The Golden Gate Bridge: A Magnet for Trails

This is a historial post from Hiking the California Trail, a 1998/2002 book set by Bob Lorentz and Richard Nichols. Where possible an update has been provided.

San Francisco is among the world’s most popular tourist attractions and the Golden Gate Bridge is the City’s biggest attraction. Millions of people come to marvel at this astounding man-made feature in its dramatic natural setting. So far, however, few people know that four different long distance trails cross the Golden Gate Bridge en route to far-flung locations. The Bay Area Ridge Trail, California Coastal Trail, San Francisco Bay Trail, and American Discovery Trail all cross the bridge. A fifth, the De Anza Trail, terminates at the Presidio overlooking the Bridge.All of the trails are currently works in progress. When these trails are completed, it will be the most dynamic convergence of trails ever, a huge testament to the popularity of hiking in America. We’ll look at them in the order in which they were conceived.

The idea of a trail along the ridges encircling San Francisco Bay was conceived by the legendary park advocate and land use visionary William Penn Mott Jr. almost 40 years ago. Since 1988 an advocacy nonprofit group called the Bay Area Ridge

Trail Council has taken solid root, enthusiastically promoting the Ridge Trail. To date 225 miles of the Ridge Trail have been signed, 56 percent of the planned 400mile trail through nine counties connecting 75 parks and open space districts.

The idea of a California Coastal Trail came out of the state’s coastal protection movement of the 1970s. While many agencies have helped build the CCT. no one agency has taken charge. Still, the 1200-mile trail currently stands somewhere between twothirds and three-quarters complete. Now that the state of California has officially recognized the CCT, with Coastwalk advocating and working for completing the trail, and the Coastal Conservancy making it a priority, the Coastal Trail is progressing rapidly.

The San Francisco Bay Trail is another work in progress. A dream of Senator Bill Lockyear, he first proposed the trail in 1986 as a multiple use path that would circle the bay’s shoreline. It’s administered by the Association of Bay Area Governments and funded largely by the Coastal Conservancy. Nearly 200 miles of the 400-mile trail are complete.

America’s first coast-to-coast trail was proposed by the American Hiking Society and Backpacker Magazine in 1989. The 3000-mile American Discovery Trail will lead from Delaware’s Cape Henlopen State Park on the Atlantic shore to San Francisco and Point Reyes National Seashore on the Pacific, connecting cities, villages, rural areas and wilderness areas as well as linking together the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and California Coastal Trail in one huge network.

The De Anza Trail traces the route taken by Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza from Mexico to the Presidio of San Francisco in 1775-76. The idea for the trail grew from the 1975-76 bicentennial reenactment of the 1200-mile expedition. Through the efforts of the Heritage Trails Fund, the trail was included in the National Trails System Act in 1990. Still in the planning stages, it is administered by the National Park Service from San Francisco. Next time you’re on the Golden Gate Bridge, imagine walking one trail to the east coast, another to Mexico and Oregon, or taking a high or low route around the entire San Francisco Bay. The idea, whether or not you ever do it, stretches the imagination and warms you to a sense of adventure and freedom. The individuals, nonprofit groups, and public agencies working to complete these five trails deserve our thanks and support.

Originally Published in Hiking the California Coastal Trail: Guide to Walking the Golden State's Beaches and Bluff from Border to Border - Volume One: Oregon to Monterey (2nd Edition) by Bob Lorentzen and Richard Nichols
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