Angel Island — North Ridge / Sunset Trail Loop

Date Hiked: Sunday, 9/22/13
Distance: 4.3 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate (mostly easy)
Best Season: Any, but try to go on a clear day for the best views

I know I’m behind by two weekends/hikes, but I had to document this past weekend’s first — it was fantastic!

After attending college in the Bay Area for four years and living as a (sort of) functioning adult here for two and a half years, I had never been to Angel Island. Why did I wait so long to visit? If you get the chance, don’t follow my footsteps — visit Angel Island as soon as you can because it is a fabulous little retreat with lots to do and fantastic, 360 degree views of the bay on a clear day. Angel Island is also sometimes thought of as the Ellis Island of the West Coast, so to speak, so there is a wealth of history, especially immigration history, to be found on the island.

To get to Angel Island, half of us took the ferry from Tiburon while the other half hailed from the San Francisco ferry. The round trip ticket from Tiburon costs $13.50, and the ferry ride lasted all of ten minutes. Quick and easy and free of sea-sickness. Paul was MIA this trip, so this post’s photos are my own unless otherwise noted. (Paul seriously missed out! Sorry, Paul, we’ll go again soon!).

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James, Sarah, Jarrett and I are ready to board the ferry from Tiburon.

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We rode in the back of the ferry and caught some amazing views of the GGB (that’s the Golden Gate Bridge!). On such a clear day, sailboats were out in full force, creating a truly idyllic scene on the Bay.

In researching which trails to traverse, we were recommended the five-mile Perimeter Loop, which circles the island; however, Sarah and James have a great book of Bay Area hikes (101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area) that led us to choose the North Ridge Trail instead. What a fantastic decision!

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Hikers debating between the Perimeter Trail and the North Ridge Trail. The Perimeter Trail seems better suited for bicyclists and families with strollers, as it is almost entirely paved. We picked the North Ridge Trail because it is unpaved, has no bicyclists, fewer hikers, and reaches the summit of Mt. Livermore, the highest peak on the island.

The trail begins with a quick ascent up a set of stairs (about 150 steps?) then pretty much flattens out for the most part for the remainder of the hike. It crosses varied terrain, which keeps things interesting. You’ll hike through shady, cool wooded areas, grassy, sun-filled landscapes, and coastal cliffs with fabulous ocean views. I swear, rounding every corner, there’s an even better vista than the last spot.

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A few scenic shots from the hike up that showcase the trail’s scenic variety. The third photo includes some recovering trees, the result of the 2008 fire that damaged nearly half of the island.

Angel Island - Bay Bridge

Group shot! Pictured in the background: San Francisco (to the right) and the new Bay Bridge, though you can most clearly see the half that wasn’t recently updated.

A few yards below Mt. Livermore’s peak, a few well-placed picnic tables offer great views of their own. We spent some time at the peak watching the Kiwis and the US battle it out during the America’s Cup with a perfect backdrop that included the GGB. You couldn’t ask for a better view!  After the race, we headed down a few yards to the tables for lunch where we were all introduced by Jarrett to Cookie Butter from Trader Joe’s. Personally, the jury’s still on out on this one for me, though everyone seems to be kooky for it (corny pun definitely intended).

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Lunchtime view near Mt. Livermore’s peak with Tiburon in the background.

Fact: Did you know the peak of Mt. Livermore is semi-artificial? In the 1950’s the US Army shaved off the top of the peak to facilitate the placement of the Nike Missile Site; however, the dirt was never discarded — just thrown down the hillside. In 2002, the peak was artificially recreated using the original dirt and native shrubbery.

After lunch and the great Cookie Butter debate, we began the quick descent back to the ferry landing.

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We spotted a few deer and this majestic hawk throughout the hike.

Angel Island - Bench
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Our descent included a break on this bench to enjoy the view. This pose was purported (by Lisa, photographed by Sarah) to be quite comfortable. What do you think?

After our super-sunny, super-scenic hike, we waited to catch the ferry back, enjoyed some live music drifting through the breeze from the little restaurant Cantina, and Irene and Chris devoured a well-deserved It’s-It, the San Francisco treat. Yep, Rice-a-Roni was wrong, it’s all about the It’s-Its. If you’re unsure what an It’s-It is, let me explain. This delectable goody consists of ice cream — vanilla, mint, chocolate, or cappuccino — sandwiched between two scrumptious oatmeal cookies all dipped in dark chocolate. It truly is the San Francisco treat — yum!

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Tuckered out trio heading back to Tiburon. Not photographed: our seal and dolphin friends.

Conclusion: This was one of the best hikes we’ve accomplished! We traveled by boat, soaked in some epic views, and surveyed an America’s Cup race from a mountain top all in the best company — couldn’t ask for a better Sunday afternoon!