4 Mile Hike to Finding Treasure in Pirates Cove in the Golden Gate. Northern California. #findYourPark

Heading to Pirates Cove in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Every time I step on a trail, I find treasure. The fresh air. The excitement of the upcoming adventure. The dirt.

So I wonder what treasure my hiking buddy Lori and I will find today as we head out on blue-sky, fall day in Northern California to the tiny, almost hidden Pirates Cove tucked into the Marin Headlands in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

We leave my Beast parked at Muir Beach, grab our dogs, grateful for the liberal dog policy in this part of the park, and head south and up, up onto the bluff overlooking Muir Beach which connects to the California Coastal Trail towards Pirates Cove.

The deep valley into Pirates Cove.
This hike is a "wow" moment hike and you'll get your fix of giant skies, California coastline and wild Pacific Ocean action. The hike’s elevation highs and lows are a buns workout. And having the space to enjoy spectacular ocean views opens the chapter of history to wonder about California's pirates and shipwrecks and the name of this cove while we follow the excited footsteps of our dogs along the trail.

There is a tale of a Spanish galleon named San Augstin. Its belly was loaded with precious silver from Latin America and it met its fate in the late 1500s after a collision with the treacherous rocks at Point Reyes seashore just west of where our feet stomp today. There are stories of the great seaman Sir Francis Drake raiding loaded Spanish treasure ships just prior to that. And can you just hear the Spaniards groaning across the waves: Oh no. Him again...

Could any of the silver bits have made their way to this Pirates Cove? Did Sir Francis and his piratey-explorery brothers come hide in this small sanctuary and call it their home? Did a man with a scraggly beard and a parrot bury a chest full of riches in this very place and leave a shredded Map with an “X” for some child – yours! mine! – to find in a bottle bobbing on the coastal waves someday?

When Lori and I make the scramble deep down into the valley of the cove, we don’t find silver. However we do find a kindred hiker spirit enjoying the spray of the ocean. We also find loads of ocean flotsam – boards and logs and trees and sticks and mangled ocean stuff everywhere: treasure for all makers and tree-house builders and dreamers.

And we find quiet.     

Pirates Cove, Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
We take a moment. And sit down on a giant, splintery log swept in by some giant wave. And listen. This is our treasure today. And maybe, just maybe I see a sparkly silver glint on the tail of a wave in Pirates Cove. 

Enjoy your hike. Find your treasure.

For more hikes, travel, and conversation, find me on twitter, facebook and instagram.

-Outdoorsy Mama

Trip Report:
Location: Pirates Cover. Access via California Coastal Trail via Muir Beach (or Tennessee Valley from the other direction) in Marin County, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, north of San Francisco.
Length: Around 4 miles. There are different paths to follow to get to the Coastal Trail so length varies.
Level of Difficulty: Big elevation gains and drops. Moderate to Strenuous.
Exposure: All sun
Kid friendly? If your kids are in great shape and like to scramble and stay on the trail, this is a relatively safe hike. However off trail, there are extreme cliffs. Know your kids. Hike smart.
Dog friendly? For this one section of the hike in the GGNRA, dogs are welcome on leash. (Note that you can not bring them in from the Tenn Valley access point.)
Trail Tip: The final section of the trail down and into Pirates Cove from Coastal Trail is steep with loose dirt and poor footing due to erosion.

Where to Eat: Just a few steps from Muir Beach where you’ll stash your car is the Pelican Inn. It features Ye Olden English pub food and also organic, greenery extraordinaire from the bountiful farms in the surrounding counties. Yum. And every single on-tap, brewery, pint of goodness you’ll ever want. pelicaninn.com 


  1. This hike looks stunning and so peaceful. I'll have to check it out when I'm in California again.

    (I found your blog a while ago from a random Google search and added it to my RSS feed and now I'm finally commenting.)

    1. i'm so glad you wrote, Jennifer! yes, definitely put this one on your list next time you're in Cali. it really is spectacular, a favorite of mine. hope you're getting out on the trails :) a