I never tire of the Marin Headlands. I drag all my visitors to see them — I even took my Mom up there in the middle of a blinding rainstorm (“there’s a spectacular coastline over there,” I promised, pointing to a fog bank). Melissa and I took her Mom to Fort Cronkite to watch the surfers on Christmas Day one year.

About the only thing I hadn’t done at the Headlands was hike, an omission somewhat corrected on Sunday. Last Thursday I’d gotten a “guess what I’m in town” e-mail from Rick McCharles of “Best Hike” fame (Rick has a hiker in every port), so I decided to take Rick to the Headlands as well. Last time we did an excellent 10-miler at Mount Tamalpais; this time we threw ambition to the wind and mostly wandered around, soaking up the view, doing only as much hiking as circumstances required. Which was not much, with so much scenery to distract from one’s trekking duties.

May as well let the pictures do the talking:

Golden Gate Bridge

The classic “Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Spencer” shot. This is just beyond the first parking area you see as you head up the hill into the Headlands. From that lot, you can also walk down to the ocean along the Kirby Cove Road, a fact I overlooked while we were stopped here, so that classic hike got left off the itinerary.

Looking north

Next up, we parked near Hawk Hill, which has an impressive 360-degree panorama. This shot looks north toward Fort Cronkite.

Rick of Best Hikes

Rick engages in the quirky behavior that endears him to trekkers the world over.

Point Bonita

That’s Point Bonita — we checked out the lighthouse there awhile later.

Calla lily

I’m pretty sure Calla lilies are non-native, but they are nice to look at.

Bridge far in the distance

I like images where bridge cables parallel the slope of the nearby hills.

California coastline

Another north-looking shot, this time from Battery Mendell, which is where you run out of continent when you drive through the Headlands.

Sheer rock face

OK, on to Point Bonita, which has this very impressive jagged rock face nearby (wish I had an equally impressive picture).

Tunnel to the lighthouse

The tunnel to the Point Bonita lighthouse is locked behind a steel door most of the time, but Park Service volunteers open it on Saturday, Sunday and Monday afternoons from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. — note to visitors: if you go right at the opening, you’ll encounter a line of people waiting to get across to the lighthouse, which is very small and doesn’t have room for many people. Better to get there a little later in the afternoon.

The point, the lighthouse

Only two people are allowed on the old bridge to the lighthouse, which creates a traffic jam initially because you have to wait for people coming and going. Also, once you get over there it’s a lot windier, and hence chillier; dress appropriately.

Poster of ill-fated ships

A poster shows all the ships whose crews encountered a certain sinking feeling after having run into the continent .

Inside the lighthouse

Inside the lighthouse.

With the lighthouse tour finished, we wandered over to Fort Cronkite to hike a bit of the Coastal Trail.

More coastline

The stunning, jagged coastline never quits.

Rusty fence

We walked along some ragged old chain-link fence that used to warn people they were wandering too close to essential military operations. Which, it turned out, were essential only to the profit margins of the defense contractors who built all the now-decaying installations in the Headlands.

Those are the highlights. Bottom line: The Headlands are far better for gawking than hiking. Riding a bike might be as much fun or more. Checking out the Point Bonita lighthouse is a must, as is, I’m sure, the Kirby Cove hike we skipped. It’s probably a bit too crowded and tourist-infested for the Global Hiker Elite of which we all members, but there’s no denying it’s got the most spectacular scenery per square foot of any Bay Area locale.

Marin Headlands links:

  • Rick’s pictures on Flickr.
  • National Parks Service page.
  • Wikipedia entry.
  • GORP’s page for Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
  • BAHiker.com’s Fort Baker Hike. | GGNRA hikes here.

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