Mountain Lake is a unique jewel in the Presidio. It's one of San Francisco's last surviving natural lakes and the only natural lake in the entire 80,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It's a place where visitors can enjoy a quiet oasis and soak in a bit of natural history.
This lake is where the Presidio's story begins. For more than a thousand years, San Francisco's first people, the Ohlone, were inhabitants. It was here in 1776 that Spanish Captain Juan Bautista de Anza and his small band of explorers ended a 1,500 mile journey from the south, camping on its shores for two days – long enough to scout out exactly where they wanted to build their "presidio" or military fort (they chose the spot where the Presidio Officers' Club is today).
While explorers may have arrived on horseback, visitors can now reach the lake via the path that celebrates the captain's history – the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. It's also easy to bus, walk, or bike in from the nearby Richmond District.
From Run Down to Revival
Mountain Lake experienced rough times during the last 100 years. In 1939, a highway to the Golden Gate Bridge was built next to the lake, dramatically shrinking its size. Pesticides from the nearby golf course and run off from the highway spoiled water quality. Locals thought they were doing something good by releasing their pets into the lake – we've found goldfish, turtles, and even an alligator and a five-foot sturgeon – but these critters forced the native wildlife out and damaged the lake's ecological system.
With help from scientists, academic institutions, and volunteers, today Mountain Lake is rebounding in a big way. In 2013 and 2014, polluted soil and invasive species were removed, creating a healthy new start. Native species are now being reintroduced – from underwater plants to the Western Pond Turtle. We're even returning the Pacific Chorus Frog – the one that makes the classic "ribbit" sound you hear in Hollywood films!
Learn, Play, Explore
Nowadays Mountain Lake is a feast for the senses. Pack a picnic and hang with the family on a lakeside bench, or bring your binoculars for a water wildlife safari on the lake's south side. There are 65 bird species that visit the lake before continuing their journey along the "migratory superhighway" from Alaska to South America. Many people come just to enjoy a peaceful stroll. Restrooms and a new city playground are just steps away.
For those who want to have a deeper experience, drop in for volunteer work days every second Saturday. And from May to October, enjoy talks about the lake's history and ecology at the popular Science Saturday events.
Now it's up to all of us to support the lake's continued success – join us and take the Mountain Lake Pledge. Mountain Lake is a living classroom, an experiment in urban ecology that's setting a precedent for the world (check out the videos). This is a place where we can learn from past mistakes and understand how to preserve our natural environment in the present.
View videos about Mountain Lake's restoration >>