5.7 mile out and back hike climbs to a scenic ridge, with exceptional
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 5.7 mile out and back hike is moderately easy, with about
600 feet in elevation change. Trailhead elevation is around 655 feet. The
highest elevation of the hike is around 1213 feet. Sneath Lane Trail climbs
steadily, with one short steep section. Sweeney Ridge Trail is nearly level.
Paved fire road and dirt fire roads.
2 1/2 hours.
Nice any time -- great in spring.
From Interstate 280 in San Mateo County, exit Sneath Lane (exit 43b). Drive
west about 2 miles to the trailhead at the end of the road.
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, and restaurant back near the junction of 280 and Sneath
Lane. No camping.
Parking for about 15 cars (some additional parking nearby at the edge of
a residential neighborhood). No entrance or parking fees. No water.
A compostable pit toilet is located at the junction of Sweeney Ridge and Sneath trails.No paper maps -- there's an information signboard with map at the trailhead. No designated handicapped parking, and trails are not wheelchair
(or stroller) accessible. There is no direct public transportation to this
trailhead, but SamTrans buses #121 and 123 service Skyline College, and
you can walk into Sweeney Ridge from there: visit the Transit
511 website for more info.
Trails are multi-use. Dogs are permitted on leash.
The Official Story:
Sweeney Ridge page.
Map from Parks Conservancy
within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator
of this website) has a simple map and a featured hike. Order
this book from Amazon.com.
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Sweeney
Trails of the Coastside and Northern Peninsula (map) is a
great guide (available from Pease
Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and trail
this book from Amazon.com).
Tom Taber's Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book has a map and
trail descriptions (order
this book from Amazon.com).
The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order
this book from Amazon.com), has a map and trail descriptions.
Ridge in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured
View 54 photos from the
featured hike (to the Ridge and back)
View 42 photos from the
featured hike (to Portola Gate and back)
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Ridge is a quick drive from San Francisco, and
the payback for climbing to the ridge is a good one: incomparable views
of Montara Mountain, the Pacific Ocean, and the San Francisco Watershed,
including San Andreas Lake. The Ridge Trail Council has finally extended
the Bay Area Ridge Trail through the watershed all the way to CA 92 (access
through docent-lead hikes only).
If you're a history buff, visit the Portola
Discovery Site, where in 1769 a group of Spaniards became the first Europeans
to see the San Francisco Bay. A Nike missile site sprawls along the side
of the Sweeney Ridge Trail to the north of the discovery site, giving
silent testimony about the military build up during the cold war.
Spring wildflowers are amazing along the
Sneath Lane Trail, where a great variety of plants grow throughout the coastal
scrub. On one March day I identified willow, eucalyptus, creambush, ceanothus,
sticky monkeyflower, milkmaids, vetch, lupine, mule ear sunflowers, strawberry,
thimbleberry, blackberry, pink flowering currant, gooseberry, wild radish,
Douglas iris, columbine, cow parsnip, manroot, wild carrot, fennel, California
buttercup, California coffeeberry, toyon, cotoneaster, California sagebrush,
horsetail, teasel, bindweed, hound's tongue, woodland star, fringecups,
beeplant, nightshade, suncups, coyote brush, elderberry, goldenfields,
checker-bloom, twinberry, paintbrush, California poppy, and (or course)
poison oak. All this on hillsides that from a distance, are a uniform
carpet of green.
Any calm, clear day is a good time to visit
Sweeney Ridge. It's often windy on the ridge, and take it from someone who knows, fog can whip in and obscure the landscape (as
well as the trail) in minutes. Bring layers of clothing, respect changing
weather, and be prepared to descend to the trailhead if need be.
Currently there are no loop options, but
there are 2 other trailheads, for a variety of out-and-back hikes. You
can start out at Skyline College and hike south on Sweeney Ridge Trail,
or begin at Shelldance Nursery, near CA 1, and climb to the ridge on the
Mori Ridge Trail. From the Sneath Lane Trailhead, all hikes include a
climb to the ridgeline on the paved Sneath Lane Trail. From the ridge,
you can extend your hike to the north or south on the Sweeney Ridge Trail.
For the featured hike, start from the
gate at the end of Sneath Lane. The trail (a paved road, really) initially
cuts through a damp flat area, with shrubby dogwoods and willows on both
sides. A locked gate heads left toward San Andreas Lake. Passing beneath
some eucalyptus, the trail begins a climb along the edge of a coastal
scrub-covered hillside. Almost right away when you look to the left you'll
get a glimpse of
the off-limits-to-the-public San Andreas Lake. In the spring, on the sides
of the trail, you may see yellow sticky monkeyflower, purple Douglas iris,
and blue ceanothus. Coyote brush is a constant companion during the climb.
In the damp seeps where creeks trickle downhill, cow parsnip and elderberry
trees flourish. On the right side of Sneath Lane Trail, strawberry
and columbine cling to the rock face in sections. Fringecups and woodland
star shoot up from the ground. White milkmaids are among the first wildflowers
to bloom in the bay area, and as the blooms "age," they take
on a light pink or purplish hue. The trail's grade is manageable, but
keep alert for cyclists zooming downhill. Dogwalkers and joggers are also
make good use of the trail. A yellow line appears in the middle of the
road shortly before the trail makes a sweeping curve to the right. The line is to help hikers and cyclists returning downhill in the fog. After
a short steep stretch, the trail levels out a bit. Look to the east for
a view of San Bruno Mountain and San Francisco Airport. Eucalyptus trees
edge near the road, and a water tank is visible uphill on the ridge. As
Sneath Lane Trail climbs, more moisture-loving plants appear, such as
thimbleberry and horsetail. During the winter, a pink-flowering currant
bush shoots out bright blossoms near a stream. At 1.66 miles, Sneath Lane
Trail crests and meets Sweeney Ridge Trail at a signed junction. The trail
north (to the right) is paved as far as the Nike site. To the south (left)
the trail is dirt. Off the side of the trail behind and to the west of
the Bay Area Ridge Trail signpost, there's a rustic bench with a great
view of the ocean, Pacifica, and Montara Mountain. Coyote
brush dominates the landscape, but in early spring you might also see
yellow sorrel, orange California poppies, and yellow California buttercups.
A bit later, around Easter, goldenfields appear. Turn left and then
look for a signed path that veers to the left. Walk a few feet on this
path to the Discovery Site.
A rock monument marks the momentous revelation
of San Francisco Bay (guess it wasn't foggy that day!). Perhaps of more
interest to the hiker is the other monument, with a neat mountain finder.
Etched into the rock are the major mountains of the bay area, and they
are oriented so as you look at each mountain etching you stand facing
the actual location of that mountain. If it's clear you can see some of
them, but on foggy or hazy days you'll be out of luck. (If you're ready
to turn back now, retrace your steps to Sneath Lane Trail and descend
to the trailhead.) Return to Sweeney Ridge Trail, and continue hiking
The wide, multi-use trail keeps a mostly
level grade. Baquiano Trail departs on the right at 1.76 miles. Remain
on Sweeney Ridge Trail. Coyote brush, golden yarrow, and California
coffeeberry are common, and you may also see ceanothus (most conspicuous
in early spring), Oregon grape, twinberry, sagebrush, and even huckleberry.
In spring, look for iris, mission bells, blue-eyed grass, goldenfields,
poppies, sunflowers, tidytips, and wallflower. At 2.2 miles, signed Sweeney Horse Trail heads off to the right. Stay on Sweeney Ridge
Trail. At 2.73 miles, Sweeney Meadow Trail feeds in from the left, and Portola
Gate is visible. Sweeney Meadow and Horse trails make a nice alternate loop for the return leg of the hike, but the trails are sometimes overgrown and swampy in winter and spring. At 2.83 miles you'll reach the turn around point, and
fenced border with water district lands. Retrace your steps back to
: 5.66 miles
: Tuesday, November 15, 2011