Fairly easy hike, some on paved surface, some not.
Approximately 3 miles-a loop.
In 1775 Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala, a Spanish navigator sailed his ship, the San Carlos, into San Francisco Bay and anchored at what he named, Isla de los Angeles.
Get there via a ferry—they leave from several places but all dock at Ayala Cove. Note their departure times, you don’t want to miss the last boat out! (unless you are camping there, which is quite fantastic!) Bring water and a lunch, you’ll want to spend a nice long day here….Beware! The map you get upon arrival is BAD, a bit useful at times, but it is often misleading...
In 1910, new facilities opened here for processing immigrants. Most of the immigrants coming through here were from China. But this was no Ellis Island; these immigrants were detained here—mostly due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Some people stayed a few weeks, some a few months, some were refused entry all together. On the other hand, European immigrants and First Class passengers were briefly checked out on board their ships and were not detained here.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943.
Box #1—Immigration Station BOX IS GONE SINCE REMODELING OF THE STATION
Hike to the Immigration Station. Take the footpath down past Half Horse Barn. Stay on this path past the guard tower. Keep heading forward, soon you’ll hear the ocean.
Go past a huge broken tree on the water side of the trail, and a cement block on the other. Look for stairs. Go up the stairs and look inside a corner hole.
Finish the Immigration Station Loop and go left onto the Perimeter Road for a short while, bear right on the Fire Road.
10,000 years ago this place was connected to the mainland. The last ice age (Wisconsin) ended and the seas rose creating a separate landmass that became this island.
The largest animals on the island are raccoons and mule deer, sometimes called black tail deer. They originally came here by sea, swimming from the mainland. (They can still reach the island this way, they are good swimmers!) Seals and sea lions can often be seen and heard on the shores.
Box #2—Leaping Stag
Continue on the Fire Road. When you pass a long cement drainage thing that cuts under the trail, look just beyond it for a large lone pine on the right. Opposite this tree go off-trail to the left, between a small oak and a madrone. Ahead of you is a small, open, grassy area. Go about 35 paces (from the trail) into the middle of the grassy area and look to your 2 or 3 o’clock. You should see a large trunked oak tree. Go to it. (about 25 paces) From the oak, face west and go forward 10 paces to the remains of a fallen tree. Look in the hollow of the roots.
(If you have passed a drinking fountain on the trail, you are too far.)
2000 years ago the Miwok people inhabited this place. It was mainly used as a rich hunting and fishing site. Sadly, and ironically, during the Civil War, the island was also used to house infantry soldiers who were fighting Native Americans of the West.
Box #3—Miwok Mortar and Pestle
Continue on the Fire Road past a drinking fountain on the trail (?!). The trail splits, go to the left. Do not go up near a fenced water treatment area.
You will see Ft. McDowell Visitor Center far out to the left. Pass a campground on the left and stay on the Fire Road heading south. You are on a dirt path and as the forest ends you curve around to the right. Before you is a view of downtown San Francisco.
Proceed on the trail until you see a stump end facing the trail on the right. A shrub grows on top of and behind it. Stand uphill of the shrub and go 10 paces uphill to another stump. Look inside.
There are many birds on this island. You might see some of the land birds: hawks, owls, hummingbirds, and jays. You might also see some of the water birds: gulls, ducks, egrets, herons and the strangely beautiful pelicans.
Stay on the trail towards San Francisco. At the bike rack, go down and to the left. At the next junction, go right on the dirt trail—The Fire Road (bikes allowed). Do not go to the Perimeter Road.
You will see Alcatraz on the left and pass by a grove of tall white skeletal trees on the right. Go around the next bend to a gnarly tree serpent where DV and GH were in love. Behind the serpent is a fallen tree. Root around for the final box.
Telephone poles on the trail tell you that you’ve missed the serpent.
Finish your hike back to the ferry, be there by 4:30 or sleep on the island!