The hiking book: Hiking the San Francisco Bay Area (Falcon Guides)
The distance: 6 miles
The CityGirls rating: 5

We needed to get out of the city for a bit but didn’t want to drive too far, so we headed south to some of the protected land on the Peninsula. There’s a big slice of land on the Peninsula that is protected as state and county parks, fish and game refuge, and water district lands.

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Sweeney Ridge is across the Peninsula from the airport and at the northern end of the chain of reservoir lakes that store water for the city of San Francisco.

In San Francisco, 85% of our water comes from Hetch Hetchy, a dammed valley in Yosemite National Park. The Hetch Hetchy dam and water system were created in the early 20th century to provide water for the Bay Area. The dam is owned by the city of San Francisco and provides water for much of the Bay Area.

It’s an interesting arrangement, a city owning and operating a dam in a national park. From a conservation perspective, it’s unnecessary development on protected lands and the destruction of what was purported to be a lovely valley in Yosemite National Park when it was flooded to create the reservoir.

From a health and infrastructure perspective, Hetch Hetchy provides clean, safe water requiring little treatment to 1.7 million people. It’s also a highly sustainable water system, as the water travels from Yosemite via gravity and the granite walls of Hetch Hetchy valley mean that little silt accumulates in the water there.

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There was a ballot measure in San Francisco in November to study removing the Hetch Hetchy dam and restoring the valley there. The measure failed, and fairly resoundingly, reflecting the complicated reality of the situation. While in an ideal world, we might want to restore Hetch Hetchy valley, so much money, development, and potential energy use would be required to do so and to build a replacement water system that the status quo is really the most sustainable option.

Sweeney Ridge overlooks San Andreas Lake, the northernmost in the chain of reservoirs on the Peninsula and has great views of the Bay as well.

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It’s not wilderness by any stretch, but a nice, energetic hike all the same.

HIKE NOTES
Ease of following designated hike: 7. The paved trail up to the top of the ridge is very straightforward, but the trails along the ridge itself can be a bit confusing.
Best season to hike: Winter.
Our hike time: 2.75 hours.
Solitude: 2.