Alcatraz Island - Walking Audio Tour, Alcatraz Island, San Francisco: Marin Headlands - Mt Tamalpais - Point Reyes, California

Alcatraz Island - Walking Audio Tour - 0.75 miles

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay

Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay

Round-Trip Length: 0.75 miles (length will vary by individual)
Start-End Elevation: 10' - 130 ' (max elevation occurs at main cellhouse)
Elevation Change: Trail remains level throughout the main cellhouse
Skill Level: Easy
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Alcatraz Island - Walking Audio Tour - 0.75 Miles Round-Trip

Alcatraz Island, commonly referred to as "The Rock", is a maximum security federal prison located in the San Francisco Bay. Alcatraz Island is also credited as the first US military Fort on the west coast, the first lighthouse on the west coast, a bird sanctuary and botanical garden.

Today the word Alcatraz conjures visions of a dark, inescapable prison. Al Capone, America's "Public enemy #1" is but one of the thousands of criminals who called Alcatraz home.

Classified as a concentration model, where difficult-to-manage prisoners from other institutions would be concentrated under one roof, Alcatraz served as an experiment. Segregation on this scale had not before been practiced, and only time would indicate its success or failure.

While visitors are free to explore the cellhouse without audio assistance, the narrative and provides a rich educational experience.

The audio tour explains life in Alcatraz. Former prisoners speak about their time on The Rock, prison escape attempts are discussed and former Alcatraz guards talk about their life outside the cellhouse walls where a non-prisoner community existed on Alcatraz.

The tour leads through the cellhouse and eventually comes to the 'solitary' wing. Here you can step into a cell and get a sense of what it was like to be a prisoner. The solitary cells were almost completely dark with cell bars plus a solid iron door blocking them from the guards.

Also take time to see 'the yard'. This open, high walled, concrete area was the only place for prisoners to be outside. With burgeoning San Francisco and Marin County in eyesight and earshot, escape was always on the minds of Alcatraz inmates.

The most famous attempt was accurately chronicled in the Hollywood movie, "Escape From Alcatraz" starring Clint Eastwood.

While the prisoners successfully escaped from the island at night, it is still unknown if they survived the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay (55 degrees on average).

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Worth Noting

  • Alcatraz Island is most famous for the 29 years (1934-1963) it operated as a U.S. penitentiary.
  • Tours often sell out so buy tickets well in advance of your trip. The price of your ticket to Alcatraz includes the cellhouse audio tour, which is available in English, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin and Dutch. If you do not wish to do the audio tour you can receive a refund by contacting a supervisor in the cellhouse bookstore.
  • In 1850 Alcatraz was declared a military reservation by President Millard Fillmore, and by 1859 troops were permanently garrisoned at the post on Alcatraces for the defense of the Bay Area.
  • In 1964, and again in 1969 American Indians - many whose tribes were being terminated by federal policy, laid claim to Alcatraz Island. Their 18 month occupation would cause a great change in federal policy towards American Indians that would save the tribes. Every year thousands of American Indians return to Alcatraz Island to honor the veterans of the 1969 occupation by Indians of All Tribes and to continue their political struggle for self determination.
  • The Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon is held each summer and features a 1.5 mile swim from Alcatraz Island to the shore, a difficult 18-mile bike race, and a tough 8-mile run through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Over 2000 athletes compete each year.
  • The weather on Alcatraz can be some what unpredictable and can change quickly - it may be warm and sunny in the city and very windy and cool on the island. Summer days can sometimes be as cool as winter due to thick fog and strong winds. Dressing in layers is recommended.
  • Handicap Acessible: Visitors unable to make the climb up Alcatraz's steep road due to mobility needs can take advantage of SEAT--Sustainable Easy Access Transport--an electric shuttle that runs twice an hour from the dock to the prison building, and twice an hour from the prison to the dock. The tram can not stop on the hill, boarding is only at the dock and the cellhouse. Boarding is available on a first come, first served basis. SEAT can accommodate wheelchair users. Only those individuals with mobility or physical needs may ride the shuttle - other members of your party cannot be accommodated except an attendant.

Camping and Backpacking Information

Overnight at Alcatraz: The Alcatraz Work Service Project/Overnight Program is truly a unique experience. Groups travel by ferry to Alcatraz on a Saturday afternoon to perform a 1-2 hour work project, such as vegetation management or cellhouse maintenance. After the work project, groups receive a guided tour by a Park Ranger. At night you may cook dinner over a barbecue provided to you on the island. At the end of the evening, groups retire to their individual cells in the D-Block.

Due to high demand groups are randomly selected by a lottery system. Each year applications are accepted only between November 1-30 for dates scheduled for the following year. Please only submit one application for your group; duplicate applications and those submitted outside of the month of November will be discarded.

For information about the Alcatraz Group Overnight program or obtaining a permit for holding a special event, commercial photography, or commercial filming on Alcatraz please contact the Golden Gate National Recreation Area's office of Special Park Uses Group at 415-561-4302.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is not permitted on Alcatraz Island.

Rules and Regulations

  • Stay away from roped off or closed areas.

  • Steep cliffs and erosion pose dangers at Alcatraz. Please remain on the road and trail for your own safety.

  • Eating, drinking and smoking is only allowed at the dock level. There is no food service on the island.

  • Be aware that Alcatraz is a sanctuary for thousands of seabirds - feeding or disturbing any wildlife is not permitted and punishable by law.

  • Pets are not permitted on Alcatraz Island, only trained service animals are allowed on the ferry and the island. Under current disability rights regulations "emotional support animals" are not allowed as they are not specifically trained to perform a task in support of a person with a disability.

Directions to Trailhead

Access to Alcatraz Island is by ferry service operated by Alcatraz Cruises, LLC, a concession of the National Park Service. No private craft can dock at Alcatraz Island.

There is no separate entrance fee for the island - national park passes do not apply to the charge for the ferry service.

To purchase tickets in advance (strongly recommended as Alcatraz frequently sells out) contact Alcatraz Cruises, their website is The Alcatraz ferry departs from Pier 33, located on The Embarcadero near the intersection of Bay Street.

Once on Alcatraz, follow signs for the Audio Prison Tour.

As mentioned, the only way to get to Alcatraz is by a ferry operated by Alcatraz Cruises, LLC. They are located on The Embarcadero near the intersection of Bay Street - just a bit south east of Fisherman's Wharf. There is no parking at Pier 33.

On street parking in the area can be difficult to find, especially during peak summer visitation season, and nearly every street space has a parking meter with a time limit insufficient for an Alcatraz visit. An "Accessibility Drop Off Zone" is located at the entrance to Alcatraz Cruises - Pier 33 for visitors with special needs arriving by automobile.

There are fifteen commercial lots within a five-block radius of the Alcatraz Cruises - Pier 33, with a total of more than 3,000 parking spaces. However we recommend public transportation if at all possible. Be aware that prices for parking in this area can vary greatly, as little as $8-10 for all day, to as high as $6 an hour. As a visit to Alcatraz can easily take 2 to 3 hours (or more) it can be worth while to shop around for parking. It is even better to take public transportation when possible.

When in San Francisco public transportation is the best way to get around. The Muni F Line runs along Market Street (east) then turns north on The Embarcadero, and runs right past the ferry terminal (on your right) and then on through Fisherman's Wharf. For detailed information on mass transit in San Francisco please visit the San Francisco Municipal Railway web site.

Contact Information

Alcatraz Island
National Park Service
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Fort Mason, B201
San Francisco, CA 94123

Buy Tickets and Find Additional Information:

The hours of operation vary with the season - departures are available about every half hour throughout the day beginning at 9:00am. Evening tours and combined Angel Island - Alcatraz Island tours are also available depending on the season. Alcatraz is open every day except Christmas and New Year's day. Alcatraz frequently sells out in advance, as much as a week or more in advance in summer and near holidays.

The price includes the cellhouse audio tour, which is available in English, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin and Dutch. If you do not wish to do the audio tour you can receive a refund by contacting a supervisor in the cellhouse bookstore.

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"Great tour! If you are in San Fran, Alcatraz is the best tourist destination there. I did the tour over the holidays with family. Make sure its a nice day though - it was sunny for us, but if it rains, I can see this not being the best activity. Enjoy!"
ProTrails  -  Boulder  -  Date Posted: January 4, 2015


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