The Lands End Hike has spectacular views of the rugged Pacific Coastline, the Golden Gate Bridge, windswept cypress trees, beaches, and wildflowers. It passes by the historic points of Sutro Baths, the USS San Francisco Memorial, and you might even see migrating whales. A short spur off the main Lands End Trail takes you to scenic Mile Rock Beach and the Lands End Labyrinth.
For even more great hikes with great views, see our post Hiking in San Francisco. It’s a bucket list of urban hikes, and more hikes will be added overtime.
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Is the Lands End Trail a Hike or a Walk?
It depends on how much and which part of the trail you take. The section between the Lands End Lookout Visitors Center and Mile Rock Overlook is an easy 0.5-mile (0.8 km) walk. Many people walk this wide, smooth, fully accessible section and then walk back — it’s like a promenade.
If you walk the entire main trail it’s definitely a hike — and even more so if you add the spur trail to Mile Rock Beach and the Labyrinth. This is a very popular hike and, especially on weekends, it can be quite busy. The trail is a favorite with people of all ages, families, people with dogs (leashed, of course), and small tour groups.
If you like easy walks with great views, you will also enjoy the Golden Gate Promenade. It’s a wide, flat, accessible trail along the Crissy Field waterfront with great views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, and the city skyline.
Why is This Location Called Lands End?
The location of the trail is called Lands End because it was literally the end of the road. It was the westernmost end of the first cross-country highway. Lincoln Highway — completed in 1913 — went from New York’s Times Square to San Francisco and ended in the northwest part of the city where Lincoln Park is now.
Is Lands End a National Park, a City Park, or Coastal Trail?
Lands End is all of the above and more. It’s part of all of these:
- Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNR) is a very unique National Park. It’s unique because it’s a collection of scattered sites along the San Francisco Bay Area coast including Alcatraz, Muir Woods, and the Presidio. It’s also unique because — except for Alcatraz and Muir Woods — all of the GGNR sites are free to enter.
- California Coastal Trail is a network of trails following the state’s 1,200-mile Pacific Coast shoreline. Lands End Trail is the Coastal Trail section between the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center (by Cliff House and the Sutro Bath ruins) and where the Coastal Trail and El Camino Del Mar enter Lincoln Park (near 32ndAvenue).
- Lincoln Park is a 100-acre park located in the northwest part of San Francisco and is also home to the Palace of the Legion of Honor — a fine arts museum, a Holocaust Memorial, and an 18-hole public golf course. The Lands End Trail skirts around the outer perimeter of the park between the cliffs, the golf course, and Fort Miley.
- UNESCO Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve created by UNESCO to promote cooperation between various groups responsible for managing sensitive protected areas.
Trail Conditions, Time, and Distance
Lands End Trail Conditions
The first half-mile, between the Visitor Center and Mile Rock Overlook, follows an abandoned railroad bed and is wide, smooth, mostly flat, and ADA accessible. Most of the rest of the trail is mixed. Some sections are wide and smooth, some are so rutted, or rocky, or narrow you may wonder if you’re still on the right trail.
Depending on the season, it can be muddy or dusty. The section of trail between Eagles Point and Painted Rock has rustic stairs going up and down a small hill. There are 255 stair steps, but they are low rise and easy to walk.
The spur trail down to Mile Rock Beach and the Labyrinth is almost all stairs (250 steps — each way). Parts of the trail skirt around the bluffs overlooking the ocean, rocky cliffs, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Other parts of the trail meander through wooded areas with a variety trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers.
Power Tip: Be careful! Parts of the trail (especially the unauthorized side trails) are along steep cliffs. The trails can be slippery; falls can be deadly.
Lands End Hike Time and Distance
- The main Lands End Trail is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) one-way and takes about 90 minutes with stops to enjoy the views and take photos.
- The spur Mile Rock Beach trail is 0.34 miles (0.5 km) round trip from the main trail (allow 30-45 minutes round trip). Add more time if you want to spend time at the Labyrinth or linger at the beach. On my most recent trip to the beach, I hiked down in 14 minutes and back up in 21 minutes, but I was counting stair steps, taking notes and photos, and catching my breath.
- The Lands End Trail in one direction plus the round trip spur to Mile Rock Beach is 1.7 miles (2.7 km).
Mile Rock Beach and Lands End Labyrinth
The short but steep spur trail to Mile Rock Beach takes you through one of the most rugged and scenic parts of Lands End, and from the small, rocky beach, there’s a short safer path to the Labyrinth.
Mile Rock Beach
The trail branching off to Mile Rock Beach is marked with a sign. The trail is steep with rustic stairs all the way down. The low-rise, wide-tread steps are dirt with timber edges. They are easy to walk, but there are lots of them (about 250 stair steps in all). The round trip from the main trail to the beach is 0.34 miles (0.5 km).
Lands End Labyrinth
About half way down the Mile Rock Beach Trail, there’s an unauthorized shortcut to the labyrinth. The shortcut is tempting, and lots of people take it (I have too), but a narrow and crumbly part of it is along a dangerous cliff. There’s a safer trail from the beach to the Labyrinth.
Local artist Eduardo Aguilera created the Labyrinth in 2004. It’s made of stones carried up from Mile Rock Beach, so building it is no easy task.
At least twice, vandals have thrown the rocks off the cliff destroying the Labyrinth, and, each time Eduardo and dozens of volunteers have carried rocks back up and rebuilt it. It’s a not-so-secret San Francisco treasure.
Ways to Hike Lands End
There are lots of options for hiking the Lands End Trail: round trip, one-way, or just part of the trail. Here are three possibilities:
- Short and easy — Start at the southwestern end by the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center and walk the wide, smooth, mostly flat part of the trail to Mile Rock Lookout and then walk back. It’s 0.5 miles (0.8 km) each way, and it’s ADA accessible.
- One-way — Start at either end and walk the entire Lands End section of the Coastal Trail. It’s 1.5 miles (2.4 km). If you add the spur trail to Mile Rock Beach and the Labyrinth, add another 0.34 miles (0.5 km). The obvious complication with this one-way option is that you can’t easily drive and park. Taking public transit solves this issue.
- The whole loop — Start at either end, walk the entire trail, and walk back. Or, in one direction, take the shortcut through the golf course and the Legion of Honor. If you take the whole trail in both directions and add the Mile Rock Beach spur, the entire trek is 3.4 miles (5.5 km).
Stop by the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center
Bits of Lands End History
Lands End Parking and Public Transit Options
If you prefer to drive, parking at Lands End is free, but the available lots can fill up early, especially on weekends. I prefer public transit because I like walking the trail one-way and don’t need to backtrack to get my car.
I also like ending the trail at the Cliff House end, so I can stop by for a pint of Anchor Steam and their Artisanal Cheese Plate and watch the waves crash on Seal Rocks (it’s a tough assignment).
Lands End Trail Map
Important Things to Know
- NO BATHROOMS or food, or water along the trail. The only bathrooms are at the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center at the trail’s southwestern end. The restrooms are open from 9a-5:30p on Monday through Friday and 9a-7:30p on Saturday and Sunday.
- Stay on the marked trails. Side trails along the cliffs are dangerous.
- Bring a sweatshirt or jacket. If the fog rolls in, it’s gets really chilly, really fast.
- ADA Accessible: The trail section between the Lands End Lookout Visitor Center and the Mile Rock Overlook is ADA accessible. This trail section follows the roadbed built for the long gone Ferries & Cliff House Railroad, so it’s wide, smooth, and mostly flat.
- Bikes are not allowed on the section between the Mile Rock Beach spur trail and Eagles Point. The trail is not well suited for them, because it’s really narrow in places and there are lots of stairs.
- Watch out for poison oak. Learn to recognize it with this Golden Gate National Parks Four-Season Field Guide to Poison Oak.
- Watch out for coyotes.
San Francisco is very compact and densely populated, so having lots of parks, gardens, and trails are an essential ingredient in making the city more livable. Fortunately there are a lot of them and more are being added.
The Lands End hike is my favorite; I hope you take it and enjoy it too. For more things to see and do in San Francisco, check out our San Francisco Itinerary post, which has 1, 2, and 3-Day suggested itineraries and bonus lists of sights to help you create your own custom itinerary.
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