San Bruno Mountain Hiking: An Island of the Past in the Midst of Urban Sprawl

san bruno mountain bench with view of san francisco skyline

On its trails, I regretted ever calling San Bruno Mt. “ugly.”

San Bruno Mountain Hiking proves that looks can be deceiving. Most residents in the San Francisco Bay area may not know where San Bruno Mountain is, but they have probably seen it. south san francisco san bruno mountain with airplane

Driving up Interstate 280 towards San Francisco, you see a barren, even “ugly” mountain which carries the “South San Francisco-The Industrial City” sign. Certainly not the glamour of Hollywood.

You almost expect to see factories belching smoke around the base of the mountain.

Several radio towers crown the peak, and hardly a tree to be seen. Definitely not your postcard from San Francisco.

But after reading a page in Ann Marie Brown’s 101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area, the idea of panoramic views of the bay, Pacific Ocean, Santa Cruz Mountains, and the San Francisco skyline piqued my interest.

San Bruno Mountain lupine and golden poppies

Reading about rare wildflowers, plants, and butterflies made the barren San Bruno Mountain seem a little more enticing.

I planned an early April day hike to the peak.

Although I was ready to see wildflowers and great views...

...nothing could prepare me for the feeling of being there and experiencing the hidden beauty of San Bruno Mountain.

For the first fifteen or twenty minutes up Summit Loop Trail you can still hear the woosh of cars and the roar of airplanes from the San Francisco International Airport.

Soon enough, the urban sprawl feels distant and quiet and adds to the beauty of the views.

Despite the grouping of radio towers above, the vistas open up: the San Francisco skyline, bay bridge, and east bay. san bruno mountain hike Rob on trail

Across the bay you can see Mount Tamalpais and Mount Diablo--some of the tallest peaks in the area.

The surprise of a San Bruno Mountain hike is what you see from the trail.

Driving past on one of the freeways, you don’t realize the diversity of flora, or the rainbow of colors, and you don’t imagine the stunning 360 degree views.

On a micro scale, San Bruno Mountain hiking offers more delights to the eyes. I lost count of the colors and species of wildflowers I saw.

san bruno mountain wildflowers douglas iris

California golden poppies, blue lupine… but the brilliant blue Douglas Iris definitely steals the show.

San Bruno Mountain hiking is a trip back in time.

Most of California’s hills have been grazed, forested, and covered with non-native grasses.

San Bruno Mt. is close to California’s original landscape, thanks to the efforts of enlightened individuals and conservationists.

Surrounded by urban development on all sides, the mountain is a fenced-in native ecosystem featuring rare Manzanita shrubs and endangered butterflies like the Mission Blue.

san bruno mountain mission blue butterfly

About the trails:

San Bruno Mountain is ideal for day hikers. The state and county park holds a few miles of trails. The longest of them are the Summit Loop Trail and Ridge Trail.

The Summit Loop takes you up to the peak, where a paved road allows access to cars, and for servicing the radio towers.

The loop goes up the Northeast side of the mountain, then curves back around on the South and West sides. san bruno mountain trailhead sign All of the trails in the park are surprisingly easy and well-graded.

My leisurely San Bruno Mountain hike took me up to the peak and back around to the trailhead in less than three hours and—believe me—I stopped often to take in the sights, big and small.

If you take Summit Loop to the left (northeastern side of the mountain), almost to the top you can veer left onto Ridge Trail and add a few extra miles, and plenty of spectacular views.

Ridge Trail will take you out to the eastern peak of the mountain.

san bruno mountain ridge trail marker

Backtrack to the highest peak, head down the paved road about a quarter of a mile and turn left off the road to take the western leg of Summit Loop. (This will take you back to the trailhead and park entrance.)

How to Get There:

The park entrance is along Guadalupe Canyon Parkway between Daly City and Brisbane. Access is easy from I-280 and U.S. 101.

From 101, take the Brisbane exit and drive 1.8 miles North along Bayshore Boulevard.

Turn left at Guadalupe Canyon Parkway and head up the hill. Close to the highest point along the road, you’ll turn right into the Park entrance. san bruno mountain california wildflowers

To park closer to the trailhead, turn to the right and go through the undercrossing and around to the second parking area.

There is a fee for entering the park. Lately the kiosk is self-serve, so bring cash to put in the box.

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