Remembering Portola: Sweeney Ridge of Golden Gate NRA

california; golden gate national recreation area; marin headlands; san francisco bay area; santa cruz mountains; sweeney ridge San Andreas Lake viewed from Sneath Lane.

San Andreas Lake viewed from Sneath Lane.

Sweeney Ridge is part of the MUCH larger Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The GGNRA encompasses many sites in Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo Counties. Sweeney Ridge is a small section in San Mateo County; about 25 minutes from the City of San Francisco, the area houses a Nike Missile Control Site, grand vistas of the bay and ocean, as well as the Bay Discovery Site.

Portola “discovered” the San Francisco Bay on November 4, 1769 while on his way to settle Monterey. The site, atop the ridge at 1220′, is now marked by a concrete slab. The spot also has a diorama of the surrounding hills, pointing out Mount Diablo, Mount Tamalpais, Montara Mountain, and the Pacific Ocean. This is also a great spot to admire SFO.

california; golden gate national recreation area; marin headlands; san francisco bay area; santa cruz mountains; sweeney ridge "From this ridge the Portola expedition discovered San Francisco Bay - November 4, 1769"

“From this ridge the Portola expedition discovered San Francisco Bay – November 4, 1769”

The 12.5 mile hike, moderate hike

The climb up Sneath Lane Trail is a little steep but paved and terminates at the smelliest pit toilet known to man (hopefully, they will clean it before you go). From there, we went left down Sweeney Ridge Trail towards the Portola Gate, hiked to the fence, and then headed back to the Sweeney Ridge Horse Trail. This led us through a nice meadow and to a gate at the end of the GGNRA where we turned around to climb back to the ridge (Actually, we hiked around the private property gate to the top of a smaller ridge and then turned around; we do not recommend becoming law breakers like ourselves). Once back on the ridge, we went past the Discovery Site to the junction with Baquiano Trail.

The Baquiano Trail led us to Cattle Hill and a great view of the ocean. We turned back to the ridge yet again (the trail continues down to a parking lot).

california; golden gate national recreation area; marin headlands; san francisco bay area; santa cruz mountains; sweeney ridge One of the 11 Bay Area Nike missile sites is located on Sweeney Ridge near the intersection with Sneath Lane.

One of the 11 Bay Area Nike missile sites is located on Sweeney Ridge near the intersection with Sneath Lane.

Once we got back to the pit toilet, we went the other direction down Sweeney Ridge Trail to check out the Nike Missile Control Site. There is a lot of graffiti on the dilapidated building which probably changes regularly (some kids were tagging while we were there). Some of the graffiti is art, some is profane.

california; golden gate national recreation area; graffiti; marin headlands; san francisco bay area; santa cruz mountains; sweeney ridge Seems like all the old military installations are covered with graffiti. This area still smelled of fresh paint.

Seems like all the old military installations are covered with graffiti. This area still smelled of fresh paint.

After exploring the site, we headed further down the Sweeney Ridge Trail to the junction with Mori Point at which point we turned around and went back up the ridge and then down Sneath Lane Trail to complete our 12.5 mile hike.

Tips and Other Options

For those of you with more ambition, the Sweeney Ridge Trail continues down to Skyline College and beyond (the trail is part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail). Or you could take the Mori Point Trail to Mori Point (in the Mori Point section of the GGNRA).

As I said, the Sneath Lane Trail is paved, the other trails (with the exception of the meadow segment) are fire roads. ALL of the park is very exposed so wear sunscreen and your geeky wide-brimmed hat. The area can also get pretty windy so light layers, including a windbreaker, are best. Parking is free.

california; flowers; golden gate national recreation area; marin headlands; san francisco bay area; santa cruz mountains; sweeney ridge This tree stood out in the predominantly green scenery.

This tree stood out in the predominantly green scenery.

You should also know that the Fifield-Cahill Ridge Trail is also in the park, behind the fence we hit on the way to Portola Gate. You can only hike this section by reservation.

The Sweeney Ridge Area is great for day hiking and mountain biking (for a speedier finish). However, the proximity makes the park busy so hit it early to dodge most of the crowds. As always, carry plenty of water.

Other Hikes in Golden Gate National Recreation Area:

Visit our National Park Service Guide for more hikes in our national parks.

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