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Mountain Lake Trail Presidio hike with interesting sights to explore

Mountain Lake Trail is a remarkable San Francisco Presidio hike because there is so much to see and explore along the way.


Mountain Lake Trail is one of several great hikes in San Francisco’s Presidio. The remarkable feature of this Presidio hike is that there are so many interesting things to see along the way. As you walk the trail, take time, and a couple of short detours, to explore and appreciate the flora, art, and views.

Here are seven visit worthy stops that are at or near the trail:

  1. At Broadway Gate, pause for the view at the top of the Lyon Street Steps.
  2. Wander through the 1,200-foot-long Wood Line sculpture.
  3. Be inspired with a short detour to Inspiration Point.
  4. Stop at the garden along the trail at Presidio Wall Playground.
  5. Read the signage, birdwatch, or find a bench to sit at Mountain Lake.
  6. Checkout the dune restoration project and the view along the boardwalk through Marine Cemetery Vista.
  7. Enjoy the view, and possibly a sunset, at Baker Beach.

For more ideas about things to do and see in San Francisco, visit our San Francisco Itinerary article.

This article covers these subjects:

Mountain Lake seen from Mountain Lake Trail in Presidio National Park, San Francisco.
Mountain Lake.

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Mountain Lake Trail at a Glance

Distance (1-way)2.6 miles
DifficultyModerate
AccessibleNo
KidsYes
Dogs (leashed)Yes
BikesPart way
Food, waterYes
RestroomsYes
Dogs must be leashed and may not be allowed on some parts of the trail during coyote pupping season.

Location: on the southern edge of Presidio National Park between Broadway Gate and Baker Beach.

Mountain Lake Trail Map

Link to Google Map with the trail plotted and transit stops pinned:

Map with Mountain Lake Trail plotted and pins marking points of interest and nearby transit stops.
Click the map image to open in Google Maps.

The trail follows along the southern edge of Presidio National Park between Broadway Gate and Baker Beach. It’s mostly flat and easy. Parts of the trail are paved but most of it is dirt with gravel or sand. There are stairs and some hilly parts on the west end between Veterans Boulevard and Baker Beach.

Signage marking the trail is great in some parts, and not so great in others. You may get off the trail, but you really can’t get lost. Most of the trail between Broadway Gate and Mountain lake is either parallel to West Pacific Avenue or along the edge of Presidio Golf Couse.

The trail is also easy to follow from Mountain Lake through the boardwalk area and Marine Cemetery Vista. But after you reach Point E on the Google Map (at Wedemeyer St. near Playgroup School) there are multiple trails to Baker Beach, and pretty much anything heading west will get you there. The most direct path is through the Baker Beach Apartment complex.

Things to See on the Mountain Lake Trail Presidio Hike

The trail passes by or very near these seven visit worthy sights:

View from the top of the Lyon Street Steps in San Francisco overlooking the garden, steps, and the bay.
View from the top of the Lyon Street Steps by Broadway Gate.

Lyon Street Steps

If you begin (or end) the trail at the Presidio Broadway Gate, be sure and stop for the great view at the top of the Lyon Street steps. The steps go through a well-manicured garden and overlook the Marina District and San Francisco Bay in the distance. It’s a favorite photo op.

Wood Line is a sculpture of logs set in a zigzag pattern forming a serene 1,200-foot path through a eucalyptus grove.
Wood Line, a 1,200-foot sculpture by artist Andy Goldsworthy. It’s very near Mountain Lake Trail’s east end.

Wood Line Sculpture

This 1,200-foot sculpture, by artist Andy Goldsworthy, is a line of eucalyptus logs laid end-to-end on the forest floor. The curved logs form a stream of s-curves through a grove of eucalyptus trees. It’s a peaceful, pleasant path.

Inspiration Point Overlook

Just before Arguello Blvd, take a short detour to Inspiration Point. It overlooks Tennessee Hollow and has a great view of San Francisco Bay, Angel Island, and Alcatraz. The domed building in your line-of-sight between Inspiration Point and Alcatraz is the Palace of Fine Arts.

Views of flowers and plants seen in an amazing garden on a Presidio trail by the Presidio Wall Playground.
It’s a jungle in there! A few closeups of the beautiful garden bordering Presidio Wall Playground.

Garden at Presidio Wall Playground

If you’re a garden lover, this garden alone makes the trail worth hiking. Nick Soumie, a very talented gardener for the Parks and Recreation Department, has, over the last couple of decades, transformed the narrow strip between the Presidio Wall Playground and the street into a remarkable garden. It’s a dense jungle with a huge variety of shrubs and flowers.

Name Change: Presidio Wall is a new name for this playground. Until late 2019, it was the Julius Kahn Playground.

View of Mountain Lake beach from Mountain Lake Presidio Trail, San Francisco.
Mountain lake beach with Mountain Lake Playground in the background.

Mountain Lake

There are fun kid-oriented signs along the trail by the lake. It’s called a StoryWalk and each sign introduces one of the small creatures that live around the lake — like dragonflies or snails — and invites children to follow the story and look for creatures mentioned in the story.

Three newly hatched baby ducks on Mountain Lake beach in San Francisco.
Baby ducks on Mountain Lake beach.

Mountain Lake is one of only 3 remaining natural lakes in San Francisco, and for thousands of years, it provided fresh water for the local inhabitants. But from the 1800s on, it was terribly abused.

The lake was a dumping ground for unwanted pets and construction projects, including the Highway 1 approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. Overtime, its size and depth were dramatically reduced. It was horribly polluted and overrun with invasive plants and non-native fish, turtles, and frogs.

Sign on Mountain Lake Trail describing the wildlife in Mountain Lake.
Sign about Mountain Lake’s inhabitants.

Beginning in 2012, the lake underwent a huge remediation and restoration project. The cleanup included removing 17,500 cubic yards of contaminated sediment. Non-native species were removed and the remaining native fish, turtles, and frogs were rescued and sent to new homes.

Now that it’s been cleaned, the lake has a sophisticated filtration system to keep the water clear. 14,000 native plants were planted in and around the lake and native fish, frogs, and turtles were returned.

Presidio trail sign by the stairs up to the dune habitat boardwalk on Mountain Lake Trail.
Trail sign and stairs leading to the dune habitat boardwalk.
Presidio National Park’s Mountain Lake Trail goes through a dune habitat restoration project on a boardwalk.
West of Mountain Lake, a section of the trail is on a boardwalk. This is to protect the dune habitat restoration area.

Dune Habitat and Marine Cemetery Vista

After passing under Veterans Boulevard, and up a flight of stairs, the trail continues on a boardwalk that meanders through a newly restored area of dune habitat.

Section of Mountain Lake Presidio Trail meandering through the Marine Cemetery Vista area.
Section of the trail by the Marine Cemetery Memorial.

The area is called Marine Cemetery Vista because it was once the site of a Marine Hospital. From 1881 to 1912 more than 500 sailors were buried here. The vista is a memorial to honor them.

Baker Beach in San Francisco with a closeup view of the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
Baker Beach.

Baker Beach

Baker Beach, on the Pacific Ocean side of San Francisco is a beautiful and popular beach with a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It has parking and restrooms.

Getting to Mountain Lake Presidio Trail

Parking

  • Parking along the trail: There’s not a lot of it, but there is free parking on parts of West Pacific Avenue. It’s 3-hour parking between Presidio Avenue and Arguello Blvd, and 2-hour parking across from the Presidio Golf Course.
  • Parking at the west end: Baker Beach has a large free lot, but it can fill up on weekends.

Public Transit

  • To Broadway Gate (east end): Take a 1 California bus (toward 33rd Avenue or Presidio Avenue) and get off at Presidio Avenue. Walk 7-blocks north to the Broadway Gate at Broadway and Lyon. The 1 California bus travels on Sacramento Street from Drumm (Embarcadero Center) to Steiner and then on California to either Presidio Avenue or 33rd Avenue.
  • To Baker Beach (west end): Take a 1 California or a 38 or 38R Geary bus to 25th Avenue. On 25th Avenue, take a 29 Sunset bus inbound to Baker Beach.

If you’re not familiar with San Francisco public transit, you may want details about fares, ways to pay, apps, and maps. We have all of that covered in this article: Getting Around San Francisco on Public Transit.

Good Things to Know

  • Restrooms: There are restrooms at Baker Beach, Mountain Lake Park, and at the Presidio Wall Playground.
  • Food plus Restrooms: The Presidio Café serves good food and has really nice restrooms. The Presidio Golf Course is a public course; the Café is located inside the clubhouse and is near the trail.

Conclusion

Mountain Lake is one of my favorite Presidio hikes. In addition to 2.6 miles of healthy exercise there is so much to explore and see along the way. You can easily spend half a day wandering this trail, so consider bringing lunch or taking a break at the Presidio Golf Course Clubhouse Café.

For more great urban trails, checkout our Hiking in San Francisco article.

About the Author

Ginny Vail is a travel writer who loves travel planning, sightseeing, photography, and videography. She’s visited all 50 states and traveled around the world. Her articles focus on discovering places to go, sights to see, and details about when and how visit them.