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The Course

The 1.5 mile swim course begins at Alcatraz and finishes at the East Beach of Crissy Field located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s Presidio Park (zoom into the upper right hand corner of the map to find East Beach).

Those going on to the run follow the Presidio’s popular Golden Gate Promenade, a dirt trail that winds its way along the San Francisco Bay. After about 1.25 miles and once past the Warming Hut and the Torpedo Wharf, runners make a sharp left, veering away from the water and up a set of wooden steps, along a dirt trail, through a brick tunnel and up onto the east span of the Golden Gate Bridge (about 400 feet of elevation gain in less than a half-mile). Crossing to Vista Point at the north end of the bridge, runners turn around and retrace their steps to the finish line.

Alcatraz Arrival

The Blue & Gold Ferry arrives at Alcatraz at 7:45 a.m. and stops 100 yards southeast of the Rock. The National Park Service requires that we “comply with a request from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area to stay at least 100 yards away from Alcatraz Island to protect nesting seabirds”.

Water Entry & Start

Once the ferry is in position and we have given the “all-clear”, 600 swimmers must enter the water in the space of 7-8 short minutes via two doors on either side of the Blue & Gold Ferry.

Your race time begins when you cross the rubber mat at the ferry door exit. Once you reach the mat/exit door, jump quickly and swim immediately away from the ferry so the next swimmers may jump. (Please make sure you have a safe place to jump without hitting another swimmer, then GO!)

... is a sponsor of the Alcatraz Challenge. It's a useful service for endurance athletes, offering training aids in visual and statistical analysis of your training efforts.

Motion Based can take GPS information on your training and other information, such as speeds, times, altitudes, comparisons with other training efforts, even heart rates, and present it to you so that you can gauge your progress as you prepare for major events such as the Alcatraz Challenge.

You can even plot your courses - both training and racing - and superimpose them over satellite imagery, such as from Google Earth, to see exactly where you've been. No hiding now!

Alcatraz Challenge organizer Gary Emich has done many crossings from Alcatraz. At right, check out some of the routes Gary has swum. They vary widely, not just because of myopia, but due to currents, tides, dodging bay traffic, perhaps even how late a night Gary's pilot has had the night before each swim.

What this shows is how conditions, which can vary widely from day to day, can have an enormouse impact on how you swim from Alcatraz.

There's a lesson here: be attentive to bay conditions; listen to briefing information from race organizers; watch where you're going as you head from Alcatraz into Crissy Field; don't assume that, because you're a hot swimmer, you'll swim the best route possible. Currents can play a major role in where you swim, in how far you swim, and in the time you record for your swim.

Check out Motion Based to see how they can help you train.

In particular, click this link to see another stunning visualization of the realities of getting away from Alcatraz.

Route &  Currents

The best advice we can give you at this time is to aim east of Sutro Tower (the 977-foot tall orange TV/radio tower hovering over the city) the ENTIRE SWIM. The slower you swim the farther east you should aim.

On race day, there will be an extremely strong current carrying you west. Strong means that if you jumped off the ferry and did nothing but float you would be swept 3 miles west to the Golden Gate Bridge within an hour. The following chart shows the strength of the currents on race day.

This means you are in a partnership with Mother Ocean. You simply swim south towards the tower & let the current carry you west towards the finish.

Swimmers way up ahead of you will be to your right (west) and your natural inclination is to follow them. THIS IS A DANGEROUS MISTAKE. They are further west because they are further south and the current has had more time to push them towards the west.

Again, AIM EAST OF THE TOWER AT ALL TIMES until directed to head otherwise by one of the kayakers or as you begin to approach the race finish! We don’t want to pick you up as you’re swept underneath the Golden Gate Bridge!

The finish is 300 yards west of the St Francis Yacht Club (while in the water look for its bright orange-red tile roof). Several large orange buoys mark the swim finish.

Transition & Run

After you exit the water, your running gear is in the transition area where you set it up.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Because of the sandy beach you cross to the transition area, you are strongly advised to put a water bottle in your bag so you can wash off your feet before putting on your running shoes.

Relay runners are staged inside the transition area. Swimmers remove the electronic timing chip from their ankle and give it to their running partner.

The run is an out and back obstacle course along the Promenade (used by bicyclists, runners and dogs) to the Golden Gate Bridge (used by gawking, gaping, oblivious, lollygagging tourists) to the vista look-out just north of the Golden Gate Bridge (used by the same gawking, gaping, oblivious, lollygagging tourists) and then back.  

Specific directions: follow your nose along the water/Promenade.

About 1.25 miles into the run, you will come to the Torpedo Fishing Wharf on your right and the Warming Hut buildings on your left. Immediately after you pass these, you will see a set of wooden steps across the road to your left. These steps are how you get up to the Golden Gate Bridge.

Volunteers (and an aid station) will be across the road from the stairs to guide you. Once up the steps, hang a right, follow the day-glo orange plastic tape tied to branches, trees and fences, go through the brick tunnel and head up the asphalt trail to the Bridge entrance. Once on the Bridge, run to the Vista parking lot at the north end of the Bridge, turn around and retrace your steps. There is an aid station with water at the turn-around.

IMPORTANT: The run course is not closed off and, in the food chain of users, you are at the very bottom, behind all other joggers, roller bladers, bicyclists, tourists, dogs, motorized traffic, etc. Do not expect to have a PR on this run course. The course has been selected for its spectacular beauty, not for speed. Take it in as you’re running. Look at the route you just swam from Alcatraz and enjoy the views.

Bridge authorities are still uncomfortable about allowing the run in the midst of all the tourists and because of 9/11 so please be courteous. All it takes is one altercation or display of bad manners to forever shut us down. Accept it: pedestrians ARE going to get in your way on the bridge! PLAY NICELY!

It is your responsibility to familiarize yourself with the run course before race day and to exercise caution, good judgment and common sense in navigating this living obstacle course. We announce last minute changes, if any, during the mandatory orientation at Fisherman’s Wharf.  


There is a maximum 3-hour cut-off time for the event. You may still complete the run if it takes you over 3 hours – you simply will not get a final time.