Backpacking trip for beginners: San Francisco's Angel Island

A two-day backpacking excursion with big, beautiful views of the Bay.

Kimberly Gomes

Newbie backpackers seeking the latter can look no further than San Francisco’s Angel Island. Just a 30-minute ferry ride away from neighboring cities, explorers feel all the bliss of remote camping with clear views (and cell service) of the entire San Francisco Bay.

Begin your journey at Pier 41 where the ferry brings you and your pack past Alcatraz and into Angel Island’s tree-bound marina. Upon arrival, campers can easily locate rangers offering maps and insight on the island’s trails and sites. Home to just nine campsites, day-trippers head back to the city no later than 5 p.m., leaving overnighters with complete serenity and solace.

Nearly all the island’s campsites are within a two-mile hike from the marina, making it an ideal destination for new backpackers looking to test out what to bring and how to pack without the pressure of a multi-day experience. Beyond its approachable hikes, Angel Island offers some of the most exquisite views around. Hikers can catch vast vistas of San Francisco’s historic Golden Gate Bridge and the Eastern end of the Bay Bridge all in one shot. Not to mention: Its five-mile circumference makes it easy for active folks to explore every side of the island within 24 hours. Ready to adventure? Check out the itinerary below:

Day 1:

Hop on the ferry at Pier 41 ($16 round trip; see schedule here.) Word to the wise: Get dropped off or take public transit as the only parking available is Pier 39’s hourly garage.

Check in at Angel Island’s kiosk where rangers will map out the route to your campsite.

Settle in, soak up the views, and start exploring. If you’re staying at Campsites 1-3, then walk down to the old Immigration Station and China Cove. Those at sites 4-6 can check out Camp Reynolds and Battery Beach, while backpackers at sites 7-9 can explore Fort McDowell and Quarry Point. From there, venture up to Mount Livermore for stunning views under sunset lighting.

Enjoy a campfire-free evening surrounded by the Bay Area’s glimmering charm. For an unforgettable night, spend the night when it’s close to or on a full moon.

Day 2:

Enjoy the morning mist and distant views over breakfast. Load up and leave your readied pack in your tent. (Raccoons are known to tear through tents for food, so make sure all your scrumptious goods are stored in the camping food locker.)

Hike the five-mile Perimeter Road for views of every stretch of the Bay Area from Sausalito and Tiburon to Oakland and San Francisco.

After packing up your tent, head down to Ayala Cove and grab a tasty meal at the island’s one of and only restaurant. If that happens to be around 2 p.m., enjoy live music from a local band.

Bid farewell to the island and return to everyday living, revived and ready for your next backpacking adventure!

Reservation information:

Angel Island campsites book up well in advance. Check online for availabilities or call the ranger station to see if any last minute cancellations arise. Your best bet is to reserve a site in early spring when slots open. Although, I went on a Sunday night and only saw two other overnighters, meaning plenty of campsites were left empty. $38/night; 1-800-444-7275; reserveamerica.com