Why walk Angel Island hiking trails? Primarily for the gorgeous vistas of San Francisco Bay, including San Francisco itself, along with the Golden Gate, plus the surrounding hills and mountains stretching off into the far distance. This hike guides you along the North Ridge Trail and the Sunset Trail to the tippy-top summit of Mount Livermore.
Thanks to author Alexandra Kenin
and her publisher Mountaineers Books for permission to include this modified excerpt from her excellent book Urban Trails: San Francisco. (Buy the book at your favorite local bookstore, directly from the Mountaineers Books, or on Amazon.)
Angel Island State Park: North Ridge Trail and Sunset Trail Key Data
Distance: 5.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 880 feet
High Point: 790 feet
Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Fitness: Walkers, hikers
Family Friendly: May be too strenuous for young children, but children may enjoy a tram tour
Dog Friendly: No
Amenities: Restrooms near ferry terminal on Angel Island; restaurants and bike rental companies open seasonally; in fall and winter, bring a picnic lunch
Contact: California Department of Parks and Recreation
Map: download the Angel Island State Park map here
GPS: 37° 52′ 6.5460” N 122° 26′ 4.3332” W
Getting to Angel Island State Park from San Francisco
Public Transit: For the Pier 41 ferry: MUNI F train to the Embarcadero and Stockton St.; MUNI bus 47 to the intersection of Powell and Beach streets; MUNI buses 8, 8X, and 39 to Powell and Bay streets. For Angel Island: The Blue and Gold Fleet takes you from Pier 41 to Angel Island. (If you’re traveling from Tiburon, take the Angel Island Tiburon Ferry.) Schedules vary seasonally. Tideline Water Taxi provides on-demand service year-round. Reservations are suggested.
Parking: Parking near the ferry can be difficult. Pier 39, at 2350 Stockton St., offers a paid lot that’s open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Angel Island State Park: Why Hike Here?
At 740 acres, Angel Island is the second-largest island in the bay after Alameda Island. While most of the island lies in Tiburon, Fort McDowell, on the eastern side of the island, is owned by the City and County of San Francisco. Angel Island is a perfect place to take in views of the San Francisco Bay Area. On a clear day, you can see as far as Napa and Sonoma counties to the north and San Jose to the south.
The former military base has 13 miles of hiking trails and a lot of military history. This particular hike explores the North Ridge Trail and the Sunset Trail that often remain empty even when throngs of visitors head to the island in the summer. For most of the year, there is only one boat you can take to the island in the morning, so I start my hikes early and then have a picnic lunch at the summit of Mount Livermore (788 feet). Mount Livermore is named after Caroline Livermore, the conservationist who led the campaign to create Angel Island State Park.
Hiking the North Ridge and Sunset Trails
From the Angel Island ferry terminal, walk past the information booth and to your left to reach the North Ridge trailhead. After a short, but steep 0.1-mile climb, reach a picnic bench and the start of a long flight of stairs. Climb more than one hundred stairs to reach the paved Perimeter Road. Catch your breath in the shade of some eucalyptus trees, knowing that the hardest part of the hike is over.
Start Hiking on the North Ridge Trail
Cross the Perimeter Road and look right to locate the North Ridge Trail. For the next 1.7 miles, the path winds gently uphill to the north and then to the center of the island, taking you through sun-drenched sections littered with chaparral as well as fern- and moss-covered areas lined with coast live oak. At 0.9 mile turn left on the Fire Road and take a right to continue on the North Ridge Trail toward Mount Livermore.
Climb Mount Livermore: San Francisco Bay Area Views!
At 1.8 miles, reach a junction with the Sunset Trail and get your first downtown views of San Francisco. Turn right on a spur trail to reach Mount Livermore. At 2 miles you will start seeing picnic benches along the trail (if these are full, there are more beyond the summit), and at 2.1 miles, you reach the summit of Mount Livermore. From here, you’re rewarded with views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, Tiburon, Mount Tamalpais, Mount Diablo, Treasure Island, the Bay Bridge, and more.
Then Continue Hiking on the Sunset Trail
Return the way you came to reach the junction with the Sunset Trail at 2.4 miles, and turn right. In 0.1 mile bear left at the paved Fire Road (Ida Trail, unsigned), and then immediately turn right to stay on the Sunset Trail. For the next 0.8 mile, you will be on exposed trails that give you unobstructed views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Along some of the grassy hills on the south side of the island, you will see charred trees, a reminder of the fire that burned one-third of the island in October 2008. As the trail wraps around the west side of the island, glimpse down at Camp Reynolds. Built during the Civil War, more than 2000 soldiers were stationed here by 1876.
At 3.2 miles, head back into the tree cover, and at 3.6 miles, take a right at a junction with the Fire Road and then a quick left. Follow the narrow trail (unsigned, but still the Sunset Trail) along a few long switchbacks through the woods for 1.2 miles until you reach the Perimeter Road. Cross the road to continue on another paved road in front of you and to the left of the bike route. Follow the road downhill for 0.2 mile to the visitor center and the Ayala Cove area. With the water in front of you, turn right onto a paved path and continue a final 0.1 mile to your start.
Angel Island: More Hiking Opportunities, Plus Biking
Explore the island on foot or by bike on the Perimeter Road. Bikes are available seasonally on the island, so depending on the time of year, you may want to bring your own or rent one in San Francisco. On your tour, visit any number of historical sites, including Camp Reynolds, Fort McDowell, the US Immigration Station, and batteries Ledyard, Drew, and Wallace.
Hiking Angel Island: Your Take
Have you hiked any trails on Angel Island? What was your experience? Share below in the comments.
About Alexandra Kenin
The author of Urban Trails: San Francisco, Alexandra Kenin is the expert on where to go hiking in San Francisco. She’s a professional guide for San Francisco hikes and walks: see her website for details, and also her Urban Hiker SF Facebook page. You can also find her on Instagram and Twitter. (And she took all the photos in the post.)