Most of the first 1.5 miles of the hike is uphill, and climbs steadily, which may be challenging for a beginner hiker. Part of Golden Gate National Recreational Area, this moderate 5.7-mile hike climbs to a scenic ridge, with incomparable views of Montara Mountain, the Pacific Ocean, and the San Francisco Watershed, including San Andreas Lake.
Everyone is welcome -- even if you don't own a dog.
Important note: There are only 15 parking spaces (although there is also parking in the neighborhood), so you may want to consider carpooling. Allow 10 minutes for finding parking in the neighborhood and for walking to the parking lot.
Suggested: Bring layers of clothing, wear hiking shoes and bring water.
Rules: Dogs must remain on-leash.
Meeting point: information signboard
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.
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. 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.
Hiking time: 2 1/2 hours.
Use: Trails are multi-use.
Exposure: Completely exposed.
Trail traffic: Moderate.
Trail surfaces: Paved fire road and dirt fire roads.
Season: Nice any time -- great in spring.
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.
The Official Story:
NPS's Sweeney Ridge page.
• Use AAA's San Francisco Bay Region map to get there.
• 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco, by Jane Huber has a simple map and a featured hike. Order this book from Amazon.com.
• Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a Sweeney Ridge hike.
• Trails of the Coastside and Northern Peninsula (map) is a great guide (available from Pease Press).
• Peninsula Trails, by Jean Rusmore, has a simple map and trail descriptions (order 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).
• 101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area, by Ann Marie Brown (order this book from Amazon.com) has a simple map and featured hike.
• The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by Jean Rusmore (order this book from Amazon.com), has a map and trail descriptions.
Sweeney Ridge in a nutshell -- a printable, text-only guide to the featured hike.
• View 54 photos from the featured hike (to the Ridge and back)
• View 42 photos from the featured hike (to Portola Gate and back)
(Text above and below quoted from Jane Huber's Bay Area Hiker Web site.)
Sweeney 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.
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 south.
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 the trailhead
(Text above quoted from Jane Huber's Bay Area Hiker Web site).