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The Ultimate Sunday Hike: Battery Townsley GGNRA Marin

The view south over Rodeo Beach to San Francisco

The view South over Rodeo Beach to San Francisco

As frequent readers of Ultimate Bike and Hikes have no doubt figured out, this author is a sucker for a great view. Therefore it's no surprise that today's stroll affords us some sweet and expansive vistas of San Francisco, the headlands of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the Pacific Ocean plus lets us take a peek into some local military history. As mentioned in a previous Ultimate Sunday Hike about hiking in the Marin Headlands, a century or more of army occupation of the lands bracketing the Golden Gate preserved them in a less developed state, ripe for inclusion when the GGNRA was formed from them.

As part of the army's strategic defense of any potential naval assault on San Francisco, the high hills and cliffs of the headlands made gun ideal emplacements for long range cannons, none of which were ever fired in anger. Our hike will takes to one of the most formidable of those constructed, Battery Townsley whose cannons could lob a 2000 pound shell 30 miles out to sea. It's also a great place to take your cockatoo for a hike.
A hiker in the GGNRA
The hike starts from the parking area adjacent to the Rodeo Lagoon in Fort Cronkhite. Arrive here by car via the Alexander Ave. exit off Highway 101 at the North end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Make a left on Bunker Rd. and proceed through the tunnel out towards the beach. At the highest point alongside the lagoon, bear left and go to the parking area at the end of Mitchell Rd. You can also get out here on weekends from the City using Muni line 76.

Bikes as well as dogs on leash are welcome here (but not on the beach). Just past the entrance gate a hiking path diverts off the left, this eventually rejoins with the road, but is preferable for fine views of San Francisco's Sea Cliff neighborhood, Land's End and the sweep of Ocean Beach. On days with a good swell, dozens of surfers will be bobbing in the waters below. After hooking back into the road we swing to the North and with Battery Townsley will come into view, freshly painted by the crew of volunteers restoring it. As we climb higher (380 feet for today) we'll swing around to the rear of the battery where outside a recently acquired 16" cannon lies in repose. This massive (120 tons) weapon is identical to the one that was used in the battery, but this particular example is much more famous (and travelled) having been mounted in the number two turret of the battleship Missouri. This cannon stood witness to the formal surrender of Japan in World War II that took place in 1945 in Tokyo Bay.
The 16 inch cannon at Battery Townsley

The 16" Battery Townsley Gun in WWII

After exploring the battery we can choose to hike further up the ridge (no dogs or bikes permitted), to Hill 88, where there are many other military installations or continue on the road for a sweep around and above Rodeo lagoon. On the descent we'll pass the Marine Mammal Center on the left and amble through the barracks area where many local non-profit organizations are headquartered. Restrooms, water and even showers are available in the parking area.
Map of hike to Battery Townsley Marin GGNRA