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Wild Recovery
San Jose, California
November 14, 2015
Sweeney Ridge
San Mateo County
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Sweeney Ridge
November 14, 2015
Host: Steve M.

Sweeney Ridge

The Place

Sweeney Ridge, is a 1,200-acre hilly hiking area of ridges and ravines between San Bruno and Pacifica, California, about a 25-minute drive south from San Francisco. The ridge’s 1,200-foot-high summit, covered with coastal scrub and grassland, slopes down to San Francisco Bay on the east and to the Pacific Ocean on the west. The ridge is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Historically, the ridge is the location of the San Francisco Bay Discovery Site, commemorating the first sighting of San Francisco Bay by the Portolá expedition on November 4, 1769.

Sweeney Ridge

Hiking trail access to Sweeney Ridge is available, on the Pacifica side, from the Shelldance Nursery site (Mori Ridge trail), and from the east end of Fassler Avenue (Baquiano Trail). On the San Bruno side, access the area from parking lots #2 and #4 at Skyline College (Sweeney Ridge Trail), and via a paved trail from the end of Sneath Lane in San Bruno (bikes OK). Ecologically, Sweeney Ridge is an example of Northern coastal scrub habitat, the landscape dominated by Coyote Bush, Yellow Bush Lupine, and California Yerba Santa—in some places up to 6 to 8 feet high. Access from Sneath Lane provides a 2-mile walk up a fenced hardtop road through this shrubby habitat. The ridgetop itself has quite a bit of California coastal prairie, mostly native grasses with patches of Douglas iris. The ridgetop is also considered one of the best Bay Area lookouts for spring northbound raptor migration, based on studies by the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory. The ridge trail leads to a series of abandoned buildings that were formerly the site of the SF-51C Nike missile control facility.

Sweeney Ridge

Walking the Walk

Level: 3 - Miles: 6 - Elevation: 700 ft

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.

Sweeney Ridge

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. 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. Well turn R onto the Sneath Horse trail, have our meeting in tall grass so bring something to sit on, and then loop back to the Sweeney Ridge trail and back to the bottom of the ridge.

Sweeney Ridge

Know Before You Go:

Parking is by the trailhead with extended parking on the street. Poison oak is on the trail, prepare appropriately. Dogs allowed but must be on leash at all times. Hike start time promply at 10am.

Directions:

Take 280N up to exit 41 Skyline Blvd/Ca-35 exit toward Pacifica. Stay on CA-35/Skyline Blvd for about 1.6 miles and take a left onto Sneath Lane. Follow Sneath lane about 0.8 miles until you reach parking @ the base of Sweeney Ridge.

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