Gail Todd

Gail Todd

DIY Hike: Hawk Hill: People, Birds Flock for Views

At 920 feet, Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands is the perfect place to see migrating raptors as they fly south in the fall. (Raptors prefer to fly over land rather than water, buoyed by warm land thermals that provide lift.) The birds funnel into the headlands before heading for the short distance over water between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

Hawk Hill also provides a perfect human perch that overlooks the Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay and the Marin Headlands, offering spectacular views.

At noon on Saturdays and Sundays through October at the top of Hawk Hill, the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory presents a docent program – “Hawk Talk” – about the raptors and also a banding demonstration at 1 p.m. with a live hawk. Both programs would be canceled in case of rain or fog. You will also see volunteers with the GGRO tracking the migration by counting, banding and radio-tracking birds.

Make sure to bring your binoculars.

What you’ll find

Right before Conzelman Road becomes one-way, you will find a white gate at the entrance to a path leading to the top of Hawk Hill. Walk through the gate for a short but steep ascent, or go through the adjacent tunnel for a gentler walk to the summit. The views are unsurpassed. You can see a close-up of the Golden Gate Bridge with the Bay Bridge and San Francisco behind it. Look the other way to see Point Bonita and Rodeo Beach. Coyote brush and some poison oak line the trail.

Those who have previously visited Hawk Hill will notice a dramatic change: Nonnative Monterey pine and cypress trees have been cut down to restore habitat for the endangered Mission Blue butterfly. The removal has changed a forest into a gentle grassland allowing the butterflies access to lupine.

At the top of the hill, walk along the remains of the artillery installation, which provide excellent viewing platforms. You will probably find several birders with binoculars. Even if you’re not an experienced birder, this is a good time to try out your own. You may see hawks, turkey vultures, falcons, kites, kestrels and even (albeit rare) eagles.

Battery Construction 129

But what are the strange tunnels running in and out of the hillside? If you went through the tunnel to climb Hawk Hill (as opposed to the gate path), you entered part of Battery Construction 129. This World War II-era battery was never completed or named. (Construction 129 is only a project number.) Begun in 1942 and built into the hillside for camouflage, the battery was to be armed with two 16-inch guns, each gun with carriage weighing more than 1 million pounds and capable of firing a shell 27 miles. However, all work stopped in 1944. The reason: The battery would not be effective against air attacks.

Shortly after the first tunnel, you come upon another tunnel to your right. Enter to look down at a huge circular hole in the ground. This is where one of the guns was to be mounted. Another tunnel, just through that, leads you back out to Conzelman Road.

Getting there

From either direction on Highway 101 in Sausalito, take exit 442 to merge onto Alexander Ave. Turn left onto Bunker Rd, pass through the Baker-Barry Tunnel, and when you reach the park housing complex, turn left onto McCullough Road. Drive uphill to the traffic circle and take the second exit onto Conzelman Road. Follow Conzelman Road uphill to Hawk Hill parking area.

Photo: Greg del Savio via Flickr

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