Written: May 1999. Updates: June 2001, August 2009
Type: UCSF dominated mountain with marginal park belts.
Access Points: Traditionally, access to the forests of Sutro has been limited. Details noted in text are from 1999-2001 and can be considered a snapshot from that time. Access details by 2009 may have changed somewhat.
Fee-Hours: Not applicable. Not parkland except in park belts where there is no fee and no curfew noted.
Dogs: Poison oak omnipresent in small amounts. Paths that do exist are small, often petering out. No open space areas.
Mt. Sutro presents itself initially as the mystery mountain in terms of access. It is not public parkland in the traditional sense, consisting rather of swaths of forest which are UCSF lands, S.F. Water District lands, and to a small extent, public greenbelt. Naturalistically, the mountain represents very dense eucalyptus forest, and although not native, is interesting up close and has the feeling of a tropical understory because the trees are so tall. The mountain is covered with a dense jungle of eucalyptus trees which were planted under the direction of Adolph Sutro and today average about 120.' Under the canopy, it is like a great tropical cathedral with dense ivy growing up the smooth skinned trunks to sometimes great heights. Intensely green ferns flourish on the forest floor, especially lower down. The wind blows the distant treetops around in a constant symphony of creaking wood and flying streamlined leaves. When the fog comes in, the demeanor is like that of a cloud forest, although it should be noted that bluegum Eucs are from arid Australia and have extremely efficient root systems for extracting moisture from the ground (they do not need the fog). Trails are required because of underbrush density of blackberry and some poison oak which, although not highly established, can appear unexpectedly and be unavoidable. Public access via clearly defined trails is desireable, and what exists is meager. A tiny section of the eastern foot of the mountain is designated as Interior Park Belt and has little access with its quickly dead-ending, non-maintained trails. In this survey, Mt. Sutro has been 'combed' for access opportunities in 1999. What has been found is documented in detail. The finest access discovered rises to the peak from Crestmont on a recently cleared trail.
Peak Access (June, 01): The peak (909') can be accessed from a small but well cleared path from street parking at 363 Crestmont. This is a surprisingly short climb (about 0.3 mile). The peak area is undeveloped with some sunny cleared areas amidst eucalyptus trees which entirely block the view. This area connects to the top of Johnstone via a chain gated access road, and to the intersection of Medical Center Wy and Johnstone via another path. These access points all have restricted parking. The only way to park publically is from Crestmont. This access is clearly the deepest penetration into the mountain. There is a surprising abundance of elderberry climbing the Crestmont trail. They have clusters of bright red berries in June. The cleared areas are seasonally sensitive. The forest around the peak is the subject of environmental study and particular areas may be taped off. Visitors to this area are rare.
Locksley Ave Path: Near 7th Av and Warren is tiny Locksley Ave. From street parking at the south end of this street is a small path into the woods which is posted no trespassing by the water district. This very small path begins to network and all branches come to an end within a few hundred feet. The area is densely forested and includes the surprising presence of some handsome oak trees along with evidence of homeless encampments. Except for the distant din of 7th Ave, the area is utterly quiet and almost eerie. This is the 'fake' path, the one which goes nowhere.
There is another path here which extends all the way to Clarendon Ave, eventually passing over the reservoir. It is hard to find and must be accessed by passing through a community garden. After passing through the gate and garden, a path continues and networks extensively. It is a maze, with empty homeless encampments at the end of most branches. There is only one solution which continues on and on, eventually leaving all alternates and encampments behind. As it begins passing over the reservoir, the path becomes so small that it is a challenge to follow. It eventually ends by dumping out at #654 The Woods after passing through a more open hillside overlooking the reservoir. This address is inside a private gated housing complex on Clarendon Av. It is a real adventure to be sure, and will test ones navigational trail-blazing ability. It is one of the most generally unknown 'wilderness' penetrations in the city. It is not highly beautiful, but does move through a variety of forest and chaparral with a divinely fugitive feeling. There is probably nothing legal about it, but it makes a good adventure. I encountered many encampments but no one here at all.
Interior Park Belt: At the west end of Belgrave Ave off Stanyan there is street parking and trail access into The Interior Park Belt. Although initially amazing for the tropical effects of huge trees with ivy climbing to great heights, the two trail options soon peter out and/or encounter UCSF buildings, which is a huge disappointment. Poison oak is insidious in this particular area so look for it. Mosquitoes are abundant at this low point.
Sutro Tower: It is possible to park near the facility entrance gate and get very close to the base of the tower. Use Delbrook Av off Clarendon Wy to La Avanzada St to the top. A pullout near the manned gate allows for parking of up to three vehicles. A mailbox reads: Sutro Tower, Inc. 1 La Avanzada Dr. A trail circles the covered reservoir here and allows straight-up tower gazing. The experience makes this one of the highlights of San Francisco, the only highlight which is not really about anything natural at all. The tower is 977' high in addition to 834' of mountain elevation at the base. The top of the tower is therefore 1,811' above sea level.
Deforestation in 2009: A partial deforestation effort is planned by UCSF for late 2009 which will affect about 25% of the mountain's forest lands. The effort is planned for fire danger mitigation purposes and is reported to involve felling of 90% of trees under 12" diameter in conjunction with dramatic underbrush clearing and replanting of natives such as coast live oak (good luck in competing those against eucalyptus). The north cut is to occur between Edgewood and Medical Center Way around the UCSF campus. The south cut is to occur above the Forest Knolls neighborhood. A website has been created to inform, and resist these deforestation plans. The site shows an aerial map of the proposed cut zones. www.savesutro.wordpress.com
Mount Sutro Best Features: Intruiging environment of tall eucalyptus trees and ivy climbing up trunks sometimes to 50' or more. Reminiscent of a tropical forest floor. Wind protection with a marvelous display of wind motion and (sometimes) wood creaking sounds in the treetops above.
Mount Sutro Worst Features: Little public access. Poison oak of the large leaved, forest floor variety is occasional. Mosquitoes. Restricted parking in UCSF areas.
David July has created a wonderfully informative website on Mt Sutro at: www.mtsutro.org/about/