For an absolutely amazing hike in San Francisco, the Bay Area Ridge Trail segment through the Presidio is hard to beat, if the fog cooperates. The day of this hike the weather cooperated beautifully and there were many stunning views of the San Francisco Bay, Pacific Ocean, and Golden Gate Bridge.
The Presidio is part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which is a treasure trove of history as well as natural beauty. The Presidio Trust co-manages the site along with the National Park Service, and their web site includes lots of information about sites, sights, and activities.
It was a wonderful added bonus that I was able to go on this hike during the America’s Cup finals regatta. I managed to time my arrival at the Inspiration Point parking area in time to view the activity on the Bay leading up to race time. Because the wind was too strong that afternoon, both races were called off, but it was still impressive to view the boats as they sailed back to the dock area to try again the following day. Notably, they were about 4 miles from my viewing location.
From Inspiration Point I walked a short distance to Arguello Gate at the south edge of the Presidio, the “official” beginning of the Ridge Trail segment. Then I followed the Ridge Trail to the Golden Gate Bridge Plaza, back to Arguello Gate, and finally back to Inspiration Point.
I took several brief detours along the way, including Immigration Point Overlook, Golden Gate Overlook, and Cemetery Overlook, as well as some exploration around the Bridge Plaza. I highly recommend these small excursions to scenic and interesting locations. There is relatively little elevation gain/loss: only about 500 feet total.
Between Arguello Gate and Inspiration Point, next to the Golf Course parking lot, a large sign announces the Bay Area Ridge Trail. Less than 0.1 mile later, the trail passes the Arguello Stand of Monterey cypress trees, planted in the late 1890’s. At the edge of the stand is a sculpture entitled Spire, created in 2008 to represent the 1890’s forest, in which the trees were planted too close together and not subsequently thinned, resulting in spindly trees with foliage just at the very top.
Just before the trail crosses Washington Blvd there is a brief view to the east between the trees, across Russian Hill, to the East Bay hills with Mt Diablo in the background, about 30 miles away. One of the buildings seems to be pointing out Mt Diablo in the picture. If you look closely next to the leftmost building, you can actually see the tower of the new Bay Bridge East span.
Alongside the trail I noticed some colorful flowers in various shades: orange, red, and yellow. I did some post-hike research to identify them as nasturtiums. Like the trees in the Presidio, they are introduced species, but very pretty anyway.
More or less all over the Presidio, the US Army carried out a huge landscaping project from 1886-1900, planting hundreds of thousands of eucalyptus, Monterey cypress, and Monterey pines. The trees grew to be quite tall. Although not endemic to the area, the forest makes the Presidio a quiet oasis today.
The trail passes some buildings that look like apartment residences, the Rob Hill Campground (the only campground in San Francisco), and other military sites and arrives at the intersection of Washington Blvd and Lincoln Blvd at the Pacific Overlook. From the overlook there is a stunning view of the Marin headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge.
There is also a great view from waves arriving on the beach below to Pt Bonita in the background. One of my maps seems to identify the rock near shore as Helmet Rock.
The half mile or so between the Pacific Overlook and the Golden Gate Bridge Plaza is currently undergoing trail reconstruction due to storm damage that occurred in December 2012. Temporary bright yellow signs direct pedestrians to the Batteries to Bluffs Trail and to the bridge. There is also signage that explains the trail closure and expected repair date (December 2013). Continuing next to Lincoln Blvd, a sign indicates the Golden Gate Overlook only 150 feet away. This is a site not to skip. There is a small plaza from which there is a direct head-on view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I had not realized that you could get this kind of view from the ground. Amazing!
Because of the trail reconstruction, the walking path currently follows the bicycle route to the Toll Plaza area. Follow more yellow signs to arrive at the Golden Gate Bridge Plaza. At the plaza there are various exhibits about the bridge, as well as bridge access for pedestrians and cyclists. And there are views! One view takes in the East span of the Bay Bridge – currently both the new and old bridges – across the causeway between Treasure Island in the left foreground and Yerba Buena Island in the right foreground.
From the Bridge Plaza there is yet another perspective of the Golden Gate Bridge. This hike has offered views from both outside and inside the Golden Gate, as well as directly along the bridge.
After exploring some of the area around the Bridge Plaza, I retraced my Ridge Trail route back toward Arguello Gate. On my return trip I took a short detour, less than 0.3 mile round trip from the place where the trail crosses and leaves Washington Blvd, to Immigrant Point Overlook. From the overlook there are more beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, the Marin headlands, and Lands End.
I also took the detour, less than 0.1 mile, to the Cemetery Overlook, which overlooks San Francisco National Military Cemetery. The cemetery is located on a hillside with a peaceful view of the Bay, including Angel Island and the Tiburon Peninsula – and sometimes including cargo ships and other vessels entering or leaving the Bay.
I had learned when researching a cemetery in Martinez that some older cemeteries were located on hillsides with “distant” views. It seems comforting to visitors to be able to enjoy beautiful views while paying tribute to those buried there. And there was one final view of the Golden Gate Bridge, which had not yet been built when the cemetery was established. Mt Tamalpais peeks over the Marin headlands just to the left of the left (south) tower.
From the Cemetery Overlook it was about 0.8 mile back to Arguello Gate, and then I returned to my car at Inspiration Point. This was my first walking visit to the Presidio, and it certainly won’t be my last!