1.6 mile ramble through San Francisco's largest city park.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 1.6 mile hike is easy. Trailhead elevation is about 450 feet.
This hike descends to about 200 feet, then climbs back to the trailhead.
More shade than sun.
Dirt trails and paved sidewalks.
Nice any time.
From Mission Street in the Excelsior District, turn east onto Persia Avenue.
Drive about 0.6 mile on Persia. A sign marks the park boundary. Continue
on Persia another 0.5 mile (Persia transitions into Mansell at the junction
with Brazil -- just continue straight), then turn left onto John F. Shelley
Drive. Proceed about 0.6 mile on Shelley Drive, then turn right into a parking
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:
Not much within walking distance of the trailhead. Gas, stores, and restaurants
on nearby Excelsior streets. No camping.
Parking in a paved lot, with more roadside parking along Shelley Drive.
No parking or entrance fees. No drinking water or restrooms. Shelley Drive
is open from sunrise to sunset. Several Muni bus lines service the edges
of McLaren Park, but there is no direct public transportation to the trailhead.
There is no designated handicapped parking at this trailhead, although some
trails in the park are suitable for wheelchairs. Read
about cautions for urban hikes.
Dogs are permitted.
Map Choices and more info:
Use AAA's San Francisco map to get there.
Trails of the Coastside and Northern Peninsula (map) is a
great guide (available from Pease
Park website has additional park info.
photos from this hike.
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Park used to have a reputation as a scary urban
park, populated (according to rumors) with criminals and garbage. Although
normal city life caution is still in order, the park has been
transformed to a safe and pleasant destination for families, dog walkers,
runners, and city residents craving a bit of nature. With McLaren's 318
sprawling acres, inside San Francisco city limits only Golden Gate Park
and the Presidio have larger recreation footprints. The park's greatest
asset could be its topography. Unlike mostly-flat Golden Gate Park, McLaren boasts
hills, which make it feel less like a park and more like open space. Although
McLaren is comprised of mostly exotic vegetation, with
some grassland, new installations of native plants are helping to reestablish
Most visitors park on the sides of Shelley
Drive, or in a parking lot near a reservoir, then create a hike, walk,
or run on a seemingly-infinite assortment of paved and dirt paths. Few
trails are signed in the park, and navigating can be a challenge, but
after a visit or two I think you'll get a feeling for the lay of
Start at the parking lot off Shelley
Drive, and look for a trail at the lot's northeastern corner. Some
steps descend toward a reservoir. Pine, eucalyptus, and cypress initially
provide shade, but the path soon drops into a mix of coyote brush, thistles,
grass, and fennel, with some introduced landscaping shrubs. Turn right
on the paved path heading around the reservoir.
Alders have been planted on the left, and grass,
blackberry, ivy, and a few ceanothus line the slope on the right. The
grade is perfectly flat. In spring you might see iris, California poppy,
and sweet peas in bloom. At 0.23 mile, the trail reaches the far side
of the reservoir. Two paths depart to the right; one downhill and one
uphill. Take the trail downhill.
The broad dirt trail begins an easy descent,
with a grassy slope ascending on the right, and some coyote brush on both
sides of the trail. You might see wild radish and poison hemlock in bloom
in May. At 0.35 mile, you'll reach a multiple junction. Stay to the
Continuing downhill, the trail draws near
the amphitheater, visible on the right. At 0.50 mile, you'll reach a T
junction with a paved trail. Turn left.
The paved trail passes some handicapped parking spots and restrooms (which regular visitors report as always closed).
On the left, look for a pretty assortment of flowers. This obviously planted
display includes hummingbird sage, California poppy, and sagebrush. The
trails winds downhill and splits at 0.56 mile. Turn left and head toward
the road. At 0.60 mile, cross Shelley Drive and pick up the trail
on the opposite side.
Several pleasant picnic tables are sprinkled
throughout the area, which is attractively landscaped with mostly non-native
shrubs and trees. You'll descend a few steps and reach a fork. Stay
to the left. A few steps later, at 0.63 mile, the trail splits again.
This time bear right.
An elevated walkway transports cuts through
a thicket of willow. Once the walkway ends, the trail continues
to descend to the left. You'll reach a playground and the second pond
near the east edge of the park, at 0.69 mile. Follow around the
play area, to the left, then skirt the pond on a paved trail. This pond,
when my friend Kerstin and I visited in May, was dry, although Kerstin remembers
it had some water in the not too distant past. Great swaths of seep monkeyflower
were in bloom in May, and a mother duck tended her fuzzy babies in the
mud. Past a few picnic tables and a (closed) concession stand, the trail
curves left, following the contour of the pond. There's another attractive
display of plants on the right. On the far shore of the pond the trail
is comprised of spaced concrete slabs; perhaps this arrangement allows
water to drain into the pond from the slope on the right. When you close
the loop around the pond, retrace your steps back to the restroom/handicapped
parking area near the amphitheater, at 1.17 miles.
You can turn right, and ascend back to the
trailhead, but we decided to explore a little. Stay to the left and
pass through the amphitheater, and you'll reach a split under some
eucalyptus, at 1.24 miles. Turn right. A rough but wide path ascends
somewhat steeply. Look for calla lilies on the left in spring. After a
few feet the trail crests. Bear right, then right again.
You'll be climbing easily through grassland near
Shelley Drive. I was surprised to see a few shaggy blue-eyed grass blooming
in May, since the hillside is dominated by thistles. The trail splits
at 1.29 miles. Either way is an option. Bear left. You'll climb
a bit, through some pine. The trail splits again, at 1.35 miles. Bear
right. Leveling out, the narrow path bisects a eucalyptus forest,
where you might see miner's lettuce. You'll emerge at the top of a hill
at 1.39 miles. On clear days, Mount Diablo is visible to the east. Go
straight, downhill, and at 1.44 miles, the path feeds into a trail
a few feet from a familiar junction. Turn left, and at the junction,
Once again on a shore of the reservoir,
the paved trail sweeps back toward the trailhead. Ascend the stairs
to the parking lot.
Total distance: 1.60 miles
Last hiked: Sunday, May 12, 2002