Trail Mavens


Skill-based camping and backpacking trips for groups of extraordinary women. Ready to build fires, read maps, pitch tents, hike, laugh, and drink wine around the campfire? Join one of our weekend adventures.

Trail Mavens Guide | Angel Island Backpacking

Anyone lucky enough to live in the Bay Area can't truly say they know the area until they've been to Angel Island. Situated what feels like a stone's throw from downtown Tiburon, the island features ideally-situated picnic areas, paved roads for cycling and trails for running and hiking, and views for days. Case in point:

From left to right: Bay Bridge, downtown SF, Alcatraz, more SF, Fort Mason, the Marina, the Presidio, the Golden Gate Bridge, and downtown Sausalito. Click to zoom.

For those of you willing to play 'Press Your Luck' on ReserveAmerica, log on at 8am on the first of the month to snag a campsite. It's an opportunity to spend a night on an island rife with history, greenery, and more or less absent of other people. There are only ten campsites on Angel Island, and once the final afternoon ferry shuttles the last group of cyclists, picnickers, and trail runners back to the mainland, it's all yours until the next morning ferry chugs to port.

Here are five tips to make the most of your Angel Island overnight:

1. Get a campsite.
Sounds easy, but all ten will be snapped up by 8:05am the day reservations open, and Saturday nights are gone within seconds. For the best views, there's nothing better than Ridge site #4: you'll get 280 degree views around the bay and plenty of privacy. The tradeoff? You're less protected from the wind, and there's no shade.


Ridge site #5 (pictured above), just down the hill from #4, is our favorite; it's got excellent bay views, two picnic tables, and an enormous tree for shade and wind protection. Ridge site #6 is immediately adjacent to #5, and while it's tucked back away from city vistas, it's spacious with plenty of shade. Best of all, there's a open-air concrete bunker in the ground between #5 and #6, which would be an excellent place for a midnight dance party if you scored both sites.

All three Ridge sites are extremely spacious, and can accommodate four to five tents.

2. Plan your transportation. 
Angel Island might be the easiest backpacking trip in the world to get to on public transportation: take Muni or BART to the Embarcadero, and then hop on a ferry. October - April, there's only one SF-to-Angel Island ferry daily, so plan accordingly. Click here for current SF - Angel Island ferry times.

If you've got a car, Tiburon ferries depart much more frequently. Click here for current Tiburon - Angel Island ferry times. Overnight parking is available for a fee in downtown Tiburon at the CVS or behind the Bank of America, or you can park for free on Lyford Drive  and walk ~15 minutes to the ferry.  

3. Plan your route.
Angel Island offers some of the easiest backpacking around, if you want it to: you can walk on paved road from the ferry to the Ridge campsites in less than forty minutes. Up for more of a challenge? Hike the Sunset Trail to the Ida Trail to the perimeter road to get in some solid mileage, and throw in a summit of Mount Livermore for good measure.

4. Pack appropriately. 
Glamping is popular on Angel Island: you'll always find groups dragging full-sized suitcases, wagons, and 50L coolers around the perimeter road to their sites. Our preference is to pack light and move fast. Click here for Trail Mavens' official backpacking checklist (we greyed out items unnecessary on Angel Island).

5. Rock airplane mode. 
You'll have cell reception on most - if not all - of the island. Try turning your phone on airplane mode to maximize on feelings of escape. Why not just turn it off? So you have a way to capture pictures like these:

Got any other Angel Island pro tips? Let us know in the comments!