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Man with a stroller and woman carrying baby walking down Mountain Lake Trail

Jun 22, 2017

PRESIDIO KIDS: Three Kid-Friendly Ways to Explore Mountain Lake as a Family

The lake is a wonderful place for families to learn about birds, native plants, and early residents.


If there’s one place we could agree where San Francisco REALLY began, it would have to be at Mountain Lake – one of the last natural lakes in the City and the only natural lake in the entire Golden Gate National Recreation Area. For centuries, Mountain Lake has been a place for families to gather. The Ohlone established villages near the lake and in 1776, this was where Captain Juan Bautista de Anza’s expedition party camped before founding their military fort, or “presidio,” at San Francisco Bay.

In recent years, a restoration effort carried out with support from academic institutions, volunteers, and conservationists has brought the lake’s ecosystem back to life. It’s now a wonderful place for kids and families to learn about birds, native plants, and the early residents of this area. There are also geocache locations at the lake and some wonderful art exhibits – including kids art along the north trail. Come see for yourself with these three fun Mountain Lake adventures for kids and families.

1. Take a “StoryWalk”

Kids running down path on left. I Wrote You a Note illustration cover on right.

What happens when you create a mashup between a library and a park? A StoryWalk, of course! Created in partnership with the San Francisco Public Library and Chronicle Books, the Mountain Lake StoryWalk invites kids to have a reading adventure in the outdoors. As you walk around the lake, look for pages from the popular children’s book I Wrote You a Note by Lizi Boyd arranged on 14 signs sprinkled along the trail with a hidden wooden box at the end. The story itself follows a note’s unexpected journey as animals and insects use it as a hat, to make their nests, or as a boat or bridge. The experience is perfect for kids aged 2 to 8, but the child in all of us will enjoy the sense of surprise and discovery that StoryWalk provides.

2. Enjoy the Playground at Mountain Lake Park

Kids and families playing on Mountain Lake Park Playground

In June 2017, San Francisco Recreation and Parks unveiled a new treasure – a remodeled playground at Mountain Lake Park, located just a few yards from the lake itself. The park has bathrooms, a water fountain, a slide, swings, and wonderful things for kids to climb on and explore. As you walk through the playground, you may notice wildlife footprints on the ground, play structures in the toddler area echoing the frogs and turtles you’ll see at the lake, and play structures inspired by the tulle reed found at the lake. There’s also a table and a few grassy slopes nearby – perfect for an impromptu picnic ​before setting off on your next Mountain Lake adventure.

3. Discover Colorful Wayside Exhibits around the Lake

Three kids pointing and reading wayside at Mountain Lake

If you want to find out more about the native plants and animals at Mountain Lake, stroll around the perimeter to discover the colorful wayside exhibits. You can start anywhere along the lake and visit them all. Each exhibit explores a different topic – such as the birds in the trees or hidden underwater life. The waysides not only tell a wonderful story, but they also include vivid artwork from local artist and conservationist, Liam O’Brien. The exhibits include fun games, encouraging kids of all ages to search for and discover the natural wonders all around them.

Looking for more adventures in the park? Check out these family fun adventures in the Presidio. >>