The Summit Loop Trail in San Bruno Mountain State Park offers a chance for city residents to experience nearby nature while taking in panoramic views of the Bay Area. But don’t expect to be fully immersed in a quiet forest – the radio towers at the summit and the traffic below create an industrial buzz that’s present for nearly half of the hike.
At the trailhead, you’ll have a choice of which direction you want to begin the loop. Both are probably similar in terms of up and downhill portions, but I chose to go to the left. As you begin climbing away from the road and parking lot, you’ll pass through eucalyptus, chaparral, and grassland habitats. The path is somewhat rocky, but well maintained as you rise via a series of switchbacks. Keep an eye out for the poison oak that lines the trail much of the way. Near the summit, there’s a turnoff to the left for a lookout area with a bench. The city and bay views from here are absolutely stunning. Take a few moments to identify your favorite San Francisco landmarks from this vantage point.
As you reach the summit, you’ll see and hear the radio towers all around you – these are unsightly and take away from the panoramic view. Cross the road and continue on the trail down the backside of the mountain with views of Colma and Daly City, Montara Mountain, and the Pacific. The trail continues to wind down and around the north side of the mountain through grassland and plentiful wildflowers before passing through more eucalyptus as the trail nears a small creek. Pass over a small bridge amidst the ferns as the trail begins to climb upward again and crosses the Radio Road once more before it reaches the parking lot. The trail can be completed within two hours.
Notes: Make sure to bring exact change for the self-registration parking fee ($6). The area surrounding the parking lot has picnic tables and grills and is perfect for group picnics; come prepared to spend the afternoon here!