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Angel Island State Park

Angel Island Loop Trail

5 miles round trip with 400-foot elevation gain

For an island barely a square mile in size, Angel Island has an extremely diverse history. Over the last two centuries, the island has seen use as a Mexican land grant, an Army artillery post, and an immigration station. Now it’s a state park, attracting hikers, history buffs, and islophiles of all persuasions.

A hundred years of U.S. military occupation began in 1863 when the first gun batteries were installed. The military used the island until 1962, when its Nike Missile Station was deactivated. During wartime periods, particularly during the Spanish-American War, Angel Island was one of the busiest outposts in America. The island served as a processing center for men about to be dispatched to the Philippines, and as a reception/quarantine center for soldiers who returned with tropical diseases.

Not all of the island’s attractions are historical. Rocky coves and sandy beaches, grassy slopes and forested ridges, plus a fine trail network, add up to a walker’s delight. Perimeter Road takes the walker on a five mile tour of the island and offers a different bay view from every turn. From atop Mt. Livermore, a terrific 360-degree panorama unfolds of San Franciso Bay and the Golden Gate.

Directions to trailhead: For information about ferry service to island from Tiburon, call Tiburon Ferry at (415) 435-2131. There is limited ferry service from San Francisco via Blue and Gold Fleet; call (415) 773-1188. The ferries land at Ayala Cove on the northwest side of the island.

Park your car—for a fee—in one of Tiburon’s parking lots near the waterfront, or attempt to find some of the scarce free parking.

The hike: When you disembark, pick up a park map and head for the park visitor center, located in a yellow building that once served as bachelor quarters for unmarried officers assigned to the U.S. Quarantine Station that operated here from 1892 to 1949. At that time, Ayala Cove was named Hospital Cove. At the visitor center, check out the interpretive exhibits.

Walk uphill on the road to the left of the visitor center. You’ll intersect Perimeter Road and the Sunset trailhead at the top of the hill.

Sunset Trail switchbacks up steep, coastal-scrub covered slopes, to the top of 788-foot Mt. Caroline Livermore. Picnic tables have replaced the helicopter pad and radio antennae that once stood on the summit. Views of Ayala Cove, Tiburon, and the Golden Gate, are memorable.

Continuing right (west) on Perimeter Road, you’ll soon overlook Camp Reynolds (West Garrison). A side road leads down to the island’s first military fortifications. You can walk the parade ground and see the brick hospital built in 1908. Still standing are the chapel, mule barn, officers quarters, and several more structures.

Perimeter Road turns eastward, contouring around chaparral-covered slopes and offering a view down to Point Blunt. You may hear and see the harbor seals gathered around the point. The road curves north and soon arrives at East Garrison, where a collection of utilitarian-looking buildings are a reminder of the many thousands of men who were processed here. East Garrison trained about 30,000 men a year for overseas duty. The hospital, barracks, mess hall, and officers’ homes still stand.

Continue north. You’ll soon come to the Immigration Station, the so called “Ellis Island of the West.” From 1910 to 1940, 175,000 immigrants, mostly Asians, were detained and processed. During World War II, German, Italian, and Japanese prisoners of war were confined here.

Perimeter Road rounds Pt. Campbell, northernmost part of the island, and you’ll get a glimpse of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, and then a view of Tiburon, before the road descends to Ayala Cove.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at