Build a Kirkham Trailhead For Better Access to Mt. Sutro

School of Dentistry

Mount Sutro is a rare, under-appreciated gem in UCSF’s backyard. Recent debates about UCSF’s long-term plan for this wild urban park have focused on how to manage the eucalyptus and other plants. While many residents have strong opinions on this issue, I would like to shift the focus. What makes the mountain special, regardless of what kind of understory is cultivated, is the ability of members of UCSF and the surrounding communities to access it.

The existing trail system on Mount Sutro is inadequate. The entire western flank of the mountain has only one point of entry which is very well hidden high on Crestmont Drive. The northern slopes are slightly more accessible, but from Parnassus (which has no trail sign) one must first ascend Medical Center Way, a stairway, a parking lot and then another stairway before actually reaching a forest trail.

The one recent success story for access to Mount Sutro is on the east slope: the new Stanyan Trailhead which puts the hiker directly onto the lovely Lower Historic Trail. The public has the Sutro Stewards, a volunteer organization that maintains trails and propagates plants on the hill, to thank for this addition to the trail system.  (If you’re interested in volunteering, see

UCSF and the Sutro Stewards have another opportunity to vastly improve access to Mount Sutro. A trail should be built from Kirkham St. where it ends beneath the steep west slope of the mountain. The road there curves into Koret Way and presents an ideal place for a trailhead. This would provide easy access from the Inner Sunset, which is the densest and busiest neighborhood near Mount Sutro and where many students live. Such a trail would nicely complement the Stanyan trail and do for the west side of the hill what that trail has done for the east.

While the hill there is steep, it is by no means un-walkable; a faint petering bushwhack route can currently be followed down from the Historic Trail by the adventuresome romper. Moreover, steep slopes have been easily overcome with stairways or switchbacks in other parts of the park. This proposed trail would climb through the largest section of forest on the mountain without a trail and then link to the Historic Trail above.

Craig Dawson, executive director of the Sutro Stewards, says that the proposed Kirkham trailhead is on the “right track.”

“We have been asking UCSF to resolve this issue since they took out a stairway that once served the west side,” said Dawson.  That west side stairway was removed six years ago when UCSF built the Regenerative Medicine Building on Medical Center Way.

In the 2010 long-term management plan, UCSF pledges improved access as one of its priorities for the mountain. In the plan they propose a few new trails: one from the first hairpin turn of Medical Center Way to join the Historic Trail and another from Clarendon Way skirting below the Aldea housing complex to join the South Ridge trail. While these would both be fine additions, they wouldn’t do nearly as much to improve access as a Kirkham trailhead would.

Make good on your pledge, UCSF. Make Mount Sutro a truly accessible forest park. Build a trail from Kirkham Street. If you could afford to build the much-touted Regenerative Medicine Building you can surely afford to restore the access that was lost six years ago by building a simple trail.