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Two people sitting on the edge of Mountain Lake. Photo by Myleen Hollero.

Mountain Lake

Mountain Lake is a peaceful refuge to spot native plants and wildlife, with a playground nearby.

Region

Southern Wilds Region

Type

Recreation & Wellness, Habitat, Beach

Interests

History, Kids & Family, Nature & Sustainability

Top Amenities

Restrooms, Playground, Picnic Tables, Trail Connection, Shuttle-accessible

This restored natural area is perfect for a lakeside picnic or a wildlife-spotting adventure.

Mountain Lake is a unique jewel it’s one of San Francisco’s last natural lakes, where you can enjoy a quiet experience of the outdoors and soak up natural history.

Pack a picnic and hang out on a lakeside bench or bring your binoculars to spot birds, a Western Pond turtle, or a Chorus frog. Restrooms, picnic tables, a big lawn, and a San Francisco city playground and dog park are just steps away.

Map of the Presidio

By Public Transit

Muni Route: 28 19th Avenue

Stop: Presidio Boulevard & California Street

By Presidio Go Shuttle

Route: South Hills Route

Stop: Public Health Service District

Mountain Lake Parking

If you’re looking for Presidio parking near Mountain Lake, you can find street parking on Lake Street just outside of the Presidio. 

Why We Love Mountain Lake

It’s the only natural lake in the entire 80,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and a great place to spot turtles, frogs, and birds. With a nearby playground and restrooms, a visit to the lake is a fun and free family activity in San Francisco.

Accessibility at Mountain Lake

The restrooms at Mountain Lake Park have paved pathway access. The portion of Mountain Lake Trail that circles the lake is paved.

Insider Tip

Coming with the kids? From June through September, Mountain Lake features a StoryWalk, where pages of a children’s book can be found on sign panels on the nearby trail.

Mountain Lake, with houses visible in the background. Photo by Charity Vargas.Photo by Charity Vargas.

Get to Know Mountain Lake

Early Presidio History at Mountain Lake 

For more than a thousand years, the area was inhabited by the Ohlone. In 1776, Spanish Lieutenant Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza and members of his expedition from northern Mexico camped nearby as they scouted the area for a site for the Presidio. Its initial location was near what is today the Presidio Officers’ Club. 

A Lake in Distress 

Mountain Lake experienced rough times during the last 100 years. In 1939, it shrunk dramatically when the state built a highway nearby. Vehicle runoff and pesticides deteriorated its water quality. Well-meaning locals released pets into the lake — we’ve found goldfish, turtles, and even an alligator and a five-foot sturgeon — but these critters forced out native wildlife and ​damaged the lake’s ecology. 

Restoring a Native Habitat 

For many years, the Partnership for the Presidio worked with scientists and volunteers to clean up the water and soil. This restoration has allowed many native species to be reintroduced to Mountain Lake. This is a place where we can learn from past mistakes and understand how to preserve nature for the future. 

Bird Watching at Mountain Lake

There are 65 bird species that visit the lake before continuing their journey along the “migratory superhighway” from Alaska to South America. When you spot one of these winged visitors, you can use the Birds of Mountain Lake guide to identify them.

Kids on a field trip at Mountain Lake.
Photo by Dan Friedman.

Picnic and Playground 

There is a picnic area and playground run by the City of San Francisco right next to Mountain Lake. Learn how to reserve a table.

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail 

While explorers may have arrived on horseback, visitors can now reach the lake via the path that marks the Anza expedition’s history — the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail​. This 2.7-mile route joins Mountain Lake to the Golden Gate Bridge. You can also hop on the Mountain Lake Trail.

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Frequently Asked Questions

No, fishing isn’t permitted at Mountain Lake. This is a restored habitat that wildlife ecologists are working hard to clean up and revive. A good spot for fishing in the Presidio is Torpedo Wharf near Crissy Field.

Walk north on the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail and connect to the Park Trail. You’ll reach the Golf Course General Store in about one mile.

Nature Notes

Our goal is to make sure people can enjoy the Presidio’s natural beauty for generations to come. We work to protect native plants and animals while reducing our impact on the environment.

Native Turtles Return

Learn how Presidio ecology and biology experts successfully returned native Western Pond Turtles to Mountain Lake, monitoring each turtle’s stress levels and location as they adapted to their new home. Check out the video series with more stories about Mountain Lake restoration.

Watch Video
A Western Pond turtle is reintroduced into Mountain Lake.

Aquatic Pet Rescue Box

To discourage visitors from introducing exotic aquatic plant and animal species into the lake, the Presidio Trust placed a “pet amnesty” drop box near the south shore of Mountain Lake in 2015.

Abandoning animals in the lake is cruel and illegal. Additionally, introducing plants and animals into the lake has significant detrimental impacts on the lake’s health and ecosystem. If you release an unwanted pet or other animal, it may:

  • Spread diseases
  • Prey on local animals
  • Cause ecological damage
  • Compete with local animal species for food, shelter, and nesting space
  • Lead to cascading ecosystem effects resulting in poor water quality

Please use this drop box to responsibly send your pet to a new home.  Aquatic plants, fish, frogs, salamanders, or turtles are accepted in this box and will be relocated to a rescue center.

 

This box is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is checked by staff daily.

 

For more information call 415-561-4270.

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Itineraries

Need help planning your day at the Presidio? We’ve put together some itinerary ideas for things to see and do in the park. Whether you’re planning to spend a few hours or an entire day, there’s something for everyone at the Presidio.

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We’re Here to Help

Have a question about the park? Want help planning your next visit? We’ve got you covered.

Representatives from the National Park Service, Parks Conservancy, and Presidio Trust standing in front of the Presidio Visitor Center