Historic Hikes: Vol. II

5 trails that’ll take you back to the Gold Rush — and beyond

November 22, 2017 9:00 am

You could spend every weekend on a different trail in the Bay Area. For years. Without repeating.

And eventually, you might be half as old as some of these trails.

This is Historic Hikes, Vol. II, a collection of five day-long ambles that’ll peel back the layers on the Bay Area’s long, decorated and diverse history.

Whether it’s passing a reconstruction of a 205-year-old Russian estate or wandering through an abandoned Cold-War missile site, you’ll learn something on the way.

And your legs will, too.

Nota bene: You can find Volume I here.

Batteries to Bluffs

Location: The Presidio
Distance: .7 miles
What’s up: This short trail offers killer Pacific views as it makes its way from Lincoln Boulevard through the park; if you need a longer workout, add some miles on the California Coastal Trail, which connects to it, or follow the spur path down to Marshall Beach. You’ll pass Battery Crosby, named for a Civil War lieutenant killed in Chancellorsville, Virginia. In 1902, two six-inch guns with a range of 14,600 yards were installed here; during the first couple years of World War II, they protected the underwater mines deployed defensively in the Bay. The guns were removed midway through the war, in 1943.

Elk River Trail to Falk

Location: Headwaters Forest Reserve, Eureka
Distance: 7 miles
What’s up: This all-season hike through the redwoods leads to the abandoned town of Falk, which once boasted a population of 400 loggers. The timber dwellings have been mostly lost to time since the local mill was shut down in 1937; hikers today can still see some foundations, as well as the horticultural descendants of English ivy and roses once cultivated here.

Milagra Ridge

Location: Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Distance: Varies
What’s up: Try this if you have guests in town: Visitors are often surprised to discover that Pacific batteries dot the coast and range from turn-of-the-20th-century six-inch guns to nuclear-capable sites. During the Cold War, batteries here could launch surface-to-air Nike missiles; some were demolished in the years that followed, while others — like Nike Missile Site SF-51, on Milagra Ridge — survive as Instagram-friendly graffiti showcases.

Tour of Fort Ross State Park

Location: Jenner, CA
Distance: 4.5 miles
What’s up: Little attention is paid to 19th-century Russian exploration in California; this settlement is as far south as they got. The Rotchev House, is a National Historic Landmark and the only Russian-built structure in the U.S. outside of Alaska. This hike passes it, as well as reconstructions of the Russian Orthodox chapel (destroyed in the 1906 earthquake) and the home of the colony’s administrator between 1812 to 1841.

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park Loop Trail

Location: Coloma, CA
Distance: 3.2 miles
What’s up: The titular James Marshall discovered gold here in 1848 — an event amply recorded across an assortment of 20-plus buildings, a statue, and replica sawmill. This trail skirts the bank of the South Fork of the American River and passes by a statue of Marshall, which literally points to the spot where the Gold Rush started.

First image: Don Barrett
Second image: Bob Wick, BLM

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