Great Hikes on Angel Island

Situated in the San Francisco Bay, Angel Island is one of the best and most active ways to take in your surroundings from sea level. There are many outdoor activities to fill your day, not least of which are the picturesque hiking trails. Angel Island boasts three trails of varying difficulties. Use this as a guide to choose the best hike for you.

The Perimeter Road

Length: 5 miles

Difficulty: Easy

This trail is great for history buffs or anyone looking to take an easy walk around the island.

Starting close to the Visitor Center, the road heads west towards Camp Reynolds. A side road leaves the Perimeter Trail, heading down to the parade ground and building, which has stood on the island since 1908. Be sure to take note of the chapel, barn and officer’s quarters.

The road then turns eastward toward the eastern garrison. If you listen closely, you’ll be serenaded by the sound of seals, congregating at Point Blunt. This stronghold once trained about 30,000 men a year for duty overseas and you can still see a number of buildings here, which include the island’s old hospital and barracks.

Going north you will find yourself greeted by the old Immigration Station, which operated for 30 years before becoming a POW camp during WWII.

Finally this trail will show you Richmond-San Rafael Bridge before descending to Ayala Cove.

The Sunset Trail

Length: 4.6 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

This is a loop trail leading to the summit of Mt Livermore before heading down to Ayala Cove.

You will spend half a mile walking through beautiful eucalyptus, cypress and pine trees as you get your first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. Be sure to have your camera ready as you’re greeted with a breath taking panoramic view of San Francisco, seen halfway up the summit. Upon your arrival, there will be many great opportunities for picnics and photographs of the Bay in all its glory. After, you’ll begin a 3.5 mile descent on the North Ridge Trail to Ayala Cove.

The Angel Island Loop

Length: 4.6 miles

Difficulty: Moderate / Hard

This trail involves walking the Perimeter Road, the North Ridge Trail and the Sunset Trail. You’ll want to allow yourself a minimum of 3 hours to complete the hike, being aware that the road will be shared with vehicles, segways and bikes.

This trail will take you amongst oak, pine, hazelnut and gooseberry as you scale to the peak of Mount Livermore, which is a great place to stop for a picnic or break. The trail continues down a ridge on the south slope, offering unobstructed views of Point Blunt. Although shortcuts may be visible, remember that the official path is there for your safety. At 4.6 miles you come across another picnic area where you can catch your breath before finishing the trail just down the road at Ayala Cove.

Whichever of these wonderful hikes you choose, make sure you take proper precautions with clothing, maps, cell battery and fluids; the wind can really pick up so layers make a difference and, as always, a healthy supply of water is necessary. We can’t wait to see you out on Angel Island. Enjoy your hike!

Explore the Alma this weekend on Angel Island

The historic schooner, The Alma, will be docked at Angel Island this Friday and Saturday. Fred Siemer, a German immigrant, constructed two scow schooners. Siemer named the first after his daughter, Adelia. The second one built at Hunter’s Point was named after grand daughter Alma in 1896.

Alma’s construction was not unique, but it was unusual; her bottom planking was laid athwartships (side-to-side) instead of fore-and-aft. Called “log built” because the horizontally-laid planks were quite thick, scows like Alma traded a bit of speed and ease-of-repair for economy and strength.

Alma hauled a wide variety of cargoes during her career. She carried hay and lumber under sail, and after Peterson removed her masts in 1918, she freighted sacks of Alviso salt while being towed as a barge. Frank Resech, who purchased the vessel in 1926, installed a gasoline engine in her, and from then until 1957 her cargo was exclusively oyster shell – carried in a 22’ by 36’ wooden bin installed on deck.

A number of sailing scows ended up as oyster shell dredges. The shell was free for the taking and vast deposits lay in the San Francisco Bay. Both Resech and his wife lived and worked aboard Alma for a time; Mrs. Resech handled the steering while her husband operated the dredging machinery. During those days, Alma hauled 110-125 tons of shell per week to Petaluma, California, where it was ground and used for chicken feed.

In 1943, Resech sold the vessel to Peter John Gambetta, who continued to operate her as a dredger until 1957. When Gambetta retired Alma she was still seaworthy, but no longer profitable.

The State of California purchased Alma as she lay on the Alviso mudflats in 1959, and restoration work began in 1964. She was transferred to the National Park Service in 1978, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1988.

Alma is now part of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park’s fleet of historic vessels at Hyde Street Pier. She sails every season, and participates in the revived Master Mariners Regatta every May.

A Outdoor Bucket List for Kids

California State Parks along with the Children in Nature Campaign believe there are 10 things kids should do before they grow up. Angel Island State Park is providing the opportunity to accomplish all 10 of them on Friday and Saturday July 11th and July 12th.  One really fun family adventure will be opportunity to explore the Alma, a historic scow schooner. The Alma will be available for boarding at the docks on Angel Island from 10:30-3:00pm on both days.  Seeing the Alma will be your connection to the past but Angel Island is great place to “play in a safe place”, “explore nature”, “learn to swim”, “go fishing”, “follow a trail”, “camp under the stars, “ride a bike”, “go boating” and “plant a seed”.

Hospital Reconstruction at Immigration Station

The Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation is soliciting support to help finish the reconstruction of the Hospital building at the Immigration Station. The foundation centers on the important role that Pacific Immigration has played and continues to play in the life of the United States.

The Hospital Building officially opened in 1910 as an integral part of the original Immigration Station. It served as the hospital for the station until 1940 and then as barracks until 1946. The building has experienced only minor alterations over time and remains most of its original features. As such, it is an excellent example of early twentieth-century hospital design and construction.

The first phase of the hospital project is the stabilization of the structure, which has suffered significant water damage and structural weakening.  By spring 2012, a new roof and gutters had been installed at the hospital, and the interior walls had been strengthened. The rehabilitation of hospital will begin in fall 2013 and last until spring 2015.  The restored hospital will feature interpretation of the medical treatment of immigrants, mainly through exhibits in one of the four hospital wards, the surgery room, the quarantine room, and the nurses’ station. Other parts of the hospital will be rehabilitated to create exhibition space, lecture and performance spaces, a café, a reflection area/library, meeting rooms, and a genealogy resource area.

The Angel Island Immigration Station continues to be a part of America’s story. The Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation hopes to bring its history to light and to make its lessons part of our national dialogue about the complicated intersection of race, immigration and the American identity.

Wintertime on Angel Island

Wintertime is a lovely time to visit Angel Island State Park. There is very limited weekday ferry service so weekends are the best time to make the trip. Once on the island you will have fogless views of the entire  bay area from various vistas along the 7 mile perimeter road. There are very few visitors this time of year so it can feel like your own personal island. About a quarter mile from the cove you can visit a rare collection of Civil War buildings at Camp Reynolds. A short hike down the hill on the gravel road takes you to a beautiful beach with a birds eye view of the Golden Gate Bridge. This is also a great place to see cormorants and pelicans.  Other seabirds common to Angel Island are California gulls and western grebes. Until the end of December the Angel Island Cafe is open on weekends offering food and beverage service, public tram tours, bike rentals and segway and scooter tours.Visit to make reservations.


Yet another often asked question with a multilayered answer! Deer arrived on Angel Island by walking, swimming, and taking the boat. Angel Island was connected to the surrounding land about 10,000 years ago, so it’s possible that the deer could have walked here. Deer can also swim and, especially during rutting season, have been seen swimming in the waters off Angel Island and Tiburon. When the military was on the island they over-hunted the deer, and eventually brought in more by boat so they could continue hunting.

Black Tail Deer on Angel Island

As there are no predators that eat deer on Angel Island, deer began to become overpopulated when the military left in the 1960s and hunting ceased. When the island’s severely overpopulated deer herd was threatened with starvation, many deer were trapped and transported off the island. Currently, park policy is to cull some of the deer population whenever it is required in order to maintain a healthy herd (although this has not been necessary for about 20 years.

Raccoon on Angel Island

Besides deer, there are raccoons, deer, voles, garter snakes, gopher snakes, racers and rubber boas, blue bellied lizards, butterflies, and a variety of birds. There are no rattlesnakes, squirrels, rabbits, possums, skunks, bears, mountain lions, bobcats or coyotes. The Angel Island Mole is endemic to the island and lives nowhere else in the world! It is a sub-species of the broad-foot mole.

Mt. Livermore!

It seems downright irresponsible not to have a blog post on Mt. Livermore… so here it is! At an elevation of 788 feet, Mt. Livermore is the highest point on Angel Island. Hiking to the peak via the Sunset Trail or North Ridge Trail is a bit of an undertaking but the VIEWS — sometimes reaching as far as Napa and Sonoma to the east, and San Jose to the south — make it well worth it for those who are up for the climb.

View from the peak looking North.

Once called Mount Ida, Mt. Livermore is officially named Mount Caroline Livermore, in dedication to the conservationist who championed the creation of Angel Island State Park. The peak itself has also undergone a number of physical changes over the years. During the Cold War, the top portion was flattened to accommodate a Nike Missile site, then reconstructed after the island was demilitarized in 1962.

A popular way to reach the summit is the Sunset Trail. After getting off the ferry, follow the paved road uphill past the Visitor Center to where it intersects with the Perimeter Road. The trailhead is clearly visible at beginning of the intersection. There are picnic tables at the top allowing you to rest or enjoy a meal while you take it all in. Many people like to take the North Ridge Trail on the way down, as it provides additional landscapes and excellent views of the Bay. Should you choose this route, simply take a right when the trail rejoins the Perimeter Road and continue until you reach the road down to Ayala Cove.

The Hospital at Fort McDowell

Built in 1911, the hospital at Fort McDowell is one of Angel Island’s most accessible and fascinating buildings. Unlike other historic buildings on the island, visitors are permitted to explore the ground floor of this century old structure, where signs of its various uses are still visible. Its weathered concrete walls convey a sense of history that encompasses both World Wars and the Cold War.

When World War I began, Fort McDowell served as a processing station for recruits and soldiers returning from overseas. During World War II, the Fort became a Port of Embarkation for soldiers being sent to the Pacific Theater. Finally, Fort McDowell was decommissioned on August 28, 1946, but was later used as a Nike missile command post during the Cold War, when nearly one hundred men were housed in the former hospital.

Crossed cannons artillery insignia on the hospital's upper facade.

Ground floor hallway.

Looking up one of the stairwells.

Angel Island’s Unsung Beaches

Those who take the time to visit Angel Island’s beaches are greatly rewarded. There are two main beaches and both are remarkable for their unmatched views of the San Francisco Bay and their uncrowded atmospheres. Many visitors don’t know about Angel Island’s beaches, have trouble finding them, or are hesitant about the walk. This blog post is here to help!

Quarry Beach lies on the east side of the island a short ways down from East Garrison. Furnishing views of the East Bay and San Francisco, this beach is exceptional due to its generally calm winds, fine sands, and a length that allows for strolling.

On the south of the island is Perles Beach. Perles is about a 1.5 mile walk along the Perimeter Road, then a few minutes down an unmarked path that begins just past Battery Ledyard. The extra effort is well worth it, as it is rare to find more than a handful of other visitors, and you’ll get a view that stretches from the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate.

Ranger Casey Lee Gives Insight Into Island Living

A few weeks ago we addressed the top question asked by visitors, “what happens if you miss the boat?” (Which you can find here). In continuing our ongoing exploration of the most frequently asked questions, we caught up with Park Ranger and thirteen-year island resident Casey Lee to address the second-place island quandary — “DO PEOPLE LIVE ON ANGEL ISLAND?”

-What are some of the best things about living on the island?

The busy, sometimes crazy days talking to hundreds of people and then the contrast of the quiet, peaceful evenings admiring the view, I wouldn’t appreciate one without the other.

-And some of the difficulties?

Groceries are an epic weekly project, but the hardest thing is keeping in touch with friends who have “regular jobs” working Monday-Friday because I work on the weekends.

-Do you have a favorite fact about the island? Or an especially obscure one?

I love the diversity of the island’s natural and cultural history, there is something for everyone.  My favorite obscure facts are that the island is taller than it used to be, the top was restored to its pre-Cold War height of 788 feet, when I moved to the island it was only 781 feet tall.  The other fun fact about Angel Island is that it has one animal that is endemic to the island (it only lives here), the Angel Island mole.  It is a sub-species of the broad-footed mole and is slightly genetically different due to its long isolation from the mainland.  I’m slightly obsessed with telling people about the mole, to the point that I convinced my co-workers to call our pub quiz team the “Angel Island Moles” and made up a bean bag toss game we use at kids’ events called “Holey Moley” to help teach kids about the moles adaptations for living underground.

-Is there a particular part of the island (besides home) that you like to spend your time, or that is special to you?

Silvia’s Tree, that is not an official name, but Silvia Lange, a volunteer who led nature hikes before she passed away, introduced me to the spot.  It is along the vein of serpentine (CA state rock) on the island, one of the oldest native trees on the island grows there.  It is a coast live oak that has huge branches growing near the ground amongst the serpentine, there is moss and lichen growing on both so you can barely tell where the tree ends and the rocks begin.  I got married by this tree, so that gives it additional meaning to me.

-Is there anything you think people sometimes overlook when they come to Angel Island? Anything that you would like to share more about?

I think most people get exactly what they need from the island, there are boundless opportunities for history lovers, hikers, bikers and boaters, but my personal goal is spread the word to those that have never been to Angel Island State Park but live close enough to make the trip.  I hear from people almost every day, that they have lived in the area for many years, but never been to Angel Island before today.  Today is the day to come to Angel Island, don’t put it off, you won’t be disappointed.

Thanks Casey!

Older Posts »