High on the Ridge

Marin Headlands
Gorp.com
Trail at a Glance

Length: 4.6 miles.
Location: In Marin County, north of the Golden Gate Bridge and west of Sausalito, in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Trail Characteristics: Width varies from narrow path to wide service road. Often windy and sometimes foggy. Elevation gain of 600 feet from bridge to ridgetop, through open grassland and chaparral. From Bunker Road to Five Corners, 700-foot elevation gain. Open grasslands from Five Corners to Tennessee Valley with elevation loss of 600 feet.

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A dramatic trip from the Golden Gate Bridge to ridgetops above Sausalito, with views over San Francisco Bay, the coastal hills, and the Pacific Ocean.

Trails in Marin County have a long history, and some trails retain their historic names. This narrative and the maps use the long-established names, although some of these do not appear on trail signs. However, the Ridge Trail route is clearly marked on signposts with the blue, white, and red logo.

Hikers, equestrians, and bicyclists take different trails to reach the Bay Area Ridge Trail route and then they travel the same route from a junction often called Five Corners. Each user's route to this junction is described separately below. This trail is contained in the Marin Headlands portion of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Hikers start at the trailhead parking near the northwest portal of the Golden Gate Bridge. From the west corner of the parking lot, cross the road that goes under the bridge and pick up the Bay Area Ridge Trail, also the Coastal Trail, which goes up through a Monterey cypress forest and continues 0.2 mile to Conzelman Road. Cross Conzelman Road and start up railroad-tie steps to begin a 600-foot climb up an open hillside. You zigzag along this narrow trail through coastal scrub, seemingly nondescript but, as the signs warn, habitat for the endangered species, the Mission Blue butterfly.

From a switchback partway up the hill, you can look back over the waters of the Golden Gate past Lime Point. In 1775 Juan Ayala, the first European to enter San Francisco Bay, saw this"white island rock" as he anchored his ship, the Safi Carlos, nearby. Later, it was called Lime Point for its covering of bird lime. Today, the Golden Gate Bridge, completed in 1937, spans the narrow entrance to the bay that Ayala navigated two centuries earlier.

The trail climbs steeply northwest above Highway 101. At your feet blooms a bright variety of yellow daisies, blue lupines, pearly everlastings, and brilliant red Indian paintbrush, all of them growing amid bracken fern and the ubiquitous poison oak. As the trail rises, the traffic sounds fade and the view northeast widens to include Richardson Bay and the Belvedere Peninsula.

A small footbridge crosses seeping springs where moisture-loving yellow mimulus thrives. Turn around here and enjoy magnificent views of San Francisco's skyline, Alcatraz and Angel islands, and the East Bay Hills beyond. Northeast at the foot of this hill you are climbing, you can see East Fort Baker's historic buildings, with red-tiled roofs, that ring Horseshoe Cove. This old fort is soon to become part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and it is hoped that the Bay Area Discovery Museum, which is presently housed there, will remain. Beyond Horseshoe Cove, the view of the Bay is enlivened by the sight of yachts heeling over in the brisk winds coming through the Gate.


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