Monday, May 26, 2008

Marin Headlands: Hill 88 and Pt. Bonita Lighthouse Loop

"In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous."

Locale: Marin Headlands Hill 88 Loop to Lighthouse, Sausalito, Marin County, CA
Date: Sunday, May 25, 2008
Duration: 8.6 miles (5+ hours due to wait at lighthouse)
Price: Free
All in All: Arguably the most beautiful hike the Bay Area has to offer
Rating: *****
Maps & More Info:

This long and heavy-moderate hike was my favorite of all hikes completed thus far. It has a touch of everything - ocean, beach, gorgeous views of the golden gate bridge, history. This particular hike begins at the visitor center. Go across the Golden Gate from the south or Hwy 101 from the north, get on the first exit before or after the bridge (depending upon which way you're coming) at Alexander Ave. Turn onto Conzelman rd and follow a few miles passed bicyclists and tourists, turn left at the bottom of a hill and soon you'll see the presidio-like buildings, one of which is the center. Follow the signs to the visitor center parking lot. I highly encourage you to go inside before your hike. You'll see artifacts, stuffed birds and a convenient gift shop where you can buy anything from hiking books to t-shirts to snacks. If you do not feel like purchasing a big map of the area, there's a free paper map on the counter for this hike.

Begin at the end of the parking lot by the bathrooms and follow trail to the right, cross the road to the warehouse and start on Miwok Trail which is to the right of the warehouse. You will stay on Miwok for the next 1.6 miles, it will be flat for the first .5 mile or so and then will steadily climb away from the water, curving up the hills bringing vast views of the headlands.

After climbing the first long hill, turn left onto Wolf Ridge Trail which is a single track trail (you may be glad to get rid of those fast bicyclists). Wolf Ridge continues to go uphill steeply, be careful of footing in places. At 2.7 miles into the hike, turn left on Coastal Trail to the top of Hill 88, you already will get a prized view of the Rodeo Beach and the Pacific side of the bridge. As you go up the paved walkway to the top of Hill 88, you will start hearing the lighthouse which is only open Sat through Monday from 12:30-3:30. At the top of Hill 88, you will see marvelous views and graffiti laced buildings. The graffiti ranges from standard gang tags to x loves y to political statements.

Now go back down the way you came and continue down on the paved Coastal trail to the beach below. You will pass bunkers and continue on dirt and paved trails. Before getting to the beach walk through the Battery Townsley tunnels, here is where one of the missile launching sites was. Continue downwards to the beach.

You may feel a bit out of place as we did crossing the beach in our camelbaks and trekking poles but with a sunny warm day and tides coming in, who cares? Continue to trek alongside the beach to the other side where you will go up the bluffs nearest the water. Keep right to go towards a bunch of green buildings - this is the YMCA staff buildings. Go right after the lot to the rd up to the Battery Mendell which looks like this:

Climb up the stairs to the top and explore the building before continuing on the dirt trails behind it. You are now 6+ miles into the hike but the best is still yet to come. Walk alongside the dirt path on the cliff through some brush to the radar tower. Next to it is another graffiti painted building. You can go up to the second story but DONT LOOK DOWN IF AFRAID OF HEIGHTS. Below is a 100 foot fall or more to a private beach where rough waves hit the rocks and pieces of metal from an old shipwreck are still ashore. After going down the steep stairs, continue on the dirt path around the fence. Go left on the dirt trail, you'll see tourists walking down the paved road towards the lighthouse. Follow them.

The paved road will take you downhill onto a fenced bridge and then through a tunnel. Be sure to get there when the lighthouse is open or else you'll be SOL. We managed to get in line (at the other end of the tunnel) about 15 minutes before closing. A volunteer will be talking to you about the lighthouse as you wait. The suspension bridge to the lighthouse was built in 1953 and is a bit... unsteady. In fact they only allow 2-3 people at a time to go across it as it is starting to erode and it does bounce when you go across. Once you are to the other side, explore the lighthouse, it can get a bit chilly here as well so have a sweater handy. You'll wait in line again to cross the bridge. After, continue back the way you came until to the parking lot. Now follow the road to the left, cross the road and go up the dirt track to the Battery Wallace. Go through the tunnel and turn left and follow the road until it curves downhill, you'll see the beach to the left and the familiar buildings. Turn right at the stop sign and follow the road back down the next .5 miles to the visitor center. When leaving on Field Rd, there is a 5 minute stoplight in front of a bike tunnel to enjoy. Hopefully you're hike will be a fulfilling as ours and with history and beauty that this hike brings, we'll most likely be back.

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