Easy hike around and to the top of San Francisco's highest hill.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 1 mile hike is easy, though
some trails are rocky and steep
More shade than sun.
Dirt trails and fire road.
About 1 hour.
Nice any time.
From northbound CA 1 (19th Avenue) in San Francisco, bear right onto Junipero
Serra. Drive to the (confusing) junction with Portola, and bear right
onto Portola. Drive about 0.7 mile, then turn right onto Marne (same
junction as Miraloma). Drive one block on Marne, and turn right onto
Lansdale. Drive one block and turn left onto Dalewood. Drive one block
uphill on steep Dalewood to the park entrance at the junction of Lansdale and Dalewood. (Note: feel free to consult a map and create your
own directions. There are many streets that reach the park, but you'll
need a map unless you're familiar with the neighborhood.)
Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:
GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
(* based on Google
Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phone, stores, and restaurants back off of Portola, in the West
Portal neighborhood, or on Portola near the intersection with O'Shaughnessy
Boulevard. No camping.
Abundant side of street parking in a residential neighborhood. The number
36 bus stops right in front of the park. No entrance or parking fees.
No facilities. No designated handicapped parking, and trail access for
wheelchairs is obstructed. Read about cautions
for urban hikes here.
Park is open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Dogs permitted.
This hike is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San
Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order
this book from Amazon.com.
Stairway Walks in San Francisco, by Adah Bakalinsky (order
this book from Amazon.com) has a useful map and suggested hike.
The Walker's Map of San Francisco, by Pease
Press is perfect for this hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Davidson, at 927 feet, is the
highest natural point in San Francisco. It is often overlooked
as a hiking destination; most locals recognize
MD as the hill with the cross on top; film buffs remember it from the Dirty Harry movie. But as those late-night infomercials say, "wait, there's more."
The 40 acre mountain-top park is laced with trails which offer expansive views. It is also enjoyable in the fog, when the swirling mist muffles noise from the surrounding city,
and sporadic bird songs drift through the woods.
Of all the hiking trails within the San Francisco city limits, Mount Davidson's are my favorite. Several years ago my family lived just minutes (on foot) from the hill, and over the years we lived there we got to know the mountain well. We picked blackberries in sunny July years, got daily exercise, walked the trails while pregnant and with our baby. We no longer live so close, but I still head to Mount Davidson for convenient everday exercise and to soak up some city nature.
Although it is a small park completely surrounded by development, the trails are not marked and it is surprisingly easy to get lost in the woods. Do follow the directions below closely and check to make sure you are on the right track, especially at the junction in the woods at the end of the native treasures segment.
Start from the bus stop (at the junction of Dalewood and Lansdale) and head up the unsigned but obvious trail. Within feet a forest of eucalyptus and Monterey pine shades the broad dirt trail. The understory here is mostly blackberry and non-native plants including some showy fuchsias. After a brief climb, you'll reach an unsigned junction at 0.1 mile. Bear right.
The trail moves away from the woods into grassland, initially hugging a tall fence on the right. The rocky cut on the left is a good place to spot bluedicks blooming in spring. Redtail hawks are often spotted hunting on this part of the hill, and crowned sparrows and phoebes are common. Descending gently, the trail sweeps through the grassland dotted with ferns and coyote brush, just upslope from the park boundary on the right. It then rises a bit and crosses a rocky outcrop. Views north to downtown unfold. The trail squeezes past a second fence. At 0.3 mile, unsigned paths head uphill to the left and out of the park to the right. Continue straight.
As the trail curves around to the north slope of the mountain, trailside vegetation shifts from grassland to coastal scrub. Lots of lovely native plant treasures to enjoy here, including huckleberry, creambush, monkeyflower, coyote brush, currant, and snowberry. A few feet before the trail heads back into the woods, at about 0.39 mile, a rough path ascends on the left. Continue straight.
A large serviceberry shrub stands off to the left -- to my knowledge Mount Davidson is the sole San Francisco home for this native shrub. Eucalyptus and pine shade the trail as it keeps to an easy grade. This is a very good stretch of woods for birdwatching -- look (or listen) for chickadees, northern flickers, and wrens. Scrub jays are common but I've seen Stellars jays too, as well as many hummingbirds. Mixed through red elderberry and ferns, the understory blackberry bushes produce tasty berries during warm summers, but on cold years they fail to thrive. At 0.47 mile, you'll reach an important (but unsigned) junction. Bear left.
The trail ascends through pine and eucalyptus; invasive ivy blocks out nearly every understory plant save blackberry. The trail passes a rock outcrop and bends left. At 0.61 mile, the trail ends at a fire road. Cross the fire road and continue straight.
Ascend a set of pretty stone steps. Look for yerba buena, a tiny-leaved trailing plant, growing on the right. Crush a leaf to release the powerful sweet mint scent of this native plant. As the stone steps end, continue a few feet more, then turn left and ascend again.
The steps, constructed from wood planks and logs, are steep. Notice the bunch grasses that crowd the trail remain green year round. The first time I ascended to the top of Mount Davidson, it was socked in, and as I walked the soft pale billowing fog wrapped around me like a soft blanket. It is so damp on this part of the mountain that ferns grow in the crooks of some of the eucalyptus, pine, and cypress trees. The steps end at a clearing, to the left. Bear right and ascend the final steps to the mountain top and cross.
This flat summit is a broad clearing dominated by the Mount Davidson cross. Constructed in 1934, the cross and lands immediately surrounding it were sold by the City in 1997 to the Council of Armenian-American Organizations of Northern California to commemorate the Armenian genocide. Throngs of people visit on Easter, but the rest of year is quite peaceful. After inspecting the cross, walk east toward the viewpoint.
Butterflies love hilltops; butterfly lovers will be delighted by their colorful fluttering at the mountain top in summer and autumn. Sometimes I see common red admirals and painted ladies, but often there are dozens of swallowtails here too.
From the viewpoint enjoy wonderful views east and north. Unfortunately, the City's geography does not permit any glimpses of the Golden Gate Bridge. When you're ready, descend the set of steps to the left of the large metal water department box. This hillside has been seeded with lupines, yarrow, and sagebrush. Look for more serviceberry shrubs here, with conspicuous white flowers in April and May. At 0.8 mile, turn right.
The trail passes over rocky ground where I've seen garter snakes (shocked me both times -- the only snakes I've ever seen within City limits). In spring, California poppies and buckwheat bloom along the path. After a brief descent (watch for poison oak on the right mixed through blackberry) you'll return to the hike's first junction. Continue straight downhill to the bus stop and trailhead.
Total distance: 1 mile
Last hiked: Tuesday, November 1, 2011