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Watershed Loop

See habitat restoration in action on a Tennessee Hollow Watershed nature walk.


See how habitats are being brought back to life in the park’s largest watershed.

Habitat restoration has been happening all around the Presidio for more than two decades. Some of the most interesting – and beautiful – sites can be seen on a loop that starts and ends at the Presidio Visitor Center. 

This nature walk highlights several restoration sites in the Tennessee Hollow Watershed. You’ll see where landfills have given way to landscapes and where native species flourish, while discovering bits of history along the way. 

This itinerary covers about 2.6 miles and should take about two hours. Note: it does NOT cover all the restoration sites in the watershed. To see even more, download the Tennessee Hollow Watershed Walk or take a self-guide stroll on the Tennessee Hollow Trail.

  • History
  • Nature & Sustainability
  • Recreation
Estimated Time
  • 2 hours 
Age Level
  • All Ages 
What to Bring
  • Sunscreen 
  • Comfortable shoes 
  • Extra layers 

See operating hours for:  

Mapping Your Day

Map indicating the stops on the Watershed Loop itinerary.

Itinerary Overview

  • Stop 1: Presidio Visitor Center
  • Stop 2: Quartermaster Reach Marsh
  • Stop 3: YMCA Reach
  • Stop 4: MacArthur Meadow
  • Stop 5: El Polín Spring
  • Stop 6: Thompson Reach
  • Stop 7: Final Stop – Restrooms at Presidio Transit Center

Nearest Parking

There’s a large parking lot next to the Presidio Visitor Center, just on the other side of Lincoln Boulevard near the Main Parade Lawn. See below for transit options.

Stop 1: Presidio Visitor Center

Stop into the Presidio Visitor Center to get oriented, ask questions, and pick up a map of the entire Presidio. There are digital displays located throughout this historic building that in the Army days was the Presidio’s jail.


Tip: If you didn’t pack a lunch, pick up something to go at Presidio Pop Up food truck. There are also restrooms right next door at the Presidio Transit Center.


Directions: Walk east on the Presidio Promenade Trail, which traces Lincoln Boulevard. Just before you reach Girard Road, you’ll see a sign for the Tennessee Hollow Trail. Turn left and head north on the trail until you reach your next stop – Quartermaster Reach Marsh.

Interior of Presidio Visitor Center with a park ranger talking to two visitors near a map.You’ll find displays, maps, and people who can answer questions at Presidio Visitor Center. Photo by Kirke Wrench.

Stop 2: Quartermaster Reach Marsh

When the Doyle Drive highway to the Golden Gate Bridge was replaced with the Presidio Parkway, we brought an 850-foot length of stream back above ground. Now the waters at Quartermaster Reach Marsh flow to Crissy Marsh and San Francisco Bay, creating a brackish habitat that attracts migrating birds.


Tip: Birdwatch from the elevated bridge above the marsh. Check out the storytelling signs to learn about wetland restoration and the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps, which once operated here.


Directions: Head back south along the Tennessee Hollow Trail. Cross Lincoln Boulevard to stay on the trail and reach your next stop – YMCA Reach.

Quartermaster Reach Marsh in the Presidio with a bench and pedestrian bridge. Photo by Charity Vargas.

Stop 3: YMCA Reach

In 2013-14, we removed a parking lot to create a 1.5-acre riparian corridor and seasonal freshwater wetland. We brought the creek back above ground and planted 16,000 yerba buena, Indian paintbrush,  seep monkey flower, and other native plants.


Tip: This area doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic, so pause on a bench made from a recycled tree trunk to enjoy the peaceful view.


Directions: Keep walking south on the Tennessee Hollow Trail until it intersects with Lovers’ Lane. Here you’ve reached your next stop – MacArthur Meadow.

Bench overlooking YMCA Reach.

Stop 4: MacArthur Meadow

More than a century ago, this was a naturally wet meadow where all three streams of the Tennessee Hollow Watershed came together. It was filled in so the Army could build on dry land. In 2015-2017 we restored this seasonal wetland as a wet meadow, planting 20,000 plants representing 60 native species.


Tip: Walk out on the elevated boardwalk to see the meadow from above and read the story panels along the way. Depending on the season, you could hear some ancient non-human voices, including songbirds or possibly tiny chorus frogs.


Directions: Keep following the Tennessee Hollow Trail south all the way down MacArthur Avenue, lined with former soldiers’ homes now occupied by civilians. Keep going until you reach El Polin Spring. 

Water flowing at MacArthur Meadow, with the boardwalk over the wetland.Photo by Charity Vargas.

Stop 5: El Polín Spring

This freshwater spring was used by Ohlone, Spanish, and Mexican families, and the U.S. Army. In 2011, we restored El Polín Spring, turning a paved road into a pedestrian trail and creating a wet meadow.


Presidio archaeologists continue to investigate here. They found building foundations dating from 1812 when colonial families, including Spanish Colonial businesswoman Juana Briones, built a community of houses. 


Tip: Look for six panels around the trail loop that tell the story of the people, plants, and animals who’ve inhabited this special place. El Polín is the only part of the Presidio with interpretive signs in both English and Spanish. 


Directions: Walk all the way back to the Lovers’ Lane footbridge. Turn left and walk until you reach Presidio Boulevard. Turn left and walk to Funston Avenue. Turn right on Funston and walk north. Cross Lincoln Boulevard to reach your next stop – Thompson Reach.

A photo of a restored stone spring surrounded by greenery.The restored El Polin Spring features waysides that tell the story of this special place.

Nature Notes

It’s our goal 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.

Wildlife at El Polín Spring 

With several distinctive ecological habitats converging at El Polín Spring (grasslands, dune scrubs, and riparian), you’ll find a wealth of wildlife – including, Anna’s Hummingbird and checkerspot butterflies.

Learn More
Photo of a checkerspot butterfly at El Polín Spring.Butterflies can be seen at El Polín Spring. Photo by Jon Young.

Stop 6: Thompson Reach

It’s hard to believe this area was once a landfill. In 2005, this was the first creek in the Tennessee Hollow Watershed to be “daylighted.” We removed 77,000 tons of Army-era debris and brought the stream above ground. More than 35,000 seedlings from Presidio Nursery were planted to create wildlife habitat. Since then, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of nesting birds, and stickleback fish have returned.


Tip: Check out the story panel to learn about Dora E. Thompson, for whom the site is named. She played an important role in the relief efforts after the 1906 earthquake and later became the chief nurse at Letterman General Hospital.


Directions: Walk west on the Presidio Promenade Trail along Lincoln Boulevard to reach your last stop – Presidio Transit Center.

A storytelling panel overlooking Thompson Reach.A storytelling panel overlooking Thompson Reach.

Stop 7: Final Stop - Presidio Transit Center

You can find all-gender wheelchair-accessible restrooms inside Presidio Transit Center.

Several people standing outside Presidio Transit Center, some looking at digital kiosks.

Park 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.

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