Before Golden Gate Park’s builders transformed the landscape, there were 14 marshy lakes nestled within the sand dunes that covered this part of San Francisco. Now only five remain, including the Chain of Lakes — North, Middle, and South — although they have been substantially altered. The rest of the park’s lakes are artificial.
The Chain of Lakes is a welcome respite from the city’s hustle and bustle. In spring, songbirds trill in the bushes and hummingbirds and dragonflies dart here and there, flashing brilliantly in the sunshine. The paved path that follows North Lake’s perimeter is a favorite of parents pushing strollers, as well as joggers and dog-walkers. Middle Lake feels a little wilder, with thick vegetation and a dirt trail meandering through a eucalyptus forest.
The lakes are a favored spot for birdwatching, attracting many migrant species as well as year-round residents. Middle Lake, bordered by dense vegetation on three sides, has the best birding opportunities, with many migrant land birds, including tanagers, warblers, and vireos. North Lake, the largest, is known for attracting water birds, many of which take shelter on its small islands. You may see egrets, great blue herons, belted kingfishers, and many types of ducks. Tiny South Lake attracts the least birds, but there are usually at least a few ducks to be seen.
The Chain of Lakes stretch along Chain of Lakes Drive from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive at the park’s southern end to Fulton Street, at its northern edge.