with decent street parking. I like the Clarendon access because it's most convenient for me, but you could start at the trailhead of your choice and take the hike described below with minimum modifications.
Start at the street intersection of Clarendon and Johnstone Drive. Parking can be tricky here on weekdays, so you may have to search for a suitable spot on the surrounding city streets -- do not enter the UCSF property to park and mind the neighborhood parking signs. Begin walking uphill on the sidewalk on the right side of UCSF's Johnstone Drive, through student housing. Just past (gasp) the Chancellor's residence on the right, bear right onto Fairy Gates Trail, marked by a small sign. The narrow path descends slightly, passing through woods almost completely comprised of non-native trees and shrubs, including eucalyptus, ivy, and cotoneaster. Some native plants (watch out for poison oak) have found harmony with the invaders; look for beeplant and cow parsnip blooming here in spring. Watch out for cyclists on all the mountain's trails -- I've nearly had head-on collisions where the trails bend around rock formations. At 0.24 mile, you'll reach a signed junction. Stay to the right, continuing on Fairy Gates Trail.
The path makes a tight turn and descends gently. Here, in this disturbed forest I once spotted a brown creeper, a bird I'd never seen in San Francisco previously. Other visitors report great horned owl sightings, as well as glimpses of everyday city birds like chickadees and crowned sparrows. At 0.35 mile, there's a 3-part junction. Historic Trail, on the right, heads east toward Stanyan Street. Edgewood Trail, straight, ends at Edgewood Avenue. Bear left.
The trail ascends and reaches Medical Center Way, a UCSF road. Cross carefully and begin hiking on signed Historic Trail. At a nearly level grade, the trail passes through woods upslope from the UCSF Medical Center -- the neighborhood noise grows more faint as the trail begins to ascend easily. Eucalyptus trees dominate, but there are some natives here, including ferns, currant, and red elderberry. Through breaks in the tree cover you may catch a glimpse north, to the Golden Gate Bridge, the only such views on this hike. Historic Trail bends left and heads south, continuing to climb. At 0.80 mile, continue straight as West Ridge Trail (steep and narrow) crosses Historic Trail.
Rock formations loom along the path, some covered in miner's lettuce. At 1 mile, you'll reach a signed junction. Turn left onto South Ridge Trail.
After a quick easy ascent, the path ends at a T junction at 1.10 mile. Turn left toward the summit.
Great froths of blue forget me nots line the paved road, which ascends to a junction with paths heading right and left near the Rotary Meadow sign. Continue uphill straight on Nike Road, which almost immediately shifts to dirt. As you enter the summit area, you'll pass through a sunny meadow where native plants have been reintroduced, much to the delight of local hummingbirds and butterflies. At 1.16 miles, North Ridge Trail breaks off to the left -- you will return to this junction, but for now continue straight a bit more uphill through the meadow, where grassy patches alternate with extensive plantings of ceanothus, sagebrush, and coyote brush. It's a lovely spot, particularly on a sunny day, although the surrounding forest precludes any views. At the meadow's northern edge, where signed East Ridge Trail heads into the woods, retrace your steps back to North Ridge Trail and turn right.
After descending through grassland dotted with natives, the path returns to the woods, using switchbacks to ease the grade. At 1.34 miles, Mystery Trail breaks off to the right; continue straight on North Ridge Trail.
This next trail segment is my favorite Mount Sutro path. Winding through eucalyptus and even a few coast live oaks, it's an easy descent to a junction with Medical Center Way at 1.58 miles. Carefully cross and pick up signed Fairy Gates Trail once more. After just a few feet, bear right at a previously encountered junction and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
Last hiked: May 5, 2011
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