Lake Merced, a freshwater lake in San Francisco’s southwestern corner, is a beloved institution in the local running community. Its 4.5-mile loop draws runners and walkers from the surrounding neighborhoods, and it is also home to several nationally recognized road races.
While Lake Merced’s brackish waters are unsuitable for swimming, crew teams from nearby high schools are often seen practicing there. Contrary to outdated public information, boats are no longer available for rent at the boat house. Private, non-motorized vessels are able to launch from the public ramp, however.
Once a vibrant coastal lagoon, Lake Merced’s water quality and depth had been on the decline through most of the 19th and 20th centuries due to pumping, pollution, and adjacent development.
Today, while still struggling to regain balance in the densely populated urban environment, Lake Merced’s water levels and wildlife are on the mend. The lake is recovering from years of negligence with the support of the now disbanded Lake Merced Task Force, CalTrout, and San Francisco Parks and Recreation.
The lake, which is actually divided into three bodies of water by land bridges, is stocked with fish that can be caught year round. A license is required to fish in all areas. A daily permit is also needed to fish in the North Lake, which is stocked seasonally with trout. Contact San Francisco Recreation and Parks at 415.831.5500 to purchase a daily fishing permit.
A public, non-profit trap and skeet shooting concession lies on the south end of the lake in addition to an San Francisco Police Department shooting range. Gunfire can often be heard in the vicinity, but it is no cause for alarm.
Restrooms and day use picnic areas can be found near the entrance of Harding Park Golf Course off of Skyline Boulevard.