Angel Island sits in the middle of San Francisco Bay, just off the Marin County coast. As you might imagine, it’s position in the bay affords those who visit world class views of nearly the entire Bay Area. San Francisco, Oakland, Marin County, and much of the East Bay are visible from the island, plus three bridges: the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, and Richmond Bridge. Mt. Tamalpais looms large to the north, while Mt. Diablo is visible to the east. Sound great? It is! The only catch is that Angel Island must be timed correctly, or else the views will be shrouded in fog. The day that I picked was near picture perfect, so naturally I felt it was finally time to visit this island that had been on my radar.
Getting to Angel Island requires a bit of planning. First, it’s necessary to take a ferry to the island. Year-round ferries run from Tiburon in Marin County, or from San Francisco. Seasonally in the summer, ferries also run from Vallejo and Oakland/Alameda. I opted for the Tiburon ferry as it’s more convenient to me coming from the North Bay. The schedule varies by day and month so be sure to check it before heading out. I paid $15 for a round trip ticket and that included my park admission. Not a bad deal if you ask me. The ferry ride was short, only about 15 minutes, and very smooth. In no time we had pulled up to the dock at Ayala Cove, the main dock for all ferries to the island. After disembarking and having a quick lunch, I headed out for the island’s interior.
There are two main hikes that most people do on Angel Island. The first is walking (or biking) the paved Perimeter Trail that circles the island. It’s around 5 miles around and allows you to see all of the sights (and views) of Angel Island. You can visit a building that at one time was an immigration station for boats arriving from Asia. There are also several old military batteries dating back to when Angel Island was a military outpost. Plus you get all of the same views of the Bay Area mentioned above. Since the trail is mostly flat, this would be a good hike for someone who doesn’t want anything too difficult or uphill. I do not prefer to hike on pavement, so I opted for the second main hike that goes into the island’s interior and reaches the summit of Mt. Livermore, Angel Island’s highest point at 788 feet.
To do this hike, head to the left as you exit the ferry away from the information kiosks and bathrooms. There a small dirt trail heads uphill signed as the North Ridge Trail. The trail heads uphill at a moderate grade and climbs a steep, but relatively short set of stairs. After huffing and puffing up the stairs the trail dumps you out onto the Perimeter Road. Cross the road and pick up the North Ridge Trail on the other side. Now, the trail climbs at a much more gentle grade and does so for much of the remainder of the hike. The trail winds its way up the north ridge of the island looping in and out of shade with spectacular views at every turn.
First, Mt. Tamalpais and the Marin coastline appears. Then, the Richmond bridge comes next, followed by the East Bay hills, Berkeley, and Oakland. The best part about this hike is that the view changes at every turn, and every bit of it is spectacular. Continue to follow the North Ridge Trail past the gravel fire road and deeper into the interior of the island. Once you get closer to the summit of Mt. Livermore, the forest will start to thin. After 2.5 miles of hiking, the short spur to the top of Mt. Livermore branches off to the right. Follow this short trail up to the top. Once there, the entire Bay Area unfolds before you and some of the first great views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge appear.
I spent several minutes at the top admiring the spectacular vista. San Francisco looks close enough to touch, and several local mountains and landmarks are visible from up there. It’s amazing to think that the highest point on Angel Island is only 788 feet, but its location in the middle of the bay affords it million dollar views. After I’d had my fill of views (and pictures), I made my way back down the spur trail back to the junction with the North Ridge Trail. This time, turn right onto the Sunset Trail.
The Sunset Trail takes on a whole different character than the North Ridge Trail. For one, the trail traverses the much less vegetated south and west side of the island. This lack of vegetation allows for constant views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge as you wind your way down the ridge. As if you weren’t thinking it before, trails like this only serve as a wonderful reminder of how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful region. Eventually though, the trail will dip back into forest and switchback its way back down to Ayala Cove and the ferry dock. I had some time to kill to I went to the visitor’s center/museum and read up on some of the history of the island. Check it out if you want to hear about Angel Island’s storied past. Eventually I grabbed the ferry and enjoyed the smooth, but crowded boat back to Tiburon. Bottom line: if you can time the weather right, Angel Island is a not to be missed hike. This might be on my top list of favorite hikes in the Bay Area.
Distance: 5.5 miles
Time: 2-3 hours
Elevation gain: 800 feet
Fees: Park entrance is included in the round-trip ferry tickets. From Tiburon, I paid $15 round-trip.
Directions: Take the ferry from either Tiburon or San Francisco. Tiburon Ferry Terminal is located at the end of Highway 131 from US-101 in downtown Tiburon.
Park map from the California State Parks can be found here.