The Beckoning Isle

Cycling Angel Island State Park
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Excerpted from Marin County Bike Trails by Phyllis L. Neumann

Angel Island State Park is one of Marin County's favorite places to take a bike. No account of biking in the San Francisco Bay Area would be complete without including it. Free from motorized traffic, it offers spectacular panoramic views, vista points and picnic areas. The ride will also take you into Angel Island's history, before the island was turned into a state park. Angel Island has some magnificent sights and is definitely a ride for the whole family.

Region: South MarinRating: Medium 
Mileage: 5 miles
Riding Time: 1 Hour 
Type of Bike: Touring or Mountain Bike 
Terrain: Fairly flat with moderate grades. Alternates between paved, dirt and gravel roads. Novice riders may need to walk up a few short but steep hills.

Starting Location/Parking: Angel Island is located about one mile from Tiburon on Raccoon Strait. It can only be reached by private boat or by ferry, which departs from Main Street in downtown Tiburon or San Francisco. To get to Tiburon take the Tiburon Exit east from Highway 101.

Route: From the Visitors Center, take the road to the left up a short steep hill. At the top of the hill, turn right and follow Perimeter Road counterclockwise around the circumference of the island.

Angel Island has over 740 acres of hiking and biking trails. The most popular main access road, Perimeter Road, circles the island. Most of the other roads on the island are either too rough or too steep for safe or pleasant cycling, though mountain bicycles seem to have little trouble. Some of the trails are restricted to hikers only. Watch for signs.

The island has a colorful history. The first known people to inhabit the island were the Coastal Miwok Indians. Mount Livermore, the highest point on the island (781 feet), was used by the Miwoks as a sacred place. The island was originally covered by dense forest. In 1775, the Spanish explorer, Don Juan Manuel de Ayala, landed on the island and began to cut down the trees for use on his ships. From 1839 to 1850, the island was used as a Mexican cattle ranch by Antonio Mario Osio. From about 1910 to 1940, Angel Island was used as an immigration station, often called the "Ellis Island of the West," to process Asian immigrants entering the United States. During World War II the island was used as a military base and prisoner of war camp for Japanese POWs.

Today, Angel Island is a State Park offering hiking, bicycling, and picnicking. A few beaches can be reached from Perimeter Road, though most of the shoreline has rocky cliffs.

Once you arrive at Ayala Cove by ferry, you can pick up maps at the Information Booth. The Snack Bar offers hamburgers, hot dogs, and drinks; bathrooms are located near the ferry landing. Ayala Cove was originally named for Lt. Don Juan Manuel Ayala, captain of the first ship known to sail through the Golden Gate in 1775.

The Visitor Center, behind the lovely grassy picnic grounds, is open on the weekends, and offers a slide presentation of the history of Angel Island on the hour and is well worth seeing. Books, maps, and pamphlets about the island are also sold here.

Take the road to the left of the Visitor Center. It immediately turns left up a short, steep hill that may best be walked up. Once you reach the top of the hill, the road runs perpendicular in either direction. This ride will follow the island counterclockwise, so turn right at the junction.

Perimeter Road, as the name suggests, encircles the island, and is the best for bicycles, giving you a view of the historic buildings and quarters. The road alternates between paved, dirt, and gravel. Those with touring bikes need to ride more carefully than those with mountain bikes on some parts of the road.

There are vista points along the entire stretch of the ride, strategically placed for viewing the incredible San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. Hundreds of beautiful white sails drift quietly past, giving a feeling of serenity.

The road is basically level but includes some substantial grades. If you are a novice or out of condition you will need to get off and walk. Those grades eventually give way to what could be some exciting downhill coasts, but "Walk Your Bike" signs are posted to allow hikers to enjoy the view without danger from careening bicycles.

The entire circumference takes only about an hour to complete but there are several other roads where you can explore other parts of the island, particularly if you have a mountain bike. Bicycles are permitted on most of the trails, however, some of the roads as well as all of the trails are reserved for hikers.

Angel Island Ferry Schedule. Ferries leave Tiburon from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the hour. The return ferry to Tiburon leaves the island fifteen minutes past the hour and operates until 5:15 p.m. Ferries operate seven days a week from San Francisco and Tiburon during the summer, and only on weekends during the off-season.

© Article copyright Penngrove Publications. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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