After the paralyzing heat of last week, we were eager to take on a challenging power walk to a peak this week. The breezy clear weather convinced us that San Pedro Mountain in San Rafael's open space was the way to go. The hike is mostly in shade and offers the reward of a unique historical site - the Nike missile installations - at the peak. The old missile radar area provides amazing views of the Marin peaks and the bay. The bay breezes keep the sweat evaporating. Bring your own water and snacks, as there are no amenities at the trailhead.
Start at the end of Locust Avenue behind Dominican University. Pass through the gate at the end of the road. Hike up the fire road to catch Gold Hill fire road to the left in a tenth of a mile. Stick to the main travelled trail. At #1 on the map you will pass by a trail on the left. This is your return route. Go past it and at #2 (1.4 miles) on the map the fire road turns to pavement. Go left along Bay Hills fire road. The paved road aggressively follows the ridgeline of San Pedro Mountain, and keeps the hike challenging as you move along the ridges, peeking at the views. China Camp State Park lands fall away to the north-east, and there are trails available into those lands as well.
It is 2.5 miles total to the Nike missile site at 1,000-feet elevation, where a picnic table and flat concrete pad await you. This site once housed radar for the Nike missiles that were to launch from batteries out by McInnis Park golf course and driving range. Take a few minutes to savor your workout and the views. Be sure to eat and drink before the trip back.
To get back, we walked past the missile site along the road through a gate and caught Scettrini fire road to the left (#4 on the map). There is a steep, but short dirt climb just past the gate. Once at the top, head downhill along this road, which borders Marin Open Space to the north. In a quarter mile, keep a lookout for a trail that crosses the road at a swoop or saddle in the ridgeline. We took this unsigned and apparently extemporaneous trail to the left to complete the loop without having to walk along roads. This single track nature trail is beautiful and wild as it contours along the mountain and returns to Gold Hill fire road at #1 on map.
Go right at junction #1 to finish your hike back down Gold Hills fire roads to the Locust Avenue parking area. A little redwood tree on your left after you make the right turn into the last stretch has a sign asking for your extra water. It looks like many people are obliging, the soil was damp around the roots when we passed, and the little tree looks like it will survive. Happy Trails!
Getting there: From Hwy 101, take the Central San Rafael exit and head east on Mission or Second Street to Grand Avenue. Go left on Grand, and right on Locust to end.
For more information see the book Hiking Marin by Don and Kay Martin at Marin Trails.