Watch hawks trace circles in the sky from rolling hills in the Marin Headlands. Besides its wide-screen vistas of the Pacific and the Golden Gate, Hawk Hill offers fascinating wildlife experiences.
It is the best place to witness the fall raptor migration and provides habitat for the mission blue butterfly. You can also visit Battery 129, a historic World War II military installation.
Plan Your Visit
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- The best raptor migration viewing is on fog-free days 10 am–2 pm, from Sept. through Nov.
- Hawk Hill has its own weather. What’s happening in your Bay Area neighborhood may bear no resemblance to the weather conditions on the Hill. Bring more clothes than you think you will need!
- Some essentials to bring, depending on weather, are: hat (for shade and/or warmth), windbreaker, insulation (wool, down, synthetic), gloves, sunglasses, sunscreen, and chapstick.
- Bring your own food and beverages. There are no food facilities in the Headlands, though the Visitor Center has some snacks and drinks for sale. Please, no alcoholic beverages.
- Leashed dogs are allowed.
- Don’t forget binoculars and field guides!
As many as 19 different species of raptors may be seen from Hawk Hill in the fall. Many are migrating from their northern summer breeding grounds to their more southern overwintering spots. Others, such as juvenile Red-Tailed Hawks, may be “dispersing” in search of new territories. Visit the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory to learn more.
Mission Blue Butterflies
Although Hawk Hill is primarily known for migrating raptors, it is the much smaller Mission blue butterfly that keeps restoration ecologists coming back to the site. One of the first invertebrates to be protected under the Endangered Species Act, this quarter-sized butterfly is an important resident of area grasslands. Mission blue numbers took a plummet in the mid-90s when, after decades of habitat loss due to development and invasive species, a fungal pathogen attacked their host plants (lupines). In the last decade the park has undertaken a number of grassland restoration projects at Hawk Hill and other sites throughout the Golden Gate National Parks to help promote the mission blue’s survival.
Unlike most of the World War II fortifications built in the park to defend against battleships, Battery 129—now known as Hawk Hill—was build to defend against attacks from the air. Built into the highest point at the Golden Gate, Battery 129 had two large guns mounted under thick concrete shields covered with native vegetation for camouflage and virtually invisible from above. It features tunnels that connect the two gunpits, magazines, and storage rooms. After Pearl Harbor, anti-aircraft guns were installed, and radar stations were developed.
During the Cold War, the Nike Defense system was put into place in the Bay Area and other urban areas throughout the U.S. Antiaircraft missiles were at ready from the Korean War all the way through the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty of 1972. Guided by a complex system of radars and tracking computers, they had ranges of up to 87 miles and could shoot down planes traveling two to three times the speed of sound. The radar station buildings at Battery 129 have been removed.
Home to rich military history, critical endangered species habitats, and important long-term raptor monitoring and education activities, Hawk Hill is also the focus of a multi-year restoration and visitor access project.
Work at this site has already helped restore and protect the plants that endangered Mission blue caterpillars depend upon. It has protected historic WWII and Cold War-era structures, and improved visitor access and safety. Future phases will continue to dramatically improve the experience of those who come here through better trails, seating, overlooks, and other amenities.
As a result, more people will be able to participate in the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory’s Hawkwatch and docent programs, see the historic military fortification remnants first-hand, and experience this striking 360° window on the intersection of the urban and natural world at the Golden Gate.
Find out what has already happened on Hawk Hill, and what you can expect to see happen here next.