The path to Hill 88 follows an abandoned asphalt road that is eroded, overgrown and falling into the sea in places. Hill 88 in the Marin Headlands is the site of an old military radar control station for the former Nike missile base at Fort Cronkhite. The Nike missiles were positioned at batteries and bunkers throughout the Marin Headlands, most of which are still present. Many are dug into the hills forming tunnels and caves. A few are open to the public, but most are welded closed.
An adventure to the top of Hill 88 feels a bit eerie, and it is sometimes hard to believe that you are still in the San Francisco Bay Area and not some bankrupt post cold-war country. A quick look back over the ocean to the Golden Gate Bridge and the city returns the modern day reality.
The Marin headlands can be a harsh place. The cool windy conditions, the poor soil, and proximity to the ocean have limited the plant growth to mostly chaparral and grassland. Very few trees are found on the hills. Coyote Bush, which is currently flowering, dominates the hillside. Yellow Sticky Monkey Flower, red Indian Paint Brush and blue Pennyroyal are flowering between the shrubs and from the cracks in the old road. The ocean mutters and roars just below. Fall is official now and the foggy days will become less frequent and the little moisture the fog brings will soon be gone and the real dry season for the coast will begin.
One of the highlights of this area are the numerous raptors that are present circling the hills. They congregate here because they don't like to cross the water at the Golden Gate. According to the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, over the course of an average year, it is possible to see up to 19 different species of hawk, kite, eagle, falcon, kestrel, osprey, vulture and harrier. Be sure to bring your binoculars and a good bird book.
We like to start this hike from Rodeo Beach where the Marine Mammal Center and Headlands Institute are located. Take the old road at the end of the main parking area and follow it up. The road becomes Coastal Trail about half-way up. The old road is now closed in several places because the road has collapsed, so be sure to follow the signs for Coastal Trail.
There are several bunkers that allow you in and are fun to explore. They can also provide shade and a good place to rest. When you get close to the top of Hill 88 you will see a chain link fence surrounding the top of the hill with some buildings inside. That is your destination. The view from the top is fantastic.
On the way back there are two possible paths. One way is to double back part way and then take Coastal Trail to the Marine Mammal Center. The other way is to take Wolfback Ridge to Miwok Trail and back along the lagoon to the parking area. We prefer to come back down on the coastal side.
Be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen. There is no shade while hiking. Dogs are OK on parts of the trail, but not others. The rule regarding dogs are not very clear.
See the book "Hiking Marin: 141 Great Hikes in Marin County" for more details. Click here to go the Marin Trails website, where you can find more information about the book.