Alcatraz Island
Guide

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Introduction

On the hunt for your next California camping adventure? Consider a visit to Alcatraz Island. It's a place that is rich in culture and history. You'll be sure to have a great time.

Alcatraz Island is located off the coast of California and is accessible only by ferry from San Francisco Bay or nearby Angel Island. This island is quite small in size at only 22 acres but is a property of great historical significance. From 1934-1963, Alcatraz was home to a military prison. In 1963, it was transitioned into a maximum security federal penitentiary center which housed such infamous prisoners as Al Capone and George "Machine Gun" Kelly. Though many escape attempts were made over the years, Alcatraz Island officials maintain that none were successful due to the intense currents and heavily shark-infested waters. From 1969-1971, Alcatraz Island was host to the Indians of All Tribes who inhabited the area to rally for freedom and equitable civil rights for Native Americans.

Today, Alcatraz Island is an extremely popular attraction. Access to the island is only granted by ferry, and there is a fee associated with round trip travel. Reservations are highly recommended. Ferry trips sell out often and early, so it is wise to plan well in advance of a trip.

Alcatraz Island still bears a number of its original landmarks for families to visit. The on-site Civil War fortress is now home to a bookstore. There is also a theater which shows daily orientation films as well as private tours of the abandoned prison.

Alcatraz Island is considered part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is one of 400 national parks in its crown. The area is a known haven for colonial nesting seabirds that can be viewed from their chosen quarters in rocks found offshore.

For an interesting day trip you'll not soon forget, bring the family to visit Alcatraz Island. It's a great place for a little getaway.

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RV Rentals in Alcatraz Island

Transportation in Alcatraz Island

Driving

Travel to Alcatraz Island involves the use of a ferry. The easiest place to leave your car is in Pier 33 in San Francisco Bay. To travel from Pier 33 to the ferry terminal , begin by heading northwest on The Embarcadero toward Bay St. Remain in one of the left 2 lanes to turn onto Bay St. Make a right hand turn onto Taylor St and continue onto The Embarcadero. When you spot Fisherman's Wharf, turn right to find and board the ferry on foot. The entire distance you will cover from the parking lot to the ferry terminal is approximately one mile and takes seven minutes. The ferry ride to Alcatraz Island from San Francisco Bay is about 15 minutes in total.

Parking

Parking can be found in one of the 15 community lots at Pier 33. From here, you can walk to the ferry terminal to board the boat to Alcatraz Island.

Public Transport

Travel to Alcatraz Island is accessible only by ferry. It is important to make advance reservations for ferry passage. Fees are associated with travel.

Campgrounds and parking in Alcatraz Island

Campsites in Alcatraz Island

Reservations camping

First-come first-served

Alternate camping

Angel Island Campground

Angel Island Campground is the nearest camping facility to Alcatraz Island and is accessible only by ferry. Neither vehicles nor dogs are permitted on the island, and reservations must be made to obtain a campsite.

Since vehicle access is not allowed at Angel Island Campground, families must be prepared to travel approximately two miles on foot from the ferry drop off point to the campground.

There are 16 campsites scattered throughout four areas. All are suitable for tent camping only. Families should be aware that each of the sites is quite open and affords very little privacy.

Bike rentals are available on the grounds for families wishing to explore more of the island.

The on-site amenities include tap water, picnic tables, and a toilet. Campfires are permitted on the grounds.

Seasonal activities in Alcatraz Island

Spring

West Side Gardens and Prisoner Gardens

A visit to the gardens at Alcatraz gives families an interesting glimpse into the history of residents of the island. Maintaining the gardens formed a crucial everyday experience for prison guards, their families, and inmates of the prison. Because Alcatraz's climate is harsh and unyielding, the plants included in the gardens had to be hardy and able to thrive in challenging conditions. As a result, though the area remained uninhabited for 40 years after the closing of the penitentiary, the plant life remained in spite of receiving no care.

Today, Alcatraz Island is alive with colorful plants sourced from regions all across the globe. In 2003, the Golden Gates National Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service formed an alliance with the intent of revitalizing and maintaining the gardens on Alcatraz Island.

Summer

Agave Trail

To return to the trailhead, you will climb a set of man-made rock steps built in the 1870's by prisoners. From the pinnacle of the trail, you will enjoy views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Treasure Island, the Bay Bridge, and the Marin Headlands.ich has gained popularity today. The agave plant is also used to create tequila.

To the south of the ferry dock, you will find the mouth of the Agave Trail. The path is lined with stone and travels through a thick outgrowth of eucalyptus plants. Follow along to the edge of the water where you will discover incredible views of the shore and its many seabirds. During periods of low tide, the trail is especially beautiful and offers glimpses of the rare and unusual rock tide pools.

To return to the trailhead, you will climb a set of manmade rock steps built in the 1870's by prisoners. From the pinnacle of the trail, you will enjoy views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Treasure Island, the Bay Bridge, and the Marin Headlands.

Picnicking

Though Alcatraz Island is not a large place to explore, there are lots of spots to enjoy a picnic lunch. The property itself is extremely picturesque and offers a number of recreational areas with picnic tables where families can relax and enjoy some snacks and quality time together.

There are a few snack shops housed on Alcatraz Island, but for a more substantial meal, bring along a packed lunch from home and some drinks to enjoy. There are no dogs permitted on Alcatraz, so you must leave your dog at home.

Fall

Alcatraz LIghthouse

Alcatraz Island is home to one of the first lighthouses on the western coast of the United States. The lighthouse at Alcatraz is still fully functional today. Its original purpose was to prevent shipwrecks by standing as a beacon to guide sailing vessels around the island.

The Alcatraz Lighthouse predates the prison. Though the lighthouse still stands and is in excellent condition, it is only possible to view it from the outside today. The lights within this structure are still in use for navigation, but the lighthouse no longer employs a keeper. Instead, ships are routed out of the island's path by use of an automated electric-powered light and foghorn.

Wildlife Viewing

Alcatraz is well-renowned as a haven for nesting seabirds and other species of wildlife. In particular, cormorants and pigeon guillemots love to make their nests in rocks found off shore.

Follow along the Agave Trail to the base of the shore where you will spy the abundance of wildlife which may include a glimpse of dolphins and sharks in the bay waters as well as snowy egrets and black-crowned night herons. Pelicans, from which the island takes its name from the Spanish alcatraces, are also quite plentiful here.

Be sure to bring along drinking water to keep your thirst at bay.

Winter

Guided Tours of the Alcatraz Prison

No trip to Alcatraz Island is complete without the guided tour. Tickets for a tour typically include the cost of the ferry ride as well as a tour of the remaining buildings on the property which include the abandoned prison, the ruins of the former guards' home, the early military outbuildings, and the lighthouse. Your guide will provide you with interesting historical information about each of the landmarks and their function and purpose in the history of Alcatraz.

A trip through the gardens at the end of the day offers a breath of fresh air and breathtaking views.

Bring along some drinking water and snacks to enjoy and be sure to wear closed toe and comfortable footwear. Alcatraz is known for unpredictable weather, so dress in layers to be prepared for anything that may come your way.

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