Tuesday, July 1, 2014

So what exactly is urban hiking?

At the start of each Urban Hiker SF tour, we ask our guests if they have ever been on an urban hike before. Most people either shake their head 'no' or give us a slightly confused look. After posing this question to countless hikers, I realized that most people don't have their own definition of urban hiking.

For San Francisco, I normally define urban hiking as "exploring the stairways, hills, and hiking trails" of the city. But there aren't stairways, hills, and hiking trails in every city, so how else can we define urban hiking? I started thinking about this, and wanted to answer the questions of "What exactly is urban hiking, and how does it differ from other hiking and walking?"

Here are a few characteristics that, when put together, create an urban hike:
Bench in Walter Haas Park

1. Urban environment  
This may be stating the obvious, but an urban hike has to be in an urban setting. This is the main characteristic that sets urban hikes apart from standard hikes. On both a standard hike and an urban hike, you might find yourself sitting on a park bench taking in a stunning view. Only on an urban hike, however, will that view be right next to a major downtown area.

Tombstone Wall in Diamond Heights
2. Spirit of Exploration 
Urban hiking (like hiking in general) also implies a spirit of exploration. When you embark upon an urban hike, you're not trying to take the most direct or functional route somewhere. On the contrary, you are aiming to enjoy your surroundings and discover something new...you know, like a stone wall that's made of tombstones or a driveway that's covered in psychedelic ladybugs.

Psychedelic Ladybug Driveway

3. Fitness
Pacific Heights Stairs
To contrast walking and hiking again, a major difference between a walk and an urban hike is that with the latter, you're usually aiming for a higher level of heart-pumping action. With 630+ public stairways, 40+ hills, and 70+ miles of hiking trails, I think San Francisco has any number of your fitness challenges covered. I get out of breath just thinking about many of our stairways. 

And even if you don't have stairways in your city, it could be the pace at which you're walking, or the desire to climb up hills that turns your ordinary walk into a hike.

4. Green spaces
With urban hiking, it's often one's goal to get out into green spaces like parks, hiking trails, beaches, and more. Heading into nature in the middle of the city is part of the true essence of an urban hike. Often though, it's hard to completely lose your urban setting. Don't be surprised, for example, if a 1,000 foot-tall-man-made tower pops into the background. That is only to be expected.

5. Distance
And lastly, there is distance. One might not say that half-mile walk in the woods was a hike. But, you might say you "hiked all over town" racking up 10 miles running errands. Hiking often involves going a longer distance - let's say over 3 miles, but as you might imagine, there is no set distance that clearly divides walking and hiking.

While walking, hiking, and urban hiking have a lot of similarities, they have small differences that also make them unique. What really sets apart a walk from a hike from an urban hike is your own, personal perspective. What's your definition of urban hiking? Where do you live and do you go urban hiking in your city?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Hike All of SF Post 7: Presidio Promenade

I'm on a mission to #hikeallofsf. These are the stories of my hikes.

Hike Name: Presidio Promenade
Distance: 4.4 miles
Elevation: 200 feet
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Time: 1- 2 hours
Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash 

For this #hikeallofSF post, I decided to explore the Presidio Promenade, an easy 2.2 mile paved walk that starts at the Presidio’s Lombard Gate and ends at the Golden Gate Bridge. I’ve hiked on many of the Presidio’s 25 miles of hiking trails, and was eager to see some new sites.
An early gift - a first view of the GG Bridge

This is a nice, easy walk suitable for hikers of all levels. The paved paths with minimal elevation are even great for people in wheelchairs or parents with children in strollers. When done as a roundtrip, the hike is 4.4 miles and leaves you in the Marina, an lively part of town for exploring restaurants and shopping.

This hike starts at the Lombard Gate, one of four official Presidio gates. Then you walk through a few buildings and make your way to the Presidio Main Post (pictured at right). From here, you can get your first view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
A paved path through the woods
After walking through the Main Post, you will pass the National Cemetery on your left and continue walking toward the bridge. You will enter a wooded area and then a clearing where you can see a pen that, depending on the time of day, can be filled with police horses. Further on your path, you can read informational plaques and learn the US military history like that of the Buffalo Soldiers. 

Next, cross over a wooden footbridge and continue toward the Golden Gate Bridge. You will pass under overpasses (under construction right now), and get views of downtown San Francisco.

View of Crissy Field - the sculptures have just been removed
After the overpasses, you will get stunning views of Crissy Field and downtown San Francisco. Toward the end of your hike, you will see unobstructed views of the bridge. You can end your hike at the Golden Gate Bridge Pavillion.

Making this a round trip hike
To make this a round trip hike, you can go back the way you came, or to change things up, you can follow the Battery East Trail (also and wheelchair/stroller accessible) to visit Fort Point and Crissy Field. From Crissy Field, you can the return back to Lombard and Lyon where you started your hike. You will see signs pointing you on the right path from the Golden Gate Bridge Pavillion.

Almost all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge

Happy trails!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Hike all of SF Post 6: Lake Merced Loop

I'm on a mission to #hikeallofsf. These are the stories of my hikes.

The Lake Merced Loop at 4.2 or 4.5 miles
Hike Name: Lake Merced Loop
Distance: 4.2 - 4.5 miles
Elevation: <100 feet
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Time: 1.5 - 2 hours
Dog Friendly: Yes, on leash

Hike Description
Lake Merced is located in the Lakeshore neighborhood in the southwestern corner of San Francisco.

The Lake Merced loop is not the most scenic hike in San Francisco, nor it is the most peaceful. Despite these negatives, what I like about this hike is that it carries a certain sense of accomplishment with it. It’s a good enough distance that you’re going to be walking for an hour to an hour and a half, and you get to circle an entire natural lake and bird habitat.

Much of this route is flanked with busy roads - namely Lake Merced Boulevard, John Muir Drive, and Skyline Drive, so expect to hear some level of buzz from the cars whizzing by. As you walk around the lake, you will see housing developments, golf courses, and schools. Unfortunately, much of the paved trail surrounding the lake is block off from the lake thick trees and a tall fence. To get a closer look at the lake, I recommend taking a small shortcut that takes the walk from 4.5 miles to around 4.2 miles. To take this shortcut, you’ll go on the Lake Merced Concrete Bridge just south of Brotherhood Way. Here, you can see the natural beauty of Lake Merced. You’ll see ducks swimming, people fishing, and families picnicking.

Finally, a lake view!

Route Details

As the hike is a straightforward loop, you have the convenience of being able to start it anywhere. There are numerous parking lots and two bus lines that serve the area, so get off where you please and start walking. While many people run this route, feel free to walk, take your time, and sit on a bench or two.

Getting there
  • Public Transit: MUNI Bus #18 allows you to access the western side of the lake
  • MUNI Bus #29 takes you to the northern parts of the lake near the canoe and boat rental areas.
  • For MUNI bus information, call 311. Outside San Francisco, call (415) 701-2311.
  • Parking: There are numerous parking lots near Lake Merced. These include:
    • Lake Merced and Sunset Blvd*
    • Lake Merced and Brotherhood Way
    • Lake Merced and South State Dr
    • Skyline Blvd and Harding Rd**

* This is where I normally start my hike
**This entrance has restrooms and picnic tables.

Lake Merced History
Lake Merced is the largest of the seven remaining natural lakes in San Francisco. At one point as little as 3,000 years ago, the lake was a brackish lagoon that connected to the Pacific Ocean. Over time however, sand accumulations closed off the channel to the Ocean, and Lake Merced became a freshwater lake.

Like many other areas of San Francisco, Lake Merced was originally inhabited by the Ohlone Indians. When the Spanish arrived in San Francisco in 1776, they came across Lake Merced while looking for a place to build the Presidio, their military fort. Lake Merced’s name derives from the Spanish “La Laguna de Nuestra SeƱora de la Merced,” or The Lake of Our Lady of Mercy.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 10.13.01 PM.pngIn September 1859, the lake served as a backdrop for a duel between David Broderick, a US Senator and David S. Terry, ex-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California. Both Broderick and Terry were Democrats, however, Broderick was an abolitionist while Terry was pro-slavery. The two men had previously been friends, but the relationship soured when Terry accused Broderick of having had a role in his failed 1859 re-election campaign . Terry, on his end, retaliated by issuing inflammatory comments at a convention in Sacramento. To resolve their differences, the two agreed on a duel. Terry won the coin toss to choose weapons, and he selected pistols that had hair triggers. Broderick's first shot discharged early, and he was left open to Terry's shot. Terry hit the senator and he died three days later. Today, you can visit the Broderick/Terry duel site near the southeast portion of the lake. If you want to visit the duel site, the closest intersection is El Portal Way and Lakeview Drive.

In more recent history, San Francisco Recreation and Parks acquired the 740 acres of parkland around and including the lake in 1950. Today, the area is popular for walkers, runners, cyclists, fishing enthusiasts, and golfers (the lake is flanked by three courses: Harding Municipal Golf Course, Olympic Country Club, and San Francisco Golf Club). Much to the chagrin of local fishermen, the golf courses’ irrigation needs have been drying out the lake. In 1994, the lake reached an all time low of 14 feet in depth.  

Recently, California Trout, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving trout, steelhead, salmon and their environment, has intervened to try and save the lake. The Lake Merced Task Force and the Friends of Lake Merced have also come together to join the cause. Water levels are up and water and fish conditions continue to improve.

Happy trails!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hike all of SF Post 5: We put the "fun" in "Funston"

I'm on a mission to #hikeallofsf. These are the stories of my hikes.

In February,  I wrote about my first #hikeallofsf hike, Fort Funston to the Cliff HouseToday, I'm writing about a second hike around Fort Funston. This hike explores the area's upper trails.

Fort Funston Loop
  • Distance: 2.0 miles
  • Elevation: ~100 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time: <1 hour
  • Dog Friendly: Off-leash walking is permitted

Hike Description
A view of the Ocean from the trails
This hike is a nice, easy loop that will guide you through a number of Fort Funston’s trails. On a nice day, you get stunning views of the Pacific Ocean to the west and Sutro Tower to the northeast. Even on a foggy day, you can still take in ocean air, and enjoy the sandy landscape littered with ice plants and Monterey cypress trees. 

Route Details
Battery Davis
To embark on this hike, you will
start on the Sunset Trail, a paved and flat trail that departs from Fort Funston's main parking lot. This trail will pass by Battery Davis, and if you continue straight from there, you will be on the California Coastal Trail. While also paved, sections of this path have disappeared under sand drifts. When you see a habitat restoration area sign, you have reached the Coastal Trail’s junction with the Horse Trail (yes, you can bring horses here!). To complete your loop, take the Horse Trail. At first, you will be walking above US-35/Skyline Boulevard. Then, you will head back into first some covered, wooded areas and then some other sandy areas. Before you know it, you’ll be back at the Fort Funston parking lot.

Two colors of ice plans at Fort Funston
Getting there
  • Public Transit: MUNI Bus #18 brings you close to Fort Funston. For MUNI bus information, call 311. Outside San Francisco, call (415) 701-2311. 
  • Parking: Free parking is available at Fort Funston off Highway 35.
Happy Trails, hikers!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hike all of SF Post 4: Take a Stroll with Sutro

I'm on a mission to #hikeallofsf. These are the stories of my hikes.

Interior Greenbelt and Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve
Hike Name: Interior Greenbelt and Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve
Location: Twin Peaks
Distance: 3 miles
Difficulty: Easy - moderate

One of the best moments on our Urban Jungles tours is when our hikers enter a eucalyptus forest behind Sutro Tower. I love to see people's eyes widen when they discover a vast expanse of green space right in the center of the city. And this is just scratching the surface...

Between the northwest end of Twin Peaks and the southeast end of Golden Gate Park are two parks that combine to form 80 acres of eucalyptus forest, the Interior Greenbelt (19 acres) and Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve (61 acres).

About Adolph Sutro

Eucalyptus Trees on the Trail
These parks were once the private land of Adolph Sutro, the mayor of San Francisco from 1894 to 1896. Before he was mayor, Sutro was a German immigrant and an engineer who came to San Francisco in 1850 to make a fortune in gold. When Sutro's dreams of gold were crushed, he became a tobacconist, eventually owning three stores. Now with dreams of silver, he sold his stores took off for Nevada. His goal was to construct a tunnel that would help drain and mine the Comstock Lode.

More Eucalyptus Trees on the Trail
The tunnel was constructed between 1869-1878, but toward the end of that time, Sutro realized the silver deposits were wearing thin. He immediately sold his shares in the tunnel and made millions. He then returned back to San Francisco and bought up 1/12 of the city's land. One of Sutro’s many land holdings was Mount Parnassus (now Mount Sutro). While this land was once covered in native grasses and shrubs, Sutro began planting the hill with imported eucalyptus trees in 1886 in celebration of Arbor Day. The non-native and invasive eucalyptus thrived in its new location and became the main tree species on the hill.

The parks today
Today, Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve is owned by UCSF, and the Interior Greenbelt is owned by the city of San Francisco. They are both maintained by a volunteer group, the Sutro Stewards.

So I digress...back to the hike!

For a full map of this route, visit: http://goo.gl/PxhkUe
Route Details
A full map of this route is here: 

I recommend starting this hike in the Interior Greenbelt at the stairway just south of 17th and Stanyan. At the top of the stairs, you will find yourself on the Historic Trail. Follow this trail until you reach a main road, Medical Center Way.

Cross the street *carefully* to continue on the Historic Trail. You will now be in Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve. To explore Mount Sutro's summit (909 feet), continue on the Historic Trail until it intersects with the South Ridge Trail. Then take the South Ridge Trail, and make a left onto Nike Road to continue up to the summit. You will know you are there because you will see a clearing as well as informational signage about the park.

Mount Sutro Trail Markers
To get back to your start, take the East Ridge Trail (or the Mystery Trail to the East Ridge Trail) down to Johnstone Drive. Walk down the hill and pass Medical Center Way again. Then, on your left, you will see a UCSF sign for 66 Johnstone Drive. Just behind that sign you will see trail markers again. From here, you can get onto the Fairy Gates Trail, which will connect you back to the Historic Trail and finally to 17th and Stanyan. 

For a shorter variation (red shortcut above)
If you're up for a slightly shorter hike (1.75 miles) that still visits the summit, follow
Historic Trail --> Edgewood Trail --> North Ridge Trail. At the end of this trail, you will be at the Mount Sutro summit. From there follow the same directions to the hike's end.

We hope you'll enjoy exploring this eucalyptus forest in the center of the city. If you go on this hike, let us know what you think by leaving a comment.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hike all of SF Post 3: The Philosopher's Way

I'm on a mission to #hikeallofsf. These are the stories of my hikes.

Area of detail - McLaren Park
Hike Name: Philosopher's Way
Location: McLaren Park in Visitacion Valley
Distance: 2.7 miles
Difficulty: Easy

In the past week, summer weather has arrived in San Francisco. When you live here, you never know when the heat will suddenly come - or go - so I wanted to make sure to get outside while balmy temperatures lasted.

Philosopher's Way Hikes
I decided to head to McLaren Park to do a hike called the "Philosopher's Way." There are Philosopher's Walks or Philosopher's Ways in many cities such as Heidelberg, Toronto, and Kyoto. Their goal is to provide an opportunity to walk, ponder, and meditate.

About McLaren Park
Map of McLaren Park and the Philosopher's Way
McLaren Park is the second largest park in the city after Golden Gate Park. It's less central, and as a result, less visited, however, it still houses a number of appealing points of interest including seven miles of walking trails, a golf course, a water tower, a reservoir, a lake, and the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater.

About the hike
The Philosopher's Way (larger map here) allows you to explore a large part of McLaren park while walking a distance achievable by most people (2.7 miles).

You can start your hike in the Overlook parking lot at the intersection of Mansell Street and Visitacion Avenue. From there, head to the southwestern corner of the lot, and you will see the start of the trails.

Looking back toward the start of the hike between two groves of trees.

One of 60+ markers to help you find your way
At the hike start, you have views of the bay, San Bruno Mountain, and the Cow Palace. To keep you on the path, you'll look out for stone pillars with arrows that show you the way. Interspersed with these pillars are other markers with quotes or images that give you something to think about. 

Note: When you see two arrows on a pillar, one set of arrows will take you on the full Philosopher's Way route, while the other will take you on a shorter route. You will have to use your sense of direction (or Google Maps) to judge which arrow will keep you more toward the center of the park, and which will take you to the outer periphery of the park.

After starting in a clearing, the path goes through groves of cypress and eucalyptus trees. Keep following the markers until you reach Mansell Street. Cross Mansell Street, and then you will find yourself in a grassy meadow littered with the occasional tree.

Runners on the Philosopher's Way

The water tower
At this point, you are making your way to the 80-foot-tall blue water tower at the top of the park. Standing near the water tower, you will have unobstructed views of downtown San Francisco, Twin Peaks, and Mount Davidson. If you brought a picnic lunch, this is the perfect place to take a break while taking in the views.

Heading back to the start
Philosopher's Way stairway
After you visit the water tower, you can visit McNab lake, or you can continue on the path. You will walk through over some shaded areas with paved walkways and stairs.
While on this part of the trail, feel free to visit the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater. Or, once you cross John F Shelley Boulevard, you can take a walk to McNab Lake.

After a relaxing 2.7 miles, you will cross Mansell Avenue again, and you should see the parking lot at your right. 

'It ain't over 'til it's over'
If you're up for a little more walking, follow the markers to the east side of Visitacion Avenue. You will see a picnic area with stunning views of the Visitacion Valley neighborhood. You can then take the trails back and return to the parking lot.

Getting there
By car: Look for the Overlook parking lot on Mansell Street and Visitacion Avenue 
By bus: Take Muni's No. 29 line to Mansell Street and John F. Shelley Drive. Then, walk east on Mansell to reach the Overlook parking lot.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Hike all of SF Post 2: Batteres to Bluffs Trail

I'm on a mission to hike all of SF. These are the stories of my hikes.

Area of detail in the Presidio
My last hike all of SF post was about hiking from Fort Funston to the Cliff House. This post is about another great coastal hike, the Batteries to Bluffs Trail.

This gorgeous bayside trail is short - 0.7 miles one way -  but still manages to pack a punch due to a large number of stairs. But don’t worry too much about the stairs, there is plenty to distract you. When you’re not staring at breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, or the Marin Headlands, you can learn about the historic gun batteries you pass on the cliffs. 

So what's with the gun batteries? 
As a direct result of the Gold Rush, San Francisco's population exploded from 50(!) in 1844 to over 20,000 in 1850. With this mass influx of people and with San Francisco now on the figurative map, a joint Army-Navy board called for a plan to defend the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Coast. The first forts were put into place on either side of the Golden Gate - one at Fort Point in San Francisco, and the other at Fort Lime, in Marin. 

As time went, on more forts were built, and in 1885, President Grover Cleveland established what was known as the Endicott Board (named after Secretary of War William Endicott) to modernize forts across 22 seaports across the US.    

Battery Godfrey with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background
The first E
ndicott-era battery was built between 1892-1896. This battery, later named Battery Godfrey, remained in place during World War I and over a year of World War II before being decommissioned in 1943. Neighbors Battery Crosby and Battery Boutelle were both completed around 1900. While the guns of Battery Boutelle were dismounted in 1917 (for use in WWI), Battery Crosby remained in operation until 1943. 

The batteries have been out of use for decades now, however, they are worth a visit for an understanding of San Francisco's past.
Batteries to Bluffs western trailhead

Back to the present day...
To visit the Batteries to Bluffs Trail, you can start at the north or south trailhead. In the north, you can park in the Langdon Court parking lot. In the south, you can look for 2-hour parking on Pershing Drive at Lincoln Boulevard. For those of you taking the bus, Muni's #29 line will do the job for you. 

Add another battery to your arsenal (get it?!)
For a slightly longer hike, start your walk at the Baker Beach parking lot. You can walk to the end of the beach to find Battery Chamberlain. Then head up to Lincoln Boulevard and you'll soon see the Batteries to Bluffs trailhead on your left. 

PS - We weren't kidding about the stairs
Let us know what you think of this trail by leaving us a comment on this post. Happy hiking!