My Second Trip to Angel Island

This week I took Thursday and Friday off having secured an extremely popular campsite on the San Francisco Bay’s Angel Island. I have camped here before, back in 2017 with my partner, but this was my first solo trip just for fun and solitude.

Ferry view of Angel Island

Campsite Location is Important

I first camped on an East Bay side campsite on Angel Island. It was fantastically wild for being so close to San Francisco, with perfect darkness at night with only the foghorns reminding you that you are right in the middle of one of the largest metropolises in the United States.

Campsite number five

It is a truly unique experience anywhere on the island. It is a fairly rugged terrain if you are willing to skirt some rules on unmarked trails, or even if you ride or hike the marked trails. There are a number of sights to see including the summit of Mount Livermore and even the beaches are unique as they exist wholly within the San Francisco Bay.

“Not A Thru Trail” indeed…

The site I stayed at this trip was Campsite #5. Camps 4, 5, and 6 are regarded as some of the most beautiful campsites on the island. From all sites in this group you have a view of San Francisco, the Bay Bridge, and the Golden Gate Bridge from your camp site or within an extremely short walk from your campsite.

At my camp at site #5 I had a picnic table just outside of my tent where I had panoramic views of the city skyline, both bridges, and the Marin Headlands. It was a truly beautiful and calming experience. I was reading a book during sunset catching the reflection on the buildings of San Francisco and taking in the intense glow of the sun behind Hawk Hill and the Golden Gate Bridge. It reminded me of why I moved here in the first place.

Sunset over Marin

What to Bring

For me, as a relatively experienced bike tourer and backpacker, I would recommend anyone with even a passing camping experience to err toward bringing the minimal gear possible. All sites have access to charcoal grills, food lockers, and pit toilet facilities. This means that you don’t need to bring a lot of gear if you are staying for 1-2 nights. This is a blessing in disguise if you are local, because I chose to take luxury items instead. Sunsets are better with a 6 pack of Lagunitas, in my opinion.

Importantly, you need to select a campsite that has some sort of shade cover if you plan to spend more that one night on the island. Angel Island can get very warm when there is no cloud cover, and the temperature difference between SF and Angel Island can be 10+ degrees Fahrenheit. If you cannot secure a site with good tree coverage you need to prepare for hot days and windy, cold, nights. Pack accordingly.

There are no wood fires allowed on the island. You must use a gas stove or charcoal in the provided grills to cook, and this is strictly enforced due to the fragile ecosystems on the island.

Is This “Bikepacking?”

I think this question is asked far too much. You can make this trip as tough and hard fought as you want. I went out of my way in previous trips to hit every single trail and offshoot that I could to make it “feel worth it.”

The real benefit of such an amazing State Park so close to San Francisco is that it allows you a relatively low-effort and low-risk destination to test gear and fit changes and the absolute worst that can happen is that you need to hike an hour or two back to the ferry terminal. I really love having access to such a resource with a rich, if dark, history.

If you are just getting into bikpacking or bike touring, I believe that destinations like this are far more likely to cement the love of the ride than major endeavors. It is much more approachable for a beginner to take a 30 minute ferry ride than it is to embark on a 30+ mile, 5+ hour long ride to somewhere like Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Olema or China Camp State Park outside of San Rafael.

Fully loaded

Final Thoughts

As someone who has toured for years over the western United States, nothing makes me happier to live in California than the multitude of State and National Parks that are open to adventures like this on short notice. I urge everyone, even experienced tourers and bikepackers, to experience some of the “easy” destinations in their backyards. For me, I was testing a new down quilt and some kitchen gear that I wasn’t super convinced about, and I got a resounding answer from this trip whether it would work or not (it does.)

If you are in the Bay Area, Angel Island is 100% worth the trip!

– Robert