For my birthday back in February, the Husband booked me a night camping on Angel Island. Angel Island is (durr) an island in the San Francisco Bay, moored between SF, Tiburon and Sausalito. We’ve hiked there once, I’ve raced there once but I’d always wanted to camp. It’s hard to reserve a spot – you have to reserve well in advance – but we snagged a spot on a Monday night during the Dude’s Spring Break. We roped in Lisa and her people to come with us and off we went.
This was our first ever backpacking trip. We usually car camp but this time, we’d have to take a ferry to the island and then hike about 1.5 miles up to our spot. I envisaged us all cool and backpackery, like Instagram cool people, but alas we turned up at the ferry looking like two homeless families. Lisa and her gang were lugging a cooler filled with tents and sleeping mats. We had dug out an ancient, dusty stroller holding a horrible packing bag full of pillows, a duvet and an air-mattress and pump. My Husband was not prepared to rough it. We enviously eyed up the beautiful couple also camping out, equipped with a backpack and a sleeping mat. That was how to do it. Despite our disheveled appearance, we were in VERY high spirits on the ferry over and as we staggered off the boat, onto the island, we waved to all the people on the boat back to SF. We assumed they were just jealous of our adventures – they were probably just relieved we were gone.
We checked in with the delightful park ranger and started the hike up to our campsite. Immediately it was awesome. It was so surreal to be basically alone on the island after the last ferry. It felt like an Enid Blyton adventure. We tried the short-cut up the steps but that proved too awful with the stroller so we ended up walking up the paved road around the island. This proved much easier and after a final 10 minutes on trail, we got to our site.
Our site was #8 in the ‘Sunrise Campsite’ on a clearing overlooking the East Bay. It had space for 3 pitches and one other pitch was taken by two families with young kids, so I didn’t feel bad at disturbing other campers with our rabble. Each pitch had a picnic table and a BBQ grill and I believe each campsite has a pit toilet and drinkable water. Our pit toilet smelt badly but was pretty clean. No spiders. No complaints.
You can see our tents in the middle, just below the empty old buildings – they were part of an immigration station!!
We pitched our tents, ate hot-dogs, made s’mores and drank wine as it got darker. As dusk came, the lights came on in the East Bay and the sparkles lit up on the Bay Bridge, it was so pretty. Our spot was definitely sheltered – I believe the western spots overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge get VERY windy – but it still grew chilly so by 8.30pm we were all hunkered down in our tents and asleep.
We woke the next morning at 6.15 and by 6.30 we were silently (kind of) hiking out of our site to go and watch the sunrise from the top of the ‘mountain’ on the island – Mt Livermore, at 733 ft. It was about a mile from our site and climbed all the way but the growing sunrise was lovely. We made it to the top and had the whole place to ourselves as we watched the sun burn through the haze!
We took a different route back, along North Ridge Trail and the fire road back to our site. It was further than it looked on the map but ridiculously pretty and just so very surreal to have this whole place to ourselves. We saw one other hiker – apart from that it was us, the flowers, the deer and the gorgeous views.
Back at camp, we had breakfast, dismantled the tents, packed up and hiked the 1.7 miles back to the dock for the 10.25 ferry. It was easier hiking down and soon we were at the harbour. There were a number of other campers there waiting for the ferry which somehow took us by surprise, but soon enough we were on the ferry, sailing away and back to reality.
This might be one of my favourite all-time camping trips. It felt so magical, like such a big adventure. A ferry ride, an island basically to ourselves, sunrise hiking without fear of mountain lions…it was wonderful. We felt like excellent parents, watching our kids’ excitement about the whole thing, and we were all pretty darn excited ourselves. We were all a bit giddy.
On a practical note – this trip was more straightforward than we’d expected. We’d advise you pack as lightly as you can – we had a good uphill 1.7 miles to hike to our site. Take a first aid kid. There is mobile phone reception on the island in case of emergency and also there are rangers who live there who can help quickly if needed. Bring all the warm layers, as it gets chilly, but seriously…just come and camp here. It was wonderful.