Presidio National Park: Exploring the Best Presidio Hiking Trails
San Francisco’s Presidio National Park has twenty-four miles of hiking trails that wind through Eucalyptus groves, run across beaches, and skirt historic batteries. When planning this hike it was impossible to choose just one section of this beautiful park. That’s why I developed this 8-mile figure-eight loop trail. This route begins at the Lyon Street Stairs, passes by The Presidio’s most famous destinations and includes all of the best views and Presidio hiking trails.
During this hike, you will discover Cypress groves and flowering dunes. You’ll walk along Baker Beach, San Francisco’s only nude beach. You’ll visit not one, but two Andy Goldsworthy sculptures, and last, but not least you’ll be treated to amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge while winding along dramatic oceanside bluffs.
Know Before You Go
The total distance for this Presidio hiking trail is 8.43 miles with 1433 feet of elevation gain. It is possible to make this route a little shorter by not completing the second loop. If you need a shorter hike check out the detailed trail notes below for an alternate route back to the trailhead.
You can download my GPS tracks from Caltopo. While most of the hiking trails in the Presidio have clear trail markers to follow, there are two trails on this route that are unmarked. I’ve included detailed notes in the description below (including landmarks to look for) so you can confidently follow the unmarked trails. In addition to the map I’ve provided above, check out the Presidio Trust’s detailed map of the park.
Parking at the trailhead is limited to street parking. There is a 2-hour time limit for parking in the area Monday-Friday.
Bathrooms are located along the trail, but there aren’t any restrooms at the trailhead.
Coyotes, hawks, and owls all call the Presidio San Francisco home, which means that you have an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the wild side of San Francisco as well. While dogs are allowed on a lot of trails in the Presidio, there is a portion of this route (the Batteries to Bluffs Trail) that does not allow dogs. In addition, during pupping season (typically from the early-Spring into the Fall) the park closes many trails to dogs to protect both dogs and the healthy population of resident coyotes. For this reason I don’t recommend bringing dogs on this hike. If you want to learn more about the Presidio coyotes and learn about current trail closures visit the Presidio Trust’s coyote page.
Best Time to Explore the Presidio Hiking Trails
Because San Francisco has such mild weather this mix of Presidio hiking trails is a great loop to do all year-round. The stretch of trails along the western side of the park are more exposed and you’ll want to make sure that you have sunblock. Most of the trails have shade, but there’s no escaping the sun when you’re hiking the stretch along Baker Beach and the Batteries to Bluffs Trail.
Beginning at the famous Lyon Street Stairs, the Presidio San Francisco loop combines many shorter trail segments to create an all-encompassing hike featuring the Presidio San Francisco’s best highlights. In this hike you’ll travel along the California Coastal Trail, the Batteries to Bluffs Trail, and the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
Detailed Trail Guide
Take in the view from the top of the Lyon Street Stairs before entering through the black iron gate on the corner of Lyon and Broadway Streets. Walk down the path following signs for Mountain Lake Trail. After.10 mile cross Presidio Boulevard and cross W. Pacific Ave continue on the Mountain Lake Trail.
Just passing after a small parking area on W. Pacific the trail veers to the right. Follow the wide sandy path downhill. The trail alternates between dirt and pavement. After passing the playground the trail starts to go uphill and fragrant pines and cypress trees line the path.
At the top of the hill the path will begin to curve to the right and there will be a crosswalk on the left. Use the crosswalk to cross the street and make a right to continue toward Arguello Street. Cross Arguello Street and walk into the golf club’s parking lot. About half way through the parking lot you’ll see a sign for the Mountain Lake Trail. Continue straight passing through a white and yellow gate and walking with the golf course on your right.
When the trail splits at Mountain Lake stay to the right on the paved Anza Trail/Mountain Lake Trail. Continue to follow the path as it goes under the bridge and slightly uphill. At the top of the hill you’ll reach a 3-way trail junction. Take the path to the left for a short distance before taking the first set of stairs on your right, following signs for Mountain Lake Trail.
At the top of the stairs use the wooden boardwalk to cross through the meadow. After .2 miles pass the U.S. Marine Hospital Cemetery viewpoint before arriving at a brick building and Battery Caulfield Road. Cross the street and take the unmarked trail directly across the street. Follow the sandy trail into the cypress grove. Pass several smaller trails, and when you reach a Y in the trail take the unmarked path on your left and go downhill. When the trail splits again, stay to the right and walk along the trail closest to the fence.
Continue straight to pick-up the Lobos Creek Valley Trail. This is a self-guided interpretive trail. You can pick-up a trail guide at the start of the trail if you’d like to follow along with the numbered steps as the boardwalk winds through hardy native plants that thrive in the sand dunes. At the end of the trail use the crosswalk to cross Lincoln Boulevard.
After you cross the street there will be a paved road on your right, a dirt fire road on your left, and a small unmarked trail in the middle. (The trail is almost directly behind the bench.) As you continue on the trail you’ll pass a house with a Japanese pagoda on your left. Continue to stay straight on the trail as it narrows into a single track with the creek on your left and some sort of industrial service building on your right. There are patches of poison oak in some places so watch what you brush up against as you walk on this short stretch of narrow trail before you reach Baker Beach.
Walk along the beach towards the Golden Gate Bridge. (There’s a restroom located in the Baker Beach parking area.) As you make your way towards the bridge you’ll notice some paths leading from the beach up the bluffs. Pass the first two trails (a wide sandy trail and a sand ladder) and take the third trail. When you start to see naked people and photographers taking photos of the bridge you’ll know that you’re getting close.
Baker Beach is San Francisco’s only nude beach and even on the coldest of days you can find people shedding their clothes here! Take the sand ladder up the bluff. When you reach the top hang a left and follow signs for the Golden Gate Bridge. After about 100 feet, take the Batteries to Bluffs Trail. Continue straight on the trail following signs for Marshall’s Beach and the Golden Gate Bridge. You can explore Battery Crosby from below, before climbing the wood stairs and following the trail across the top of the battery.
After you walk over Battery Crosby continue to follow the trail as it goes down some wood stairs. You’ll get a stellar view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin headlands as the trail snakes around the bluffs. You can take a signed detour and walk a short 300 feet to Marshall’s Beach, a small rocky beach, before heading up the stairs and starting your climb back up the bluffs.
At the top of the bluff take the trail to the left. When you meet with a wide trail continue straight and follow signs for Battery Godfrey Vista Point. After taking in the views head back to the Batteries to Bluffs trail and follow the wide path as it curves left and passes the Batteries to Bluffs trail.
Make an immediate left and follow the path through Battery Godfrey. When the trail splits make a right and go up the short set of wood stairs before making a left onto the main trail next to the parking lot. Follow signs for the Golden Gate Bridge as you cross a pedestrian bridge and follow the trail as it leads to the base of the bridge.
As you walk under the Golden Gate Bridge make sure to stay in the dirt pedestrian path on the left so that bikes can pass in the lanes on the right.
When the path splits at the Golden Gate Bridge promenade stay left to follow the lower path on the Battery East trail. Follow the Battery East Trail as it hooks left and goes toward the Bay Trail and Presidio Promenade. Follow the switchback and take the path to your right (before you go down the stairs). When the path ends at Long Avenue cross the street and continue straight on the paved path, getting views of Crissy Field and the downtown skyline.
Continue straight, crossing the Crissy Field bike path and walking under the bridge. Follow the sign for the Presidio Promenade as you veer left and follow the paved path past the Cavalry Stables and horse corral before reaching McDowell Avenue. Make a right to follow the Park Trail.
Stay on the Park Trail for a block before crossing McDowell and Lincoln to continue on the Park Trail toward the Cemetery Overlook. Follow the trail markers as the Park Trail switchbacks across the hillside. When you reach the National Cemetery Overlook take in the views before continuing straight.
When the trail splits stay on the paved path on the right and follow signs for the Bay Area Ridge Trail. You’ll pass through a neighborhood and briefly walk alongside Washington Boulevard. When the road narrows use the crosswalk to cross Washington and continue on the Bay Area Ridge Trail toward the Arguello Gate and Inspiration Point.
The trail is a wide dirt path lined with a grove of cypress trees on the left and a thick stand of Eucalyptus trees on the right. Continue to follow signs for the Bay Area Ridge Trail as it hooks to the left. You’ll soon see Andy Goldsworthy’s Spire statue in the distance.
Spire was Andy Goldsworthy’s first sculpture for the Presidio (he now has four sculptures in the park). Many of the cypress trees in the park were planted by the U.S. Army in the 1880s and are now reaching the end of their life. With help from the park’s forestry crew Andy carefully stitched together the trunks of three aging cypress trees to create this 100 foot tall pyramid. Check out the Spire up close before continuing on the trail. The path soon comes to an end at the Presidio Golf Club and Arguello Avenue. Use the crosswalk to cross Arguello.
If you are tired you can follow signs for the Bay Area Ridge trail and make a right to connect with the Mountain Lake Trail and retrace your steps back to the trailhead.
If you still have some energy left in you make a left here and head towards Inspiration Point. After admiring the view of the Presidio and the Bay take the Ecology trail (look for the trail marker to the right of the overlook) down the stairs. Make a left at the bottom of the stairs and head towards El Polin Springs and the Main Post.
At the next junction make a right and head toward El Polin Springs. When you reach a junction with a wide fire road continue straight to take the smaller unmarked trail. Go down some wood stairs and make a left when you reach the El Polin Springs picnic area. (There is also a bathroom here.) Follow the sidewalk along McArthur Avenue and walk through the neighborhood. Continue to follow the sidewalk, crossing the street and turning right when the road curves.
Make a right at the crosswalk to pick-up Lovers Lane (on your left there will be a bridge going over the creek) and follow the narrow paved path uphill. Shortly after crossing Liggett Avenue take the dirt trail to your left and follow the path as it curves slightly to the right.
Follow the logs as they snake up the hill. This is Wood Line, Any Goldsworthy’s second statue for the Presidio. This sculpture is 1200 feet long and the logs seamlessly increase in size as you make your way uphill. The logs on this statue come from Eucalypus trees that were removed for various park projects. If you want to add a fun challenge to your hike try walking on top of the logs as you make your way uphill!
At the top the trail, cross Presidio Boulevard and retrace your steps for .10 mile as the Mountain Lake Trail leads you back to the Broadway gate trailhead.
The trail begins at the Broadway entrance into the park, located at the top of the scenic Lyon Street Stairs. You'll see your first trail marker after passing through the black iron gate in the wall at the top of the stairs, near the intersection of Broadway and Lyon Street.
This figure-eight loop is 8.43 miles long. The terrain varies drastically throughout the hike. You’ll walk on boardwalks over sensitive san dunes, climb a steep sand ladder, and wind along stairways and narrow trails that hug the bluffs.
Start your hike on the Mountain Lake Trail and continue on the relatively flat trail for nearly 2 miles. After you pass Mountain Lake and go under the 19th Avenue bridge you'll go up a set of stairs to continue to the Marine Cemetery Vista.
Then take your first unmarked trail to connect to the Lobos Creek Valley Trail. After crossing Lincoln Boulevard you'll take another unmarked trail that starts off wide before turning into a narrow single track that runs along Lobos Creek and leads you to Baker Beach.
Walk along Baker Beach for a half-mile before taking the sand ladder up to meet Lincoln Boulevard and connect to the Batteries to Bluffs trail. Stay on the Batteries to Bluffs trail as it winds along the cliffs for .7 miles before it ends at Battery Godfrey.
Explore Battery Godfrey before walking to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge and connecting with the Battery East trail to the Presidio Promenade.
You'll follow the bike trail for a short distance before connecting with the 1.7-mile Park Trail and visiting the National Cemetery Overlook. Connect with the Ridge Trail to visit Andy Goldsworthy's Spire sculpture before heading to the Inspiration Point Overlook. (If you need to shorten the hike you retrace your steps on the Mountain Lake trail and head back to the trailhead from this point.)
From Inspiration Point pick-up the Ecology Trail and take it to El Polin Spring picnic area. After walking through a neighborhood for 3 blocks you'll take Lover's Lane to Andy Goldworthy's Woodline sculpture. From here it is a short distance back to the trailhead.
- Street Parking is available, but is limited to 2-hours during the week. Parking in San Francisco can be difficult and depending on the day you might need to park a few blocks away from the trailhead. You can also take the PresidioGo, a free shuttle that runs from downtown to the Presidio seven days a week.
- Fee: No fee
- Restrooms available at multiple locations throughout the hike. No restroom at the trailhead.
- Seasonal campground available by reservation only
Like all outdoor pursuits, hiking can be dangerous. It is up to you to assess your fitness level and education yourself about any potential dangers. While I try to regularly update these hiking guides, you should always research trail conditions before heading out.
Being prepared means arriving at the trailhead with water and some basic provisions. Each and every time I hit the trail I bring a backpack with more water than I think I need, a small first aid kit, and a snack. I also share my itinerary and plans with friends or family and I carry an InReach so I can summon help if needed. If you want to know what I carry in my pack during day hikes check out my blog post about essential gear for day hikers.
Stay safe, enjoy the trail, and soak up the magic of nature!
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