This article and video were produced in partnership with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.
Angel Island is the largest natural island in the San Francisco Bay and access is less than 30 minutes from downtown … if you're going to take a ferry. But why would you take a ferry when you could paddle the famed Racoon Strait instead? It's a beautiful paddle that you'll cap with a four-and-a-half-mile hike to the top of the island's highest point, Mount Livermore, where you'll be rewarded with views of the Bay Area's most iconic landmarks: the Golden Gate, Alcatraz, Mount Tamalpais, and the San Francisco skyline. Sure, you might get passed by the ferry on your way back, but those people didn't really earn it, now did they?
You want to park at the Paradise Beach Park in Tiburon, which adds some distance to the overall paddle, but which also makes parking and beach access with your board much simpler than trying to park in the town of Tiburon. To get there …
• Take the Golden Gate Bridge out of the city and stay on the 101 through Marin City.
• Get off on CA-131 and stay on it for just under two miles before turning left at Trestle Glen Blvd.
• After a half mile, turn right on Paradise Dr. Drive two miles and the beach park will be on your left.
• Entry to the park is free, however, there is a parking fee of $5 on weekdays and $10 on weekends. For $93 per year, you can purchase an annual pass that grants entry to all of the parks and facilities in Marin County that require a parking fee.
• From the parking area, walk your way past the lawn and picnic area, towards the canoe and kayak launching area.
• Launch from the left side of the pier in the middle of the park to begin the paddle. Be mindful when approaching the water, as the algae-covered concrete leading into the water is extremely slippery.
Crossing Racoon Strait – the channel separating Angel Island from Tiburon – can be challenging and shouldn't be attempted by a novice paddler, since an understanding of tides and currents is important to navigating it smoothly. That said, if you're comfortable in open water, it's a classic Bay Area adventure. To make planning easier, the Bay Area Sea Kayakers have put together a trip planner to help paddlers stay informed on tides, conditions, and forecasts
• Leave from Paradise Beach Park on a slack tide so you have minimal current to deal with on the way over.
• The prevailing wind in this area, year-round, is West/Northwest, which means the paddle back to the beach park will, for the most part, be upwind. Choose a day when the wind is under 10 knots; the earlier in the day you can leave, the less likely you'll have to deal with gusty afternoon winds on the way back.
• After launching at Paradise Beach Park, head southeast, past the fishing pier toward Bluff Point.
• Pause for a moment at Bluff Point to assess the conditions across Raccoon Strait. This is a popular stretch of water, so expect ferries, sailboats, kayaks, and fishing boats.
• Paddle! The crossing is about 2.5 miles, so plan for it to take 60 to 90 minutes.
• Once you have reached Angel Island, land on the sandy strip of beach in Ayala Cove and stash your board in the shade of the trees on the west end of the cove.
• Remember that you'll want to return on a slack tide as well. The time between slack tides varies pretty dramatically depending on the day, so be sure study the tide chart so you know how much time you have for the hike.
The 4.6-mile hike is a relatively easy loop that uses two trails – starting with the North Ridge Trail and returning via the Sunset Trail – with a quick jaunt to the top of Mt. Livermore in the middle. This loop is the road less traveled on Angel Island, as most people stick to the Perimeter Trail, a wide and mostly level perimeter road shared by hikers, runners and bikers who have no idea what they're missing up above.
• The trailhead for the North Ridge Trail can be found behind the ferry landing to the north of the restrooms, and begins with a steep set of stairs shaded by pine and oak trees. These stairs are the most challenging part of the hike.
• After about a mile of hiking, you'll reach the northernmost part of the trail, from which you'll have a clear view of the Strait you just paddled, and the Tiburon peninsula.
• After a brief stint on a wide fire road at 0.9 miles, turn left to follow the signs for the North Ridge Trail to Mt. Livermore.
• Be on the lookout for wildlife along the trail, and be mindful of the poison oak that lines the walkway as you make your way to the summit.
• The North Ridge Trail ends a fork in the road at 1.8 miles. Turn right at the fork, following the signs another .3 miles to the summit of Mount Livermore.
• Make everyone who follows you on Instagram jealous.
• Return to the fork and go left to take the Sunset Trail back to the beach. The views of the Golden Gate bridge, the Marin Headlands and Sausalito as you make your way through a series of switchbacks down the mountain are as impressive as those from the summit.
• Finish the hike by walking through the picnic area at 4.6 miles, toward Ayala Cove.
What to Bring
As you should do this paddle/hike when the weather is good, you'll only need a few standard supplies in your dry sack.
• Safety should always be a priority, so be sure not to forget your PFD and leash to wear for the paddle over and back.
• The hike is relatively easy, however, it does cover almost 5 miles, so bring your comfortable, broken in hiking shoes.
• The entire adventure is about 9 miles total, and it will take plenty of water to get you through the day.
• While trail mix and small snacks will probably be enough, a better idea might be to pack a lunch to enjoy while you take in the view from the picnic tables at the summit.
• Be sure to bring a windbreaker and a warm layer to wear during the hike. Chances are, you will be a little chilly after the paddle over, and the temperature continues to drop as you become more exposed to the wind higher up on the island.
• Since you'll be taking in phenomenal views unavailable to all those poor people who crossed Racoon Strait in a boat and just walked around the base of the island, pack a can of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to toast the fruits of your labor.
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