San Bruno Mountain looks like a massive earth fortification of the gods, and is the biggest mountain on the San Francisco peninsula; you can’t help but notice it when you drive north on 101, the words SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO scrawled in concrete letters on its flank; and the mountain runs alongside the freeway for miles it seems as you head towards The City. The mountain takes on a surreal image when fog shrouds its 1300’ peak during a late afternoon in the winter; it appears wholesome and inviting in the sunshine of an Indian summer day, a few raptors wheeling above. It took until adulthood for me to finally adventure onto the mountain, although I’m a native San Franciscan, and I wish I had visited sooner. Miles of trails appeal to all types of hikers, and one is perfect for taking children or babies, I’ve recently discovered.
Saddle Loop Trail is an excellent jaunt because of its length (2.7 miles), facility (gentle up and down; wide graveled path), and incredible views of San Francisco, the East Bay, and even Mount Tamalpais of Marin and the Farallon Islands to the west.
The parking lot costs five dollars (a San Mateo County Park pass, $60 per year, is a good deal if you hike often in San Mateo County), and is situated next to a picnicking meadow, bathrooms, drinking water, and barbecue grills. Although the meadow is a lovely place for a lunch, I prefer somewhere on the trail where there’s a view, and pack my trash with me.
Saddle Loop travels in an amoebic circle on the top of the mountain, and I tend to head to the right on the meandering path, seeing more and more of the deep ravines of the mountain as I slowly gain elevation. The fauna is bushy and full, a California landscape of manzanitas and drought-resistant flowers, the non-native eucalyptus trees disappearing as the picnic area recedes behind you, the landscape ahead of you probably much like it has been for hundreds of years, minus the concrete road of Guadalupe Canyon Parkway slicing through the far corner of your view. About three quarters of a mile in, the path takes you to a spectacular view of the Bay Area; you’re high, on par with the birds and clouds up here, the wind blows refreshingly, and the path is flat, recharging.
Saddle Loop continues on, a gentle up and down from which the view changes and expands. Halfway through, should you get tired and not want to do the whole 2.7 miles, there is a half-mile long path that leads right back to the picnic area. There is a white marker at the path’s head, and large berry bushes on either side of the wide trail.
The keen-eyed might locate some of the critters who live on San Bruno Mountain, including garter snakes, foxes, wild cats, and butterflies (if you spot a bright blue one, perhaps it is the rare and endangered Mission Blue). Folks have spotted nearly a hundred different birds up here, everything from kestrels to California quail, from Great Horned owls to turkey vultures.
Near the trail’s end, blackberry bushes press the sides of the trail under a forest of eucalyptus. I haven’t been here in the fall when the berries ripen, but my mother has and she says its lovely, something to look forward to. For now the bright green grass of winter suits me well, and I take my infant daughter here for the fresh air, the view, and the movement of her mother.
Rare Plants and Animals, Including a Bird List:
Directions from 101:
--Exit Bayshore Blvd/ Brisbane
--Go along Bayshore until Guadalupe Canyon Parkway
--Go west on Guadalupe Canyon Parkway
--Park entrance will be on your right, on the north side of the road
Directions from 280:
--Exit Mission Street and head north to Market Street
--Right on Market Street
--Right on Guadalupe Canyon Parkway
--Park entrance will be on your left, on the north side of the road
--Bring any food you need; the only trashcans are in the picnic area.
--Wear layered clothing; expect some misty weather unless its blazing hot, and cool breezes anytime of the year.
--Horses are welcome, but not pooches.
--Park hours change with the season; check the park’s website listed above.