Mt. Sutro

The Belgrave Ave entrance.

Mt. Sutro has been right under our noses for almost two years and we haven’t had a clue. Literally. The Mt. Sutro Open Space Reserve is two blocks south of our apartment starting at UCSF Parnassus. I guess I always thought that behind the giant UCSF hospital buildings that there was just unfriendly woods that people couldn’t get to. At some point last year Chris suggested “going back there” to “check it out”, but (like Grand View Park) we had never really looked into it.

This past week I looked closely at Google Maps behind UCSF Parnassus and discovered that, most importantly, that ‘woods’ is called Mt. Sutro -and- there are a bunch of trails back there! When I looked up one of the trails labeled on Google Maps I discovered this amazing trail map. What a find! Now that we had a game plan, we decided to follow two of the suggested paths to and from the summit when Maria came to visit over the long weekend.

We started our journey by walking up Medical Center Way past the really futuristic looking UCSF Institute for Regenerative Medicine building.

View from the side of the UCSF Institute for Regenerative Medicine building.

I can only imagine what their full view looks like. I’ve seen the side of that building from Grand View Hill and it’s practically all windows. Right now I’m incredibly jealous of the doctors and scientists that work in that building. From there, we kept walking up Medical Center Way until we reached the entrance to the Historical Trail.

The Historic Trail

The Historic Trail starts alongside a paved driveway about 100 feet uphill from the Woods Lot and the brown wooden bus shelter at 100 Medical Center Way (B). Cross Medical Center Way when it’s safe, and head right on the single-track trail, which traverses gently across a steep hillside overlooking the Medical Center. In several places, the trail builders used stone walls to make a level route through rough terrain. After about 0.2 mile the trail curves south and begins a long, gradual ascent through a remote area of forest. About 0.4 mile from the start, the forest thins and you may glimpse Golden Gate Park and the Marin Headlands to the north.

A glimpse of Golden Gate Park and the Marin Headlands.

Beautiful uprooted tree on The Historic Trail.

When we arrived at the southwest side of the mountain, the Historic Trail met up with the South Ridge Trail that we turned left on to continue up to the summit.

The South Ridge Trail

Turn left on the South Ridge Trail. In a few steps you pass a T-junction with the Gardener’s Trail (keep right). In about 400 feet you arrive at the paved Nike Road (G). To reach the summit, turn left up this road 100 feet to the start of the Rotary Native Plant Garden, and follow the gravel trail another 500 feet east to the summit.

There's a stone bench at the summit.

We left the summit down the North Ridge Trail. Both the North and South Ridge trails are relatively short. The North Ridge Trail is the steeper of the two and has a small shrine right before you return to Medical Center Way.

The North Ridge Trail

Small shrine in the rocks.

Once we reached Medical Center Way we debated heading back the way we came in, but then the Fairy Gates Trail sounded too good to pass up. It wrapped around the northeast side of the mountain and was covered in lush plant life as well as interesting rock outcroppings (obviously where the fairies live).

Fairy Gates Trail

The Fairy Gates Trail lets out right next to the Aldea San Miguel Housing area, which has a beautiful up-close and personal view of Sutro Tower.

Sutro Tower from the Fairy Gates Trail.

From there we continued onto the minor Belgrave Trail. On the map they mark some of the trails as minor – simply put that means the Mt. Sutro Stewards (park people) didn’t fix up these paths when they were making restorations to the main ones. We discovered that they can be fairly small and steep.

New dance move: Sutro Shuffle.

We exited through the Belgrave Ave entrance onto Stanyan St where we met a beautiful view of the city below.

Stanyan St

I can’t wait to go back and check out the other trails when it’s warmer out. I’m always surprised by the lack of people when we go on adventures. I assume that many San Franciscans already know about the things I’m discovering, but I’ve come to figure out that that may not be the case. To our surprise, we did see a couple of mountain bikers up there. Scared the crap out of me. Riding these super fast bikes down a less than two foot wide path with a steep cliff off to one side – insanity! If you’re in the neighborhood definitely go for a visit, if you’re not – check out the rest of my Mt. Sutro photos on flickr.