Ultimate Urban Camping at Angel Island

After a hectic morning trying to remember how I packed for these trips, I made it to Pier 41 carrying my hiking backpack and all my other camping gear. I’d reserved the campsite at Angel Island six months back, after hearing about how cool it was to camp on a giant island right by SF.

Among the crowds of tourists at Fisherman’s Wharf, I met up with my camping crew – Andrew, Jon, Stephanie, Erica, and Tricia – and boarded the Blue & Gold ferry taking us directly to the island. I was ecstatic for my first camping trip of the season!

Sailing by the Alcatraz

As the ferry departed, we grabbed some seats outside on the top deck. It was an insanely nice day – the sun was shining, the breeze was refreshing, and the views of the Bay were lovely. We sailed by Alcatraz as the city continued to grow smaller in the horizon, and soon a large, tree-covered island appeared into view.

After 25 minutes on the ferry, we arrived at Angel Island. We disembarked and after checking in for our campsite, the group grabbed lunch at The Cove Cafe. As we enjoyed pulled pork sandwiches and beer in the patio area staring out at the dock with parked sailboats, we excitedly talked about the weekend ahead.

Arriving at Angel Island

With our hunger completely satisfied, the crew took a few commemorative group pictures before starting the hike, theme park entrance-style. Since we had to carry-in all our food and camping equipment for a mile-and-a-half to our campsite, we took the Perimeter Road, which was a well-established road that followed the outer edge of the island with plenty of foot & bike traffic.

The scenery continued to impress. We were surrounded by views of the bay, sailboats and container ships dotting the waters. The walk wasn’t too difficult, with a few uphill climbs but largely flat terrain. We walked past the US Immigration Station, a group of buildings that processed almost a million immigrants from 1910-1940.

The Angel Island crew, starting the hike!

Soon we reached the Fire Road which would take us to our campsite. The group took a few more twists and turns before arriving at East Bay Site 1. As I walked around our home for the weekend, I was impressed by everything the site offered – plenty of flat land for our tents, a mix of shade and open areas, a couple of tables, a bear locker, and some seriously impressive views of the Bay Bridge and East Bay.

It didn’t take long to set up our tents and unpack our food. There was still some time before dinner so we decided to explore the island. Our campsite was a short walk away from Fort McDowell, which was constructed during the Spanish-American War, so we headed there to check it out.

Graffiti quotes at Fort McDowell

The fort turned out to be an abandoned group of old buildings, and it was pretty fun walking through the empty rooms imagining ourselves in a bunch of different movies. The crumbling walls, broken-down stairs, and various graffiti only added to the vibe.

We spotted the path to Quarry Beach right outside the fort area and walked over. The beach wasn’t very big, but as we sat on top of a concrete wall next to some moss-covered rocks, we enjoyed some perfect views of the San Francisco cityscape behind the ripples of water touching the sand.

Looking out at Quarry Beach

By now it was about dinner time. Cassie was also planning to meet up with us at the campsite after departing later from the city, so we headed back to the East Bay campsites. As we turned onto Fire Road, we ran into her (perfect timing) and took a short cut to our site.

For dinner, the group prepped tortellini with grilled chicken and pesto and enjoyed a hearty meal, complete with boxed red wine. For dessert, we toasted marshmallows over the camping stove fires to make s’mores, since the island enacted a wood-burning fire ban after the 2008 blaze.

Chilling at Quarry Beach

Our post-dinner activities were my favorite of the trip. We went on a sunset hike to the top of Mt. Livermore, the highest point of the island. The hike on Ida Trail to the summit was a short one, and the climb to the 788 ft. “peak” wasn’t bad at all.

The crew reached the top just as the sun began to dip behind the hills. We were awestruck – the views were absolutely incredible, covering East Bay, San Francisco, and Marin. We continued to admire the view as the sky darkened and the city lights began to glimmer.

Catching the sunset at Mt. Livermore

We took North Ridge Trail back to the camp, using our flashlights and headlamps to navigate the darkened trail. Along the way we ran into a Boy Scout troop and a few other small hiking groups. The rest of the visitors had already gone home with the last ferry at 4pm. We had the place to ourselves.

Our group of adventurers ended the night at our campsite (aka Club Angel), playing games, trading stories, and talking about life – over wine and music, of course. It was a fun way to cap off a successful day of hiking and exploring the island.

View from East Bay Campsite

The next morning, we prepped freeze-dried breakfast, something that I’d wanted to introduce to the group. Everyone enjoyed Mountain House Breakfast Skillet (the best), and with minimal cleanup after the meal, we quickly packed and were on our way back to the cove to catch our ferry.

The hike back turned from a peaceful stroll into a mad scramble once we realized that taking the longer route wouldn’t give us enough time to make the noon ferry. Rather than wait another couple of hours for the next one, we pushed on, determined to catch it.

We sped-walked, jogged, and at some points navigated shortcuts. It took a last-minute dash and some persuasion from the quicker-paced people for the ferry to wait another minute, but everyone made it! It was a exhilarating finish to a fun weekend camping on a giant island next to the city. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of adventurers to share the memories!


Isla de los Angeles at www.RandomTidbitsofThought.com.
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