Marin Headlands: Golden Gate National Recreation Area

california; golden gate national recreation area; marin headlands; ocean; san francisco bay area; santa cruz mountains Looking toward Point Bonita from the trail.

Looking toward Point Bonita from the trail.

Hawk Hill: Docent-led Talks

September and October bring the annual Southward migration of many raptor species to the Bay Area. Home to the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory’s project, Hawk Hill is the best place to observe these magnificent birds. The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy holds special talks every Saturday and Sunday during the migration.

Wildlife; bird; california; golden gate national recreation area; marin headlands; san francisco bay area; santa cruz mountains The Marin Headlands are a great area to watch for hawks as they migrate from Canada to South America.

The Marin Headlands are a great area to watch for hawks as they migrate from Canada to South America.

Wildlife; bird; california; golden gate national recreation area; marin headlands; san francisco bay area; santa cruz mountains A docent holds a hawk as she discusses the biology and migratory habitats of the bird.

A docent holds a hawk as she discusses the biology and migratory habitats of the bird.

We arrived at Hawk Hill with plenty of time to spare and walked around a bit finding out interesting bits of trivia. The majority of the Marin Headlands once belonged ot the U.S. Armed Forces. Hawk Hill itself was a battery, though the gigantic guns spent their time hidden away in the tunnels, and if I remember correctly, were never mounted. The top of Hawk Hill served as a radar installation, the remnants of which can still be seen today.

At 10 a.m. the talk began and the docent, an intern with the National Parks Conservancy, informed the audience about the species migrating through the area and how to identify them. She passed around wings collected from dead birds – these are illegal to posses without special permits – so the attendees could get an up-close look and feel.

california; golden gate national recreation area; marin headlands; san francisco bay area; santa cruz mountains There is a steep drop off after the stop sign where the road used to be.

There is a steep drop off after the stop sign where the road used to be.

After the raptor talk the National Parks Conservancy gave a “banding demo.” Raptors are captured and banded, with the larger birds receiving GPS trackers. It’s amazing to think that while some of these birds make their home in the Bay Area year round, others migrate as far South as Argentina. Another docent brought a freshly captured Cooper’s Hawk. Up close, the bird was even more regal and magnificent than through a pair of binoculars. The bird was then released and flew off without hesitation.

Marine Mammal Center: 6-mile, moderate hike

Primary objective accomplished, we drove down Conzelman Road towards the visitor center, stopping in at Battery Rathbone on the way. After picking up a trail map at the visitor center, we drove to the Marine Mammal Center, a hospital for sick and injured marine mammals. We saw only a handful of seals in the holding pools, but hopefully this means there were few injured animals to care for.

We parked our car just outside the Marine Mammal Center gates, fearing they may close at some point in the evening, and started 6-mile loop in the headlands. At Hawk Hill we faced traffic jams and scores of tourists. Along our hike we saw very few people and many of those were there only because an ultra-marathon came through the area. We headed West and up along the Coastal Trail towards Battery Townsley. Here, a 16″ gun was on display outside the bunker. Thick glass sealed off both ends. Were people really trying to crawl through it?

california; golden gate national recreation area; marin headlands; ocean; san francisco bay area; santa cruz mountains This shot is taken from a battery and you can see another one down below with a man standing on top.

This shot is taken from a battery and you can see another one down below with a man standing on top.

california; golden gate national recreation area; marin headlands; san francisco bay area; santa cruz mountains Sharon enjoys the view from a run down military building.

Sharon enjoys the view from a run down military building.

As we hiked up along the Coastal Trail, we found ourselves stopping frequently at the numerous abandoned military installations and to take in the views of the Pacific Ocean and the coves lining the Marin shore. The trail leads up to the dis-affectionately named Hill 88. A collection of teal-colored buildings adorned this one-time radar installation.

Returning to the trail, we followed Wolf Ridge Trail looking down into the Tennessee Valley. When Wolf Ridge ended, we turned South on the Miwok Trail, watching the Gerbode Valley unfold to the Northeast. I couldn’t help to think it would make a lovely camping spot. The hills between the Gerbode and Tennessee Valleys actually do house the Hawk Backpack Camp, one of the Marin Headlands’ two backpack camps (the other being the Haypress Camp off of the Tennessee Valley Trail). The North Facing slopes supported much more lush vegetation and some wildflowers were still blooming.

california; flowers; golden gate national recreation area; marin headlands; san francisco bay area; santa cruz mountains Plenty of flowers color the hillsides in the spring.

Plenty of flowers color the hillsides in the spring.

Upon reaching the trailhead at the end of Miwok Trail, we still had about a half mile to walk along the road. This afforded a closer look, and smell, of the Rodeo Lagoon. The short loop gave us quite the taste for the Marin Headlands and we’re rather anxious to get back.

Other Hikes in Golden Gate National Recreation Area

For more national park adventure, visit our National Park Service Guide.

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