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Trek San Francisco’s lesser known trio of peaks

It’s summer time in San Francisco, which means the weather has turned chilly and Karl the Fog is a constant visitor, especially to the neighborhoods west of the San Miguel Hills — commonly known as Mount Sutro, Twin Peaks and Mount Davidsion.

While this trio of hills is quite visible from various vantage points — both within and beyond San Francisco’s borders — a lesser-known and less well-trodden threesome of peaks will enjoy the spotlight of Walk San Francisco’s monthly members’ walk in July.

These three peaks are not part of the set that many have claimed makes San Francisco — like Rome — a city built on seven hills. However, they do offer some of The City’s loveliest ascents and hilltop views. Join Walk SF and volunteer walk leader Randy Wittorp, an avid hiker, cyclist, kayaker and Cole Valley resident, for what promises to be a mini version of Peak2Peak (Walk SF’s daylong, 12-plus mile urban trek and annual fundraiser held each September).

When he’s not exploring one of the country’s most walkable and culturally rich cities, Wittorp works as the director of public ffairs at the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center. So it’s no surprise July’s walk will be a heart-pumping, trail- and stair-filled climb to the tops of Buena Vista Park, Corona Heights and Clarendon Height’s Tank Hill.

Your walking loop will start at the iconic eastern edge of Haight-Ashbury at the base of the wooded Buena Vista Park. This heavily forested hilltop started out, like much of San Francisco did, as a giant sand dune. Originally named Hill Park, the 589-feet-high slope was set aside in 1867 as the first site for The City’s nascent park system. Officially dedicated as Buena Vista Park by longtime park superintendent John McLaren in 1894, The City’s third largest park has played witness to the 1906 earthquake and fires, and 1967’s Summer of Love.

After exploring the eucalyptus, cypress, pine, local coast live oaks and toyons, as well as the unique footpaths, constructed retaining walls, and rain gutters made of marble during the 1930s, you will head down the southwestern side of the park onto quiet, winding residential lanes.

From there, the hike will ascend the middle of the three-hill walk, taking you to the peak of Corona Heights, the division between the Castro and Corona Heights neighborhoods. After a steep climb to the 300-foot-high peak, you can take in the uniquely expansive views of Potrero and the southern half of San Francisco, as well as the sweep of The City’s northeastern face to downtown.

Before leaving Corona Heights, take note of the hill’s rugged look and feel. After years of quarry extraction for clay and chert, you can now see exposed bedrock from the underlying Marin Headlands terrane. At the base of Corona Heights, you can also observe what geologists have called a world-class slickenside — a smoothly polished surface caused when the rocks along the opposing sides of a fault rub against one another (creating a striation in the direction of movement).

From Corona Heights the walk heads southeast to reach the final, tallest of the three peaks, Tank Hill. Situated in the Clarendon Heights neighborhood, this mini-park was named for the water tank built there in 1894. After a new tank was built nearby, The City removed the tank in 1957. Later, concerned community members advocated to save the site as part of San Francisco’s new Open Space Program. Since 1977, Tank Hill has been offering spectacular panoramic views from Golden Gate Bridge all the way to the Bayview.

Finally, you head down into Cole Valley to end the walk back on Haight Street at Masonic, with an optional lunch at the Haight Patio Café & Crepery.

Take this mini-Peak2Peak and get yourself in shape for the 10-peak, near half-marathon this September.

IF YOU GO:

Trekking Three Hills: A Petite Peak2Peak

When: Saturday, June 23, 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Where: Buena Vista Park (corner of Haight Street and Buena Vista Avenue)

Info: Walk space is limited; $10 suggested donation to Walk SF (free for members); RSVPs required at www.walksf.org/event/trekking-three-hills

Natalie Burdick
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Natalie Burdick

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