Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Angel Island State Park, Mt. Livermore Overnight Loop

Angel Island Camp

Angel Island is a lovely place to go for a day hike. Great views, well maintained trails, a refreshing ocean breeze - on a beautiful spring day there is hardly a better way to spend a day on the bay. An overnight visit to the island, on the other hand, is a truly special thing. The views of the city simply can't be topped and a stroll around an almost empty island - so close to such a busy city - is a magical thing. Angle Island is truly one of my favorite places in the world and one of the best kept secrets in the Bay Area. That's why it's so strange that the history of the island is so dark and cold.

Hike Summary
Difficulty Very Easy
Distance 6.2 Miles
Popularity Moderate
Peak Season All
Fees $13.50 Ferry Fare (schedule)
and overnight parking in Tiburon

Day 1 - Ayala Cove to Ridge Camp

After nervously waiting at the gate, hoping the staff would recognize that we wanted to hop on the ferry we caught the last boat from Tiburon to Ayala Cove on Angel Island. After confirming our reservation at the Kiosk near the dock we marched up the trail gaining elevation on our way towards Ft. Reynolds.

battery drew

San Francisco in late afternoon light from Battery Drew.

We enjoyed views of Marin and copious wildflowers as we scuffled up the trail gaining a little bit of elevation as we made our way towards Ft. Reynolds. We passed a large group of campers with a Boy Scout troop occupying the Kayak Camp. We never heard them again.

We turned the corner on the Island after Ft. Reynolds which exposed views of San Francisco, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. The most obvious viewing location was in the former location of Battery Ledyard but we moved on from this quickly anxious to set up camp only a few hundred feet away in Ridge #5.

container ship

View of San Francisco from near Ridge Camp.

golden gate bridge

View of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Ridge #5 and #3 both have million dollar views but are exposed to the high winds coming off the Pacific Ocean. Ridge #4 has no view but is sheltered. All the sites have grills and are close to the bathroom. We had food lockers but elected not to use them on account of 2 fat Black Widows currently using the wood boxes as their home. After setting up camp in Ridge #5 and stringing up our food we set out to hunt down some water.

We walked about a quarter mile out to Battery Drew and watched the sun set soaking up the isolation of the island at dusk. The only intruding noises came from scuffle of deer in the brush and the occasional moan of a fog horn on the Bay. Yet just a few miles across the water we could see the busiest city in Northern California.

angel island sunset

Sunset from Battery Drew.

In the dusk light we strolled along the paved road back to our camp and started boiling water for dinner reveling in the spectacular views available to us at all times. We played around for a bit, snapping long exposure photos of the city before tucking into bed, flaps open so we could gaze out at the Golden Gate Bridge as we dozed off to sleep.

Day 2 - Mt. Livermore to Immigration Station

ridge camp 5

Ridge Camp

The next morning I woke up just before sunrise. I took a quick stroll back out to Battery Drew to do some photography before strolling back to camp to wake up Beylah. After getting coffee going we made pancakes and enjoyed the quiet of the morning. I explored the battery behind our campsite a bit (keeping an eye out for more Black Widows) while Beylah read in the tent.

ridge camp

View of San Francisco from our "Dining Table".

angel island Perimeter Road

Alcatraz and San Francisco from the Perimeter Road.

Eventually we started to hear the crowds arrive with the first ferry and gathered up our gear. Once we had strapped on our packs we headed up the road, past Battery Drew again, and out towards the Nike Missile Base. We turned north at the first major junction, taking the dirt fire road to our left (literally called Fire Road) up towards the summit of Mt. Livermore. It was not long before we caught up with the next trail junction where we made a left onto the Ida Trail and proceeded to the top.

The top of Mt. Livermore was once flattened to make room for radar equipment (much like Mt. Umunhum to the south, and the nearby west summit of Mt. Tamalpais in Marin). Fortunately the summit was recently restored because the view from the top is glorious. Especially on one of those warm spring days where it feels warm enough to be summer and you can first feel the kind of warm that sinks right into your bones it felt like there was hardly a better place on earth to be.

mt livermore view

Tiburon, Sausalito, and southern Marin from Mt. Livermore.

We stopped for a quick snack at the top, enjoyed watching the container ships and sail boats scattered around the bay, the views of the city, and views of Marin, before moving on. We headed back down from the summit of Mt. Livermore using the North Ridge trail. We passed several large groups on the trail down - the quiet of the morning had officially given way to a busy day on the island. Interested to visit the immigration station on our way back, we used the first road which circles the interior of the island again to work our way towards the East Bay camp sites. From there we followed another fire road directly down to the Immigration Station at China Cove.

sailboats on the bay

Sailboats on the Bay near Ayala Cove.

We slung off our packs and enjoyed our lunches down by the water near the immigration station. After lunch we did a quick self-guided tour of the immigration station. It's hard to imagine a time in our history when conditions like those at the immigration station could have existed. It's even harder to imagine those conditions being embraced for three decades because of outright racism and xenophobia. This blog is hardly the forum to comment on the immigrant experience at angel island - but the history of the island stands in stark contrast to the natural beauty and warmth we had experienced that day. For such a wonderful place, which feels so much like heaven, its hard to even imagine how it could have been turned into a living hell.

immigration station

Fence around China Cove Immigration Station.


Poems carved into the walls, subsequently painted over.

Not long after leaving the immigration station, we found ourselves back at Ayala Cove, waiting for an early afternoon ferry ride back to Tiburon where we had parked our car.


  1. Great post and pics! I used to live up in the Bay Area (back home in So Cal now), and spent many many weekends in San Francisco, but have never camped at or hiked on Angel Island. Hubby and I definitely need to check this out on our next trip up north.

  2. I'd never camped there before myself, only visited on day trips. Because there are only a handful of sites on the island they go very quickly and if you're planning on going make sure to get online at midnight 6 months to the day of when you're thinking of going. The sites book very quickly, especially the Ridge sites which have the best views of the city.