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Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island, known as “The Rock,” is famed as the prison where criminals Al Capone, “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert Stroud, the “Bird Man of Alcatraz,” were confined. Far less well known is the fact that the island was the site of the first U.S. fort on the West Coast, and that from 1969 to 1971 it was...
Alcatraz Island, known as “The Rock,” is famed as the prison where criminals Al Capone, “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Robert Stroud, the “Bird Man of Alcatraz,” were confined. Far less well known is the fact that the island was the site of the first U.S. fort on the West Coast, and that from 1969 to 1971 it was occupied by Native Americans under the name of Indians of All Tribes. Today Alcatraz is a national park and popular tourist attraction, and is also home to one of California’s largest breeding colonies of western gulls. On a clear day, views of San Francisco are breathtaking. All ferryboats are accessible, but be aware that the gradient of the gangway ramps can vary depending on the tide. The ferry crew will provide assistance and let you embark and disembark first.

When you arrive on the island, a docent explains certain rules; then you are free to explore on your own. For a historical overview, you might start by watching the film at the visitor center, then viewing some of the exhibits about the Indian occupation and life on the island. Because of its steep terrain, much of the island is accessible only to birds and wildlife.

For most visitors, the cellhouse is the main attraction. The climb up to it is extremely steep, but those who physically can’t make the trek can take a free electric tram, SEAT (sustainable easy-access transport), which can hold two people in wheelchairs or one scooter at a time, as well as numerous seated passengers. Look for a small sign directly across from the dock that lists the schedule. The tram is first-come, first-served.

The cellhouse is accessible except for the recreation yard. An audio tour narrated by former guards and inmates is included in the price of the ticket. Their chilling accounts of life on the island enhances the experience. A variety of docent-led tours are offered throughout the day and are posted on the dock and in the cellhouse. Large-print and Braille transcriptions of the cellhouse audio tour and other interpretive materials are available upon request.

Trail/Pathway Details

East Road: Route from the ferry landing to the cellhouse

Trailhead: Ferry landing

Length: Less than .5 mile

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Very Steep

To make this climb in a manual wheelchair will require much
upper body strength and/or assistance.

Terrain: Hard

Description

The switchback road leading to the cellhouse from the dock is .25 miles and has a 130-foot elevation change—equivalent to climbing a 13-story building—so it is very steep, and also bumpy. I have climbed it in a motorized chair. Before the first switchback, follow the signs to the New Industries Building. Prisoners could work here for money by...
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Accessibility Details

The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

There is limited accessible parking at Pier 33––individuals must show their disabled placard at the pier entrance to use them. One accessible space is on the street at the pier. Numerous commercial lots are nearby. At Pier 33; on the island, at the dock and by the cellhouse near the upper and lower entrances.
At Pier 33. On the island, food and drinks are allowed only on the dock.
View from West Rd.
View from West Rd. (Bonnie Lewkowicz)

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Features icon key

  • hiking
  • particularly good for families

Additional Information

Website: www.nps.gov/alca/index.htm
Managing Agency: National Park Service
Address: Pier 33 on the Embarcadero
Nearest City: San Francisco
Phone: (415) 561-4900
Hours: Tours depart daily, 8:45 am-3:50 pm, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.
Fees: Ferry
Dogs: Not allowed
Public Transportation: MUNI
Useful Links: Alcatraz Cruises accessibility information, Alcatraz Gardens,
Reviewed by Bonnie Lewkowicz, October 29, 2014
Access Norhtern California This web guide is a project of Access Northern California.  
California Coastal Conservancy Thanks to our partner the California Coastal Conservancy

DISCLAIMER: Although the information contained in this web-guide was believed to be correct at the time of publication, neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy shall be held responsible or liable for any inaccuracies, errors, or omissions, nor for information that changes or becomes outdated. Neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy assume any liability for any injury or damage arising out of, or in connection with, any use of this guide or the sites described in it.

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Accessible Wheelchair Icon looks like a wheelchair with balloon wheelsBeach Accessible
Wheelchairs Available
  Hiking icon is silhouette of a hikerHiking & Trails
Biking icon looks like person riding a bikeBicycling   Good for Familis icon is a child on a swing'Particularly Good for Families
Boating Icon is a boatBoating   Picnic Area Icon is a picnic tablePicnic
Camping icon is a tentCamping   Swimming Icon is a person swimmingSwimming
Fishing Icon is a fish biting a hookFishing   Wildlife Viewing Icon is a pair of binocularsWildlife Viewing
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