Fairy Gates Trail Hike in San Francisco - 510 Families
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Fairy Gates Trail Hike in San Francisco

Our guest contributor today is Jennie Aspelin, a longtime friend and San Francisco mom of four boys.

Find the fairies on your next hike! Part of the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, the Fairy Gates hiking trail in San Francisco offers intrepid hikers — and avid gnome hunters — the reward of several tiny fairy villages set up along the path. It might even be worth crossing the Bay Bridge!

Discovering fairies at Fairy Gates Trail
Discovering fairies at Fairy Gates Trail | Photo: Jennie Aspelin

Hiking the Fairy Gates Trail in San Francisco with Kids

We saw so many “fairy houses” along the Fairy Gates trail. My little guys still believe in fairies so this urban hike was super fascinating to them. We found it to be a quick, easy, two-hour hike at a leisurely pace, with lots of shade and not much elevation.

Mount Sutro Open Space
Beautiful views at the top of Mount Sutro Open Space | Photo: Jennie Aspelin
Discovering fairies at Fairy Gates Trail | Photo: Jennie Aspelin
Discovering fairies at Fairy Gates Trail | Photo: Jennie Aspelin

There are lots of spots off the trail to climb boulders and explore; a meadow which would be great for a picnic; fantastic City skyline views on parts of the trail; and an easy, kid friendly urban hike when you want nature but don’t want to leave the city.

exploring mount sutro in sf
Exploring the Mount Sutro Open Space | Photo: Jennie Aspelin

The times we’ve been to the Fairy Gates Trail, it has been pleasant and not super crowded. I’ve talked to a few parent friends that have been and enjoyed the hike, but we rarely see other families on the trails. Maybe we go at off-hours when most of the other hikers seem to be adults who are affiliated to the university. There have been a few mountain bikers and trail runners along the way. We stick to the green trails (see map below).

Here’s a helpful description of the trail route >

Here’s a good Fairy Gates trail map with suggested route information >

fairy gates trail map
We stick to the green trails and it is an easy, two-hour outing
zoom in on fairies on Fairy Gates Trail
I have no idea who maintains the fairy houses. I often wonder where the cute figures come from and if all we should bring our own to add to the cute collection! | Photo: Jennie Aspelin

To get to the Fairy Gates Trail at Mount Sutro Forest

Parking tips

I suggest parking on Clarendon at Johnstone. You can’t park directly on Johnstone or you’ll get towed without a UCSF campus permit.

Getting there

Walk up Johnstone Drive, it’ll be uphill about 150 meters, and the trail entrance is on your right. You’ll pass a private residence before the trial starts (I think the private residence is the UCSF Chancellor’s house).

Parents should know

There are no bathrooms, but my kids are not shy and nature poop and pee on the trail or in a bush. (We bring wipes and doggie bags!)

During the Covid-19 pandemic, please bring your own masks, water, and hand sanitizer.

map fairy trail

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9 thoughts on “Fairy Gates Trail Hike in San Francisco”

  1. Lydia Blethrow

    If you like fairy houses, Washington Avenue in Pt. Richmond is an easy drive, is still in the East Bay, and has the most amazing collection of fairy houses. It is otherwise known as Little Point Richmond and is (surprisingly) not well publicized. I’m including a website, not my own, that describes it:


    Nearly every house along this stretch has an abundance of clever miniature scenes. Kids and adults can spend hours enjoying them and finding details that aren’t obvious upon first inspection. The historic downtown area of Pt. Richmond is lovely, as well as the nearby beaches and train museum.

  2. We went today and no fairy houses on the trail. We found one house on a different trail. Still a cool hike but the houses are definitely not there.

  3. Hi! I took my kids out today, but we didn’t find any fairy houses. We stopped a bit after crossing Medical Center Way, and turned back, but did explore all of the green trail area from Johnstone up. Are the houses further up on the North Ridge trail? Thanks for the parking tip!

  4. We went today and learned a few things. First, do not park at the “trailhead” where GPS leads you. Rather, park where this blogger advises you to! I should have followed her instructions; it would have saved me a steep, rough climb. Second, the fairy houses are not on Fairy Gates trail. They are up past that on the North Ridge trail, after you cross a road. Third, the three fairy places that we saw were sparsely decorated. I recommend bringing your own little items to add to the hollow stumps. That way, they can participate and be happy about it. But the hike was beautiful and we were glad we went!

  5. We’ll have to try Pt. Richmond sometime. Like the others who commented, we found no fairies. There were 2 empty houses though, which led some mystique. I recognize all the locations in your pictures, but they’re empty now (or worse, with litter). It was still a nice hike, and i was able to finesse it so it wasn’t a huge disappointment, but definitely don’t get your toddlers tooooo excited counting on finding fairies. Talk about how they like to stay hidden so that any possible (or invented) sign of them is as fun as actually seeing figurines.

  6. Pingback: 27 Stunning Hikes In & Near the San Francisco Bay Area - Appalachian Trail Girl

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