Golden Gate National Recreation Area – Milagra Ridge

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This hike was a short one, just 2 miles, in the Milagra Ridge section of Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) in Pacifica. With a promise of Pacific Ocean views on a clear day, I took advantage of a clear day recently when I was already planning to go to San Francisco. I simply left home about an hour and 15 minutes earlier than I otherwise would have, so that I had time for an hour visit in this small island ecosystem within the surrounding urban area of Pacifica.

The orange dot on the GPS track shows the trailhead at the end of College Drive, across Sharp Park Rd from Skyline College. I had used this trailhead for a recent hike on the Bay Area Ridge Trail to the Sweeney Ridge section of GGNRA. My loop and side trips to overlooks covered most of the area of the GGNRA section at Milagra Ridge.

GPS track

GPS track

Elevation changes were modest and, for the most part, gentle. The total elevation gain was just over 400 feet.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

As soon as I left the trailhead and started walking up the paved road I was sure it was going to be a pleasant hike. Almost right away I was serenaded by a sparrow in a nearby bush.

picture of sparrow singing near the trail

Sparrow singing near the trail

And I saw my first wildflower of the day, a sun cup (Camissonia ovata).

photo of sun cup

Sun cup

There was also a pretty view of the San Mateo and Marin County coastline; Mt Tamalpais peeks just over the hilly profile of Daly City.

image of San Mateo and Marin County coastline from Milagra Ridge

San Mateo and Marin County coastline from Milagra Ridge

Believe it or not, this all happened within about 0.1 mile of the trailhead! About 0.3 mile from the trailhead there is an information kiosk, where I continued on the paved road rather than taking the spur trail to the left. Shortly thereafter, I noticed a beautiful Douglas iris (Iris douglasiana) next to the trail.

picture of Douglas iris

Douglas iris

Nearby there was some beach strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) with delicate white flowers.

photo of beach strawberry

Beach strawberry

There was lots of oxalis, with cheery yellow flowers, and even a few daffodils; these surprised me, since they propagate via bulbs rather than by seeds and I don’t consider them to be wildflowers, but more likely garden escapees. Also, there was the first of several sightings of paintbrush, which added a colorful splash to the grasslands.

image of paintbrush

Paintbrush

About 0.5 mile from the trailhead there is a Y junction where a short spur trail to an overlook goes off to the right. I went to the overlook to check it out. Just past the junction there was a clump of silver bush lupine (Lupinus albifrons), important because it is one of only a few food sources for the endangered mission blue butterfly. I didn’t know whether to expect to see any of the butterflies – and I didn’t see any – but I was on the lookout for their food sources. Since I had already seen several other types of wildflower, I was hoping to see this particular type of lupine. It was a good-sized clump, several feet across, and so perfectly round that I think it must have been deliberately planted there.

picture of silver bush lupine, food source for the endangered mission blue butterfly

Silver bush lupine, food source for the endangered mission blue butterfly

On my way to the lookout I passed a couple of these yellow cluster flowers, which I was unable to identify. I should note that I made extensive use of an on-line brochure of GGNRA wildflowers, conveniently organized by color for ease of use by the casual enthusiast, like me.

photo of yellow cluster flower (not identified)

Yellow cluster flower (not identified)

I also saw a few California poppies, my first of this season, and a bit of blue-eyed grass. There were more excellent views of the Pacific Ocean, like this one, overlooking the lower part of Milagra Ridge and Pacifica. The coastal fog was nicely off-shore, though the Farallon Islands were not visible.

image of Pacific Ocean

Pacific Ocean

After returning from the overlook I continued the other way at the Y, toward the summit at about 670 feet elevation. From the summit there were more nice views of the ocean and Mt Tamalpais, as well as Montara Mountain and San Pedro Rock to the south. I had enjoyed viewing San Pedro Rock from the other side, when I hiked on the Devil’s Slide Trail.

picture of western tip of Montara Mountain and San Pedro Rock

Western tip of Montara Mountain and San Pedro Rock

From the summit it was easy to see where another spur trail would lead away from the main trail loop. Near the junction where the overlook trail splits off, there is a World War II gun battery, which includes a couple of concrete bunkers built in the hillside. This gun battery only represents part of the former military use of the site; not far away there are a couple of areas that housed Nike missile launching sites.

As I started down the overlook trail I noticed a hawk perched on one of the posts holding up a safety rail. I think it was a kestrel, though I didn’t get a very good look before it flew away.

When I got to the overlook area I noticed more lupine, but different from the silver bush lupine. Both the plant and the blossoms of sky lupine (Lupinus nanus) look different from the silver bush lupine.

photo of sky lupine

Sky lupine

In the overlook area there was low purple-flowering plant, which is rock phacelia (Phacelia californica). This is another food source for the mission blue butterfly.

image of rock phacelia, another food source for the mission blue butterfly

Rock phacelia, another food source for the mission blue butterfly

As I returned up the ridge-side toward the main trail loop, I noticed an airplane skimming just above my eastern horizon, evidently shortly after take-off from San Francisco International Airport. I also stopped to admire another wildflower that has tiny white blossoms in rounded clusters. It is the Franciscan wallflower (Erysimum franciscanum). If you look closely you can see a couple of tiny insects visiting the blossoms.

picture of Franciscan wallflower

Franciscan wallflower

After returning to the loop trail I made my way back to the trailhead, with more great views of Montara Mountain. After bypassing a spur trail back to the kiosk the trail climbs up a slightly higher portion of the ridge, just over 700 feet elevation, and then drops down to the trailhead via some steps.

Especially for such a short hike, this one was punctuated by pretty views and a surprising (for early March) display of wildflowers. It is no wonder that the residents of Pacifica consider this park to be a local treasure.

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