Ridge to Bridge 20-mile hike

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The Bay Area Ridge Trail Council hosts an annual event called Ridge to Bridge, which includes several options to experience the Bay Area Ridge Trail in Marin County leading to and across the Golden Gate Bridge. Hiking options include 10, 15, 20, and 26 miles; mountain biking options include 25 and 41 miles; and there is a 9-mile equestrian ride which does not cross the bridge. I was able participate this year, and selected the 20-mile hike option. This distance is toward the outside end of my hiking range, so I prepared by increasing my walking and hiking in the preceding weeks and then taking it easy for several days leading up to the event. I felt great afterward, so some or all of my preparations seem to have been effective!

In the days leading up to Ridge to Bridge the weather forecast had included rain during the event. As it turned out, the storm came through several hours earlier than had originally been forecast, and the rain happened overnight between about midnight and 5am. By the time participants arrived at the Presidio Transit Center for check-in and transportation to the hike and ride starts, a beautiful day had dawned.

photo of 20-mile hikers boarding a bus prior to the hike start

20-mile hikers boarding a bus prior to the hike start

For the 20-mile hike, hikers were bussed to the Pantoll Ranger Station of Mt Tamalpais State Park. The route mainly follows the Bay Area Ridge Trail on the lower slopes of Mt Tamalpais below Muir Woods National Monument to a crossing of Shoreline Highway, CA-1, and entry into Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). Within GGNRA the route passes a major trailhead on Tennessee Valley Rd and climbs the historically significant Marincello Trail before winding through the beautiful Marin Headlands on the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. A crossing of the Golden Gate Bridge on foot is always a special event. The hike finishes at the Presidio Main Post not far from the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council office. On the GPS track the orange dot shows the beginning of the hike.

GPS track

GPS track

Starting at about 1400 feet elevation, there is a long descent virtually all the way to sea level before a climb to 900 feet and another descent to 200 feet at Tennessee Valley, where there was a lunch stop. After lunch there was another climb to 900 feet for the beautiful stroll through the Marin Headlands before descending for the bridge crossing. The total elevation gain was about 2260 feet.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

As the bus crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on the way to Mt Tamalpais State Park, there was no fog at the bridge, but there was residual fog in the valleys. The hikers gathered for final instructions and then set out hiking. Less than 1 mile from the start, the Ridge to Bridge route deviates from the Bay Area Ridge Trail for nearly 5 miles, first descending toward the coast on the Coast View Trail. The mist rising from the valleys was beautiful.

image of morning mist rising from valleys

Morning mist rising from valleys

Before long there were views of the Pacific Ocean.

picture of Pacific Ocean viewed from the Coast View Trail

Pacific Ocean viewed from the Coast View Trail

The trail zig-zags across the hill during the descent.

photo of hikers descending the hill on the Coast View Trail

Hikers descending the hill on the Coast View Trail

There were quite a few wildflowers to be seen, e.g. mule-ears, Fernald’s iris, yarrow, cow parsnip, California poppies, red Indian paintbrush and its orange-colored cousin, and some rather large bushes of bush lupine. In areas of chaparral near shaded woodsy areas, there was an interesting juxtaposition of lush ferns among the chaparral. In several areas I noticed clusters of small pods (not flowers, after all) which turned out to be rattlesnake grass (Briza maxima) seed pods.

image of rattlesnake grass

Rattlesnake grass

After descending to about 500 feet elevation, the route went left on Heather Cutoff Trail. The many switchbacks made the grade reasonable, a bit over 7% on average. Along this trail I was rather startled to see a few stalks of bright pink flowers in sunny areas. These flowers seem to be in the pea family, but I wasn’t able to identify them.  (Update: it is most likely montana chaparral pea (Pickeringia montana).)

picture of bright pink flower along Heather Cutoff Trail

Bright pink flower along Heather Cutoff Trail

At the bottom of Heather Cutoff Trail the route crosses Santos Meadow to cross Muir Woods Rd and climb along Redwood Creek Trail. I learned that some hikers ahead of me had encountered a good-sized tree blocking the trail and covered with what they thought was poison oak. Since the trail ran parallel to the road, I walked up the road for less than 0.2 mile to avoid this obstacle and possible exposure. In the area I also found some pretty crimson columbine (Aquilegia formosa).

photo of crimson columbine

Crimson columbine

There were also quite a few forget-me-nots and an interesting-looking many-branched tree.

image of many-branched tree

Many-branched tree

After about 1.2 miles on Redwood Creek Trail, the route rejoins the Bay Area Ridge Trail route at the Miwok Trail. Comparing notes with my earlier official hike of this segment of the Ridge Trail, the Ridge to Bridge route adds about 2.4 miles of pretty scenery. I think the reason for the routing change may be simply to have the desired mileage options with vehicle-accessible starting locations and rest stop locations for the Ridge to Bridge event. The excellent support was greatly appreciated!

Along the Miwok Trail there were nice views of Mt Tamalpais. I think Panoramic Way goes along the ridge top in the right foreground of the picture. Views from that road are awesome.

picture of Mt Tamalpais from Miwok Trail

Mt Tamalpais from Miwok Trail

After about 2.1 miles the Miwok Trail crosses Shoreline Highway, CA-1. The next 3 miles was a Bay Area Ridge Trail section that I’d hiked previously on a very misty day; I rarely could see anything more than 10 yards or so away from me. I’d been looking forward to hiking this section again when I could see the scenery. The Miwok Trail winds along a hillside overlooking the Tamalpais Valley, with first views of Richardson Bay and the Tiburon Peninsula. I found some clusters of pretty white flowers that I believe may be a type of woodland star (Lithophragma sp.).

photo of woodland star (I think)

Woodland star (I think)

There were also many patches of pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) next to, or on, the trail. The Miwok Trail descends to a large trailhead at the end of Tennessee Rd, nearly 11 miles from the start of the hike, where there was a delicious catered lunch. Near the trailhead there were a few striking purple salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) flowers.

image of purple salsify

Purple salsify

After taking a short break I continued hiking, with the route climbing the Marincello Trail to nearly 900 feet elevation. This trail leads into the Marin Headlands to an area that, 45 years ago, almost became the site of a planned community with some 30,000 residents. At the top of Marincello Trail there is an initial glimpse of downtown San Francisco, as well as a more distant view down the coast into San Mateo County. Fortunately a citizens group thought the land would provide more appropriate broad public use as parkland, and the proposed city of Marincello was never built. Instead, the land now is part of the GGNRA and the spectacular views are accessible to trail users.

About 2.6 miles from the Tennessee Valley trailhead there is a lovely view of the Sausalito Marina, Strawberry Point peninsula, and the Tiburon Peninsula.

picture of view of Sausalito and Tiburon

View of Sausalito and Tiburon

As the trail crests for the last time at around 850 feet elevation there is a dramatic view of Slacker Hill, with the tops of the Golden Gate Bridge towers appearing just to its left.

photo of Slacker Hill in the Marin Headlands

Slacker Hill in the Marin Headlands

The trail runs almost parallel to US-101 and begins the descent to the Golden Gate Bridge. About 3.8 miles from the Tennessee Valley trailhead there is an open view of San Francisco across the Golden Gate. Fort Baker and Horseshoe Bay are in the foreground.

image of view of San Francisco

View of San Francisco

More of the Golden Gate Bridge has come into view.

image of view of Golden Gate Bridge

View of Golden Gate Bridge

After completing the descent to the north vista point, 16 miles from the start at Pantoll Ranger Station, it was time to begin the always exhilarating walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Because the approach curves just before leaving the ground, there is an interesting view of the bridge towers lined up with each other.

photo of Golden Gate Bridge towers

Golden Gate Bridge towers

From the pedestrian walkway on the east side of the bridge there are spectacular views of San Francisco Bay, including the Bay Bridge, Angel Island, and Alcatraz. A number of sailboats were out on the Bay, perhaps to anticipate Opening Day on the Bay the following day or perhaps to simply take advantage of the beautiful weather. A cloud hovered above Angel Island.

image of Angel Island

Angel Island

During the bridge crossing a helicopter suddenly flew toward the bridge, under it, and then turned around and flew over the bridge. This was surprising, since I thought the Golden Gate Bridge would be considered restricted air space.

After reaching the south (San Francisco) vista point a 1.6-mile stroll through part of the Presidio remained to reach the end of the hike at the Main Post. It had been a simply wonderful hike with weather as fine as could be imagined.

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5 Responses to Ridge to Bridge 20-mile hike

  1. Amy Branner says:

    It was great hiking and chatting with you on such an amazing hike, Sue! Thank you for the fantasic documentation.

  2. Pingback: 2015 Summary – numbers and experiences | trailhiker

  3. Pingback: San Francisco Bay Trail: Dumbarton Bridge and Shoreline Trail | trailhiker

  4. Pingback: Golden Gate National Recreation Area – Tennessee Valley Trail | trailhiker

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