Inspiration Point,
The Presidio of San Francisco/National Park Service,
San Francisco County
In brief:
Easy 2.9 mile hike through the historic Presidio.

Distance, category, and difficulty
This 2.9 mile loop hike is easy, with only a few hills. Presidio elevation varies only slightly; the trailhead sits at about 265 feet, and this hike's lowest spot is about 50 feet. Total elevation gain for the hike is 454 feet.

Mix of shade and sun.

Trail traffic

Trail surfaces
Dirt trails and paved sidewalks.

Hiking time
1 1/2 hours.

Nice any time. Spectacular in early spring.

Getting there
From CA 1/Park Presidio Boulevard in San Francisco, turn east onto Lake Street (if you're arriving from the north, you can't turn left onto Lake, so go one more block and turn right on California, then turn right on 15th Avenue, and right again on Lake). Drive east on Lake about 0.75 mile, then turn north (left) onto Arguello Boulevard. Drive about 0.3 mile on Arguello, through the Arguello Gate and into the Presidio. Proceed on Arguello about 0.2 mile, to the Inspiration Point trailhead on the right side of the road.

Get driving or public transit directions from Transit and Trails:

GPS Coordinates* for Trailhead:
Latitude 3747'31.50"N
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Gas, food, and lodging:
Not much within walking distance of the trailhead. Further north in the Presidio, Crissy Field Center has a small cafe with sandwiches and coffee, and the Warming Hut serves food as well. Gas, stores, and more restaurant options on California Street. No camping.

Trailhead details:
Small parking lot, with one designated handicapped spot. No restrooms or drinking water (there are restrooms along the hike). There are maps on an interpretive panel, but none to take with you. No parking or entrance fees. The trails departing from this trailhead are not well-suited to wheelchairs. This trailhead is accessible by public transportation: several Muni bus lines run along California Street, a short distance from the trailhead, and there's a Presidio shuttle bus stop at the trailhead. Gas, pay phones, stores, and restaurants in surrounding neighborhoods. Read some cautions about urban hikes.

Trails are multi-use, although equestrians are unlikely. Dogs are permitted on leash only. Trails are open from dawn to dusk.

The Official Story:
William J. Mott, Jr. Visitor Center 415-561-4323
NPS's Presidio page
The Presidio Trust website has a wealth of information regarding the Presidio.

Map Choices:
• The Walker's Map of San Francisco, by Pease Press is perfect for this hike.
• Use a detailed San Francisco street map to get there, and navigate the hike. AAA's San Francisco map is good.
Presidio Map
• NPS Map

View photos from this hike (old, out of date route -- included here for historical purposes).

Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page

At first glance the 1,480 acres of the Presidio may seem to blur the boundary between town and country, but in the time I've spent rambling here, I've found sharp contrasts. Hiking paths that terminate at paved street intersections. Patches of native plants mixed throughout acres of invasive and non-native vegetation. Pigeons and seagulls, hummingbirds and hawks. History, views, tourists and locals. The Presidio seems to have it all; some would say it's the park that couldn't say no.Ecology Trail     This former military installation is home to an astounding inventory, including a golf course, human and pet cemeteries, early San Francisco historical buildings, stables, tennis courts, playgrounds, bunkers, batteries, forts, houses, offices, memorials, exhibition halls, restaurants, beaches, a lake, forests, and fields. Residential and business tenants have moved into the Presidio, and this section of San Francisco has become a perfectly planned community, where residents can stroll from their rental units along shaded wildflower-lined paths to a lecture, movie, or even back and forth from work. Somehow, this place just plain works. Lovers' Lane at Tennessee Hollow
     It's unusual to hike in the Presidio without spending some time walking along or near roads. Coastal Trail, departing to the north from Baker Beach, offers the best views of the ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Marin Headlands. The out-and-back Bay Area Ridge Trail segment cuts a broad swath through the Presidio, beginning at the Arguello Gate and meandering 2.5 miles (one way) to the Golden Gate Bridge, on its way to Marin. Juan Bautista de Anza National Historical Trail is just one tiny part of a massive historical trail stretching from Mexico to San Francisco. The path, which begins in the Presidio near Mountain Lake, is kind of an organic monument to de Anza's expedition from Mexico to the Bay Area. The hike described on this page is a mix of old and new, city and wild. Lovers' Lane
     Start at Inspiration Point, where a parking lot and interpretive area were built in 2001. You'll likely be drawn to the viewpoint -- on a clear day there are great views of the bay, Angel Island, and Alcatraz. Native plants rim the overlook, including California coffeeberry, coyote brush, and bush lupine. Look for signed Ecology Trail departing downhill on the south side of the parking lot, and walk down the stairs. After a short descent through ceanothus shrubs, you'll reach a T junction. Turn left.
     Fences protect serpentine grassland on the right. According to an interpretive sign, this small grassy area is the last San Francisco home to the native wildflowers tidytips, Presidio clarkia, and Marin dwarf flax. Plan a visit in April for the peak of the bloom. As the wide trail angles across the hillside, you'll pass through a restoration area, where you might see park staff and volunteers working to replenish the grassland with native plants. Ecology Trail descends to a junction at 0.13 mile. Turn left.Wood Line
      There's a thick stand of redwoods on the right and a few toyon shrubs, but as the trail exits grassland most of the vegetation is non-native, with eucalyptus, Monterey pine, acacia, and broom dominant. Monterey cypress, a California native, is also present, but like the imports, these cypress trees were planted. Unsigned paths cross and depart from the trail, but it's easy enough to stay on course as the trail gently descends. At 0.41 mile, the trail reaches a junction with a substantially-sized trail leading right to Barnard. Stay to the left. Fennel, nasturtium, and blackberry, all edible plants, are common along the trail. At 0.51 mile, you'll reach an unsigned multiple junction. Bear right, and at 0.52 mile, you'll reach the end of the dirt trail, and a paved street, Funston. Continue right (straight) on Funston.
     After just a few yards, before the junction of Funston and Moraga, turn right down a set of steps. At the base, turn left and walk along the side of Barnard. At 0.6 mile, just before the junction with Presidio, turn right onto Lovers' Lane.
     The path squeezes between some towering eucalyptus with blackberry in the understory, then crosses a tiny creek on an old bridge (circa 1885) and enters Tennessee Hollow, a broad grassy, bowl-shaped meadow. The path, straight as an arrow, crosses MacArthur and heads uphill. Lovers' Lane is a historic trail, used by soldiers as a direct route to the Mission 3 miles southeast as early as 1776! Although Lovers' Lane is lined with a forest of eucalyptus, cypress, pine, and ornamentals, traffic on nearby busy Presidio Boulevard is audible and visible to the left. El Polin Springs
    When Lovers' Lane crosses Liggett, hop across the drainage channel on an obvious path to the left. After a few steps, you'll reach the lower end of Andy Goldsworthy's Wood Line, installed in 2010. Culled eucalyptus trunks snake uphill -- follow them to the work's terminus, then turn right and rejoin Lovers' Lane heading uphill. At 1.6 miles, Lovers' Lane continues straight toward the Presidio Gate -- instead, turn right onto Ecology Trail.
     Initially the path follows along the side of W. Pacific Avenue. This is a confusing section of the Presidio, and you're worried about getting lost, follow the path along W. Pacific Avenue to Julius Kahn Park (the playground), then turn north and follow the remaining directions into El Polin Springs. Everyone else, turn right into the planted cypress forest and follow any wide path leading northwest. If you've navigated successfully, you'll pass a sports field then reach an unsigned junction at 1.9 miles. Turn right.
     The charming path begins a gentle ascent through planted natives, including twinberry, bush lupine, and coyote brush. A switchback drops the path down to El Polin Springs and a junction at 2.1 miles.
      This oasis, restored in 2011, is one of the Presidio's treasures. The nearly flat path loops around a large lovely large willow, with planted osoberry, ceanothus, twinberry, elderberry, willow, and thimbleberry in the understory. El Polin Springs flows through the middle on a constructed channel. Birds love the tangle of vegetation in this area, and you might see and hear many natives such as juncos, flickers, hummingbirds, and crowned sparrows. Springtime flowers here include blue-eyed grass, iris, and California buttercup. Walk around the spring area on the path, then head north toward MacArthur Avenue (there are restrooms at the edge of the parking lot here). Near the charming picnic/bbq area, turn left onto signed Connector Trail.the Spire
     Once up a steep set of steps, the path steps out from the shaded forest to a junction at 2.3 miles. Turn left.
     Wide Quarry Trail sweeps easily uphill. There are nice views back down to El Polin Spring on the left, and on the right toyon trees dot the grassland where patches of goldenfields, California poppies, and ookow bloom in spring. At 2.4 miles a trail heads back to the south on the left. Continue uphill to the right. Look for Presidio clarkia and buckwheat blooming here on the hillside to the right in mid-May.
     The trail ascends somewhat steeply back into the shade of cypress and eucalyptus. At 2.5 miles there's a crossroads junction. Continue straight uphill to a second junction at 2.6 miles, at the side of Arguello Boulevard. Turn right and after a few steps, cross Arguello at the signed crosswalk.
      A nearly-level wide path leads to the Spire. Soaring 90 feet, Andy Goldsworthy's 2008 sculpture is constructed of Monterey cypress trunks. When you're ready, retrace your steps back to the side of Arguello, cross, turn left, and walk on the side of the road path to Inspiration Point trailhead.

Total distance : 2.9 miles
Last hiked: April 27, 2014