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Angel Island Backpacking

Day 1 of 2

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Saturday, May 30th
Ferry landing to Ridge camp site 5
1.5 miles
260 vertical feet (ascent)
15 vertical feet (descent)
1:16

The camp sites at Angel Island are very popular, and for good reason. Where else can you get a camp site on the largest island in San Francisco Bay, with views of the Bay Bridge, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate bridge? Especially popular is Ridge site number 5, and so back on November 1, 2008, I logged into the reservation web site and reserved the site 7 months in advance (the furthest you can reserve in advance). All the other May weekends were already booked when I did so.

I did all this with the full knowledge that a fire had ravaged much of Angel Island in October. However, the reports I read said that the island would probably be fine in the spring, and the camp sites were mostly spared.

I'd been to Angel Island before, on a hike to the top of Mt. Livermore. On that trip, we had taken the ferry from Pier 41 in San Francisco. However, I didn't think it'd be easy (or cheap) to find overnight parking near Pier 41, so I decided to take the ferry from Tiburon this time instead. There is no problem finding overnight parking here. There are two long term lots, neither of which I actually used. I ended up parking in another lot which specifically said "no overnight parking". The attendant said it was actually fine to park there for about 24 hours, and it was only $10.

We met Marisa and Brian and their two kids at the Tiburon ferry terminal, where we took the 1pm ferry to Angel Island. The ferry ride is only about 10 minutes. Once we docked at Angel Island, we checked in at the ranger kiosk and received a map. After a brief stop for the kids to play at the beach here, we made our way onto a trail behind the visitor's center, which leads up to Perimeter Road. This trail switchbacks up through the trees to paved Perimeter Road.

See what's in our packs.

Picnic area in front of visitor's center near the ferry dock

We climbed up the steps at the top, then turned right onto Perimeter Road. This road circles the edge of the island. We saw lots of day hikers, cyclists, and even a large group of people taking a Segway tour of the island. Despite all this activity, we knew that soon we'd have much of the island all to ourselves.

Once on Perimeter Road we now had views to the right of Tiburon, where we'd just come from. Wild flowers still lined the trail here and there. Soon we passed Kayak Camp, a group site available for reservation which has space for 20 campers. Next, we came to the road for Camp Reynolds. There's an old army hospital here, one of many buildings preserved on the island, either from the army presence or immigration processing.

Near the hospital is a water faucet, one of several along Perimeter Road available for hikers and bikers. We passed the faucet and continued along, soon coming to an overlook above Battery Ledyard, one of 3 batteries which were built on the island around 1900 to protect San Francisco. There's a telescope here (50 cents, quarters only) which you might want to use here to get a closer look at San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, and the Golden Gate Bridge.

We continued along the road and then shortly came to the clearly marked spur trail for the Ridge Sites. We climbed the hill and then came to site 5, which was our site. Inexplicably, site 5 is first, with site 6 just after it, then site 4 is further up the hill.

View from the Ridge site trail

Site 5 has at least 3 decent places to pitch a tent, along with a picnic table, cabinet for storing food, and a grill (charcoal only). It's very sheltered from the wind, with plenty of trees all around. Yet, the view from the picnic table is fabulous. You have a direct view of the Bay Bridge western span, Alcatraz sitting in the bay, and San Francisco behind it. All while you're sitting there eating your breakfast or dinner. If you walk down the hill a bit you'll see the Golden Gate Bridge as well. Site 4 up the hill has better views, but is more exposed to the wind (although in truth there was amazingly hardly any wind on this trip).

We set up camp, then explored Battery Wallace a bit. It is sandwiched in between sites 5 and 6. It was built in 1901 and abandoned in 1915. It had an 8 inch gun and disappearing carriage. The gun and carriage have long since been removed, but the tons of concrete remain. It is a massive amount of concrete and provides a nice area for kids to play. Beware, however, as there are several steep drop-offs, so you'll want to be very watchful of small children near the edges.

Battery Wallace behind site 5; the hole is where the gun used to sit

There's a toilet at site 6, as well as garbage and recycling cans. This may be the only backpacking trip where I didn't have to carry out my trash. I couldn't find the water faucet for the camp, so I headed up the hill to site 4. As I approached the site, I saw the two occupants descending. I asked them about water, and they said there was water at site 4, just beyond the picnic table. I saw the picnic table, and turned around. Later, however, I found that there's a water faucet just above site 6. It's a bit hidden; just look for the use trail to the left of the trail up toward site 4, just beyond site 6. It was nice that I didn't have to bring a water filter. This helped allow me to bring more photography equipment (my big tripod and a 100-300mm lens) on this trip.

Container ship heading past Alcatraz

Poppies at the camp site

One of the only downsides to site 5 is that there is a fair amount of poison oak here. Just be careful. After setting up our camp, we walked down to Perles Beach. The main trail to the beach was closed, apparently due to a landslide. We ended up walking in an irrigation ditch most of the way there. However, I think there's another use trail which provides easier footing.

Drift wood at Perles Beach

At the bottom we had our own private beach with great views of San Francisco. It helped that it was about 4pm and the last ferry off Angel Island leaves around 5:20pm. We felt privileged to have most of the island to ourselves now. Much to our surprise, there wasn't anyone staying at site 6 tonight, either, which was another plus. The people at site 4 were so far away that we couldn't bother each other.

Playing on the beach with San Francisco in the background

The Cosco Shenzen (not to be confused with the Cosco Busan) heading out

The kids played with a couple larger tires washed up onto the beach. We watched the huge container ships go by periodically. It's amazing to see how often these huge ships laden with goods head out underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. The beach was also nice because, while it was quite windy up above, it was relatively calm in this somewhat sheltered beach.

Playing at Battery Wallace

The container ship Pacific Link heading out

Sea gull flying overhead

Alcatraz in front of San Francisco

Ship heading out toward the Golden Gate Bridge

After the beach, we returned to camp and had dinner. After playing at Battery Wallace, we took a short after-dinner walk along deserted Perimeter Road. We passed what looked like a small old quarry and some sort of old mining machinery. Then we climbed up the trail to Battery Drew. From here we had views of Oakland and the eastern span of the Bay Bridge. This battery is a bit overgrown with grasses, which makes it less explorable than Battery Wallace.

Some sort of old mining machinery?

View looking toward Oakland from Battery Drew

View of Bay Bridge from Battery Drew

Alcatraz and the city lit up at night

The Golden Gate Bridge at night

Golden Gate Bridge tower

We returned to camp where I finally took advantage of the tripod I had lugged on this trip. After everyone else went to sleep, I stayed up a bit and took some night pictures of Alcatraz, San Francisco, The Bay Bridge, and the Golden Gate Bridge. I mostly used my 100-300mm lens. I had thought about bringing my 500mm lens but decided it was too much weight for not enough use. In retrospect, considering how short the hike is, I think I would have found it useful for taking pictures of Alcatraz and the city, and perhaps for some of the raptors we saw. That calls for another trip!

Night shot of Alcatraz, the city, and a bit of the Bay Bridge

Night shot of Alcatraz in front of the city

Wider shot of the city

Wide shot of the Bay Bridge


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