New San Francisco Crosstown Trail: Tips for making beautiful connections

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Lands End overlook with views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The wonderful idea of the newly unveiled San Francisco Crosstown Trail is to make one big link, from Candlestick Point to the Presidio and Lands End, so you can walk or bike from one end of the city all the way to the other.

But the best parts are the little links throughout. 

Take the Visitacion Valley Greenway. If you’ve never been, and you’re simply following the cue sheets for the Crosstown Trail, you’ll stumble into the first mid-block garden oasis and marvel at this hidden gem.

Emerge, and you’ll cross the street to another hidden path. Then another, and another, until you realize you’ve traversed several blocks of a large San Francisco hill entirely via garden trails.

Those continuously connecting green spaces are what make the Crosstown Trail such a vital new addition to the San Francisco urban park landscape. Since the trail route was announced on June 1—National Trails Day, of course—hundreds of people have been discovering the city in this awe-inspiring new way. 

“That’s exactly what we’re seeing as people post to our Facebook and Instagram page and comment, they’ve made this their own,” said Karen Rhodes, one of the co-organizers of the project. “They’ve hiked it with friends, with visiting out-of-town relatives, with their dog, with their baby, they’ve found a way to embrace it. It’s really lovely to see.”

Amid the bevy of hidden gems along the trail are some within our Golden Gate National Parks. You might discover a new way to get to Baker Beach, or the quiet of the Lobos Creek Valley Trail, broken up only by lizards scampering across the boardwalk.

And along the route are many more hidden gems, of which we won’t ruin them all. But we recommend following the cue sheets, which provide commentary you won’t find on a map, like a side trip to an urban farm behind Laguna Honda Hospital. 

With that in mind, here are some more tips for planning your own Crosstown Trail experience:

  • Use your phone, then lose it. There are few signs along the trail, so the first time you hike the trail you will be glued to your phone (or your printouts) following the cue sheets and/or the map. Rhodes says wayfinding signage is a major challenge for the future of the trail. We recommend planning a second trip that can be somewhat phone-free, or freestyling a bit of your own route if you want to lift up your eyes more often.
  • Manage your time and your hamstrings. Everybody will hike or bike at a different pace, but the Crosstown Trail site doesn’t offer a lot of timeframes. If you hike briskly and take a couple small breaks, the entire route should take about 6 hours. The segments within the trail were each somewhere from 45 minutes-90 minutes. Trying to do it all in one day is definitely grueling, but rewarding if you can pull it off. And if you hike the route south to north, you can reward yourself at the finish with a big bowl of chili and an It’s-It at the Lands End Lookout!
  • Make it accessible. The trail definitely has an accessibility challenge, as it goes over many staircases and small dirt trails. Rhodes recommends using the bike route, which is mostly accessible and might just need some small modifications—like around the Laguna Honda trails—to make it work. Or check out accessible portions, like the Lobos Creek Valley Trail, and check for more re-route options on the Crosstown Trail site in the future.
  • Keep your eyes open. “Over the course of 17 miles you visit so many different habitats, neighborhoods, streetscapes, and tremendous views along the way, so the variety of the trail has also met with a lot of enthusiasm,” said Rhodes.

One of those great little links is through the Glen Park Greenway, which runs next to busy Bosworth Street. You could spend your whole life driving down Bosworth from Twin Peaks to Interstate 280 without ever knowing the Glen Park Greenway is there. Thanks to the Crosstown Trail, now we have a new way to get from Glen Park Canyon to the rest of the city.

Those connections are what make the Crosstown Trail so wonderful. We hope you’ll have a chance to “make it your own” soon.

Peter Hockaday joined the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy in summer 2018 as Director of Editorial Content & Strategy.

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