Angel Island State Park, San Francisco
Last weekend, my wife and I took a short backpacking trip to Angel Island in the San Francisco Bay. The island is next to Alcatraz and often overlooked because, while it has a rich history, it doesn’t reach notorious status. We were there as a mini vacation and it’s one of the few times that I traveled without my camera. If we return, I probably will take my camera and tripod, as there was inspiration around every turn.
As soon as we stepped on the island, Rhea suggested I write a blog post about camping on Angel Island. She had planned the entire weekend and she said information on hiking and camping on Angel Island was difficult to find. Since I didn’t bring my Canon 5D Mark II or my Toyo 45CX, I used my Motorola Moto X camera phone to share our experience. We had a fabulous time and recommend this trip to anyone who wants a quick get-a-way or mini-adventure.
Angel Island, San Francisco Bay Hiking & Camping
We took the 9:45am Blue and Gold Fleet Ferry to Angel Island on Friday morning. The Ferry goes directly to Ayala Cove on Angel Island; it may have additional stops after Angel Island (Tiburon, Sausalito or Alcatraz). We picked our tickets up at Pier 39 (they open at 9 am) and actually left from there, also. Technically, we were supposed to leave from Pier 41, but they made a last minute change. No worries, though, as those piers are right next to each other.
The ferry ride was about 10 minutes (sit inside or out) and had a view of the island (with the peak of Mt. Livermore hidden in the fog). There was a State Park Ranger waiting for us when we stepped off the ferry. We followed him over to a white booth to check-in, get a run down of the rules, be warned about vicious raccoons and get a trail map to our camp site.
History of Angel Island (in 127 words)
Today, Angel Island is the largest island in the San Francisco Bay. But, before the last ice age, it wasn’t an island, at all. When sea levels rose, Angel Island was born. About 2,000 years ago, it was fishing and hunting grounds for the Coast Miwok Native Americans. In the late 1700’s, it was the first place European settlers landed, commanded by Juan de Ayala. During the Civil War, it was an Army Post. It become Fort McDowell in the 1800s and also served as a quarantine station for immigrants. During WWII, it was a POW camp, in the 1950s it was a Nike missile site and to this day, part of the island is a US Coast Guard Station. Angel Island is a California State Park.
The North Ridge Trail
The North Ridge Trailhead is just steps away from the ferry dock. A short, wide path takes you to the base of 140 steps. At the top of those steps, you meet a fork in the road. You can turn left and hike along the paved road, or you can cross the street and continue the North Ridge Trail through the woods. The ranger explained that to get to our campsite (#2) we could take either route. The road is longer and easier, he said, and the trail is shorter but more challenging. We chose to stay on the trail, which was very easy. The only reason I would take the road is if I had something on wheels.Your route may vary if you’re staying at one of the other campsites. Rhea chose campsite #2 because it’s on the less windy side of the island and I get cold very easily. (Jumping ahead, we were pretty well protected at #2, with our tent set up behind a giant tree stump to block wind. Our neighbors at #3, were walking around looking for an area where they could sit outside and away from the biting wind at their site.) At the top of the 140 steps, we crossed the road and continued up the North Ridge Trail.
The trail gradually climbs up hill but there weren’t any steep sections, making it very easy. Terrain varied from desert-like with hard packed clay and rock to rain forest-like with slippery mud and ferns to pine barrens-like with pine needles and fallen leaves blanketing the trail. There were no loose rocks and the slippery section was minimal. The trail ranged from being in shade to open sun. There were a couple of short stretches with a drop off on one side (hang on to your kids) but the trail was still about 3 feet wide at those points.
For the second time, the trail crosses a road. This time, it’s a dirt fire road. To get to our campsite, we needed to leave the trail and follow the road around to the left. The road is wide and flat with hard packed dirt and lots of shade. When we reached a white roofed water treatment plant, we made a sharp left to leave the fire road and continue down a wide trail to campsites 1, 2, 3. There’s an outhouse and spigot with potable water for all three sites, located in front of campsite #2. Each site also has two flat areas for tents, a picnic table, charcoal grill and bear box. The bear box is for those vicious raccoons I mentioned earlier.
We set up camp, then took the fire road back to the North Ridge Trail and continued on the trail up to the peak of Mt. Livermore. This is the highest point on Angel Island (788 ft) and provides a 360 degree view of the San Francisco Bay. Of course, it was pretty hazy when we were there, but it was still worth the trip. From Ayala Cove to Mt. Livermore (without the short detour we took to camp) it’s about 2.5 miles (5 miles round trip).
We returned to camp at this point, but another option is to detour on Sunset Trail which takes you to the south side of the island.
Additional Photos of Angel Island