Hill 88 in the Marin Headlands is the site of an old military radar control station for the former Nike missile base at Fort Cronkhite. The Nike missiles were positioned at batteries and bunkers throughout the Marin Headlands, most of which are still present. Many are dug into the hills forming tunnels and caves. A few are open to the public, but most are welded closed.
The path to Hill 88 follows an abandoned asphalt road that is now eroded, overgrown and has fallen into the sea in places. An adventure to the top feels a bit eerie and sometimes it is even hard to believe that you are still in the SF Bay Area and not some post cold war country that is now bankrupt. But all you need to do for a reality check is turn around and look out over the ocean or at the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Marin Headlands is a harsh place. The landscape is chaparral and grassland. Very few tress are found on the hills. Coyote bush, which is currently flowering dominates. Yellow Sticky Monkey Flower, red Paint Brush and blue Penny Royal are flowering between the shrubs and from the cracks in the old road. The ocean is just below and fog is more common than not, so the bushes get fog drip throughout the summer. Fall is official now and the foggy days will become less frequent and the little moisture it brings will soon be gone and the real dry season the coast will begin.
One of the highlight of this area are the numerous raptors that are present circling the hills. They congregate here because they don't like to cross the water at the golden gate. According to the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, over the course of an average year it is possible to see up to 19 different species of hawk, kite, eagle, falcon, kestrel, osprey, vulture and harrier. Be sure to keep bring your binoculars and a good bird book.
We like to start this hike from Rodeo Beach where the Marin Mammal Center and Headlands Institute are located. Take the old road at the end of the main parking area and follow it up. The road becomes Coastal Trail about half way up. The old road is now closed in several places because the road as collapsed, so be sure to follow the signs for Coastal Trail. There are several bunkers allow the way and they are fun to explore and provide the best shade and a good place to rest. When you get close to the top you will see a chain link fence surround the top of a hill with some building. That's your destination. The view from the top is fantastic.
On the way back there are two paths. One is to double back half way and then take coastal trail to the Marine Mammal Center. The other way is to take Wolfback Ridge to Miwok trail and back along the lagoon to the parking area. We prefer to come back down on the coastal side. As you head up you are looking up and east mostly. Heading back you are looking out to sea and South - kind of like two hikes in one.
Be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen. There is no shade while hiking. Dogs are OK are parts of the trail, but not others. It is not very clear as to the rules regarding dogs