Trail Report: Angel Island

Angel Island, once known as the “Nellis Island” of the West Coast, sits just east of the famous island of Alcatraz. Used throughout the years for defense of the bay, an immigration station, and even as a great fishing spot by native Americans, today it is controlled by the park service, and the only access to the island is via a ferry or private vessel. However, the effort to reach the island is well worth it, as it offers spectacular views of San Francisco Bay and the Delta.

If you choose to arrive by private vessel or by ferry, the fees (day use only) are a very reasonable $15. Should you wish to spend the night, buoys are available for $30/night as are camp grounds (by reservation). However, with a couple of protected coves on the island, and Richardson Bay a very short cruise across Racoon Strait, the need to anchor at Angel Island is minimal, but camping could be awesome (I haven’t done it yet).

No motorized vehicles are allowed on the island except for those used by the Park Service, and this means the entire island is a great place for a bicycle ride or a hike/trail run. One item of note: Dogs are NOT NOT allowed on the island.

If you bring your own bike, you’ll want to bring a mountain bike, or, if you have a road bike, you’ll need to walk the bike from Ayala Cove up to perimeter road before starting your ride. The road is fairly steep, and unfortunately with the motorized trams giving tours during the weekend, attempting to ride up or down the steep hill from dock at Ayala Cove up to Perimeter road is simply too dangerous. Thus, the Park Service has prohibited riding bikes in the area. If you have a mountain bike, a separate trail has been created just for bikes to get from the cove to Perimeter road.

Numerous books and blogs have been written about the island, giving much more detail than I ever would. The island even has it’s own website at Angel Island State Park, and that means during the summer the island is very busy on the weekends, and dockage can be a problem for private boaters. Also, the trails and sites on the island can get crowded. If at all possible, I recommend visiting on weekdays, and that’s when I generally go to the island: And often, I feel like I have the entire place to myself.

For the runners/bicyclists, there are several trails to choose from, ranging from paved roads to single track trails, although for this report I stayed close to perimeter road:

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For a run of medium difficulty, you’ll want to run counter-clockwise around perimeter road which is approximately 5 miles. If you want a run with a steeper hill, then run perimeter road clockwise. And if those two aren’t a challenge enough, then follow the trails up to Mount Livermore, where, after being completely out of breath, you will be rewarded with fantastic views of the bay – as long as fog hasn’t moved over the island, which often occurs

Most of the photos, and all of the video, were taken along perimeter road. Stopping to read signs, jog every extra offshoot from perimeter road, and generally stopping to enjoy the views and take photos and videos, took me approximately 3 hours and, according to my @garmin 310XT, approximately 9 miles. I have to admit I spent some time exploring the old turn-of-the-century gun batteries and an old hospital that didn’t have signs specifically telling me to go away. I really enjoy exploring old buildings, as you get a feel for the “vibe” of the place that can be humbling.

Overall, the island is a fantastic place to go for a bike or a run, and well worth the day trip. If you’re serious about training, however, it might not be the best, as I often found myself stopping to enjoy the views, the wildlife (there are deer on the island), the flowers, the smells, and the history. I originally intended to run both the perimeter road and the trails to Mt. Livermore, but spent too much time exploring the abandoned buildings and batteries and reading the historical signs – so you’ve been forewarned if you don’t get the workout you intended.

Here are some further details from Bay Area Hiker:

GPS coordinates* for Angel Island trailhead:
Latitude 37°52’7.71″N
Longitude 122°26’4.21″W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
If you’d like an extended Angel Island visit, you can stay overnight in 1 of 9 primitive campsites, but you’ll have to haul your gear about 2 miles from the ferry to your campsite. Visit for more information, or read CSP’s campground info (download pdf).

The $15.00 round-trip ferry ticket includes park admission. Toilets and drinking water are available at the trailhead. From the Angel Island website: “Cove Cafe deli, bike rentals, and motorized tram tours are available every day from April through October. Please note that bike rentals, tram tours, and the cafe are CLOSED during the winter months (late November thru February) and are open Thursday thru Monday during March and early November.” Some trails here are flat, and may be accessible to wheelchairs, but overall, this hike is not suitable for chairs or strollers.

Park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset. No dogs.

The Official Story:
CSP’s Angel Island page
Ranger Office 415-435-5390
Angel Island Association Home page