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Exploring the Serenity of Blue Heron Lake: A Gem in Golden Gate Park

Nestled within the verdant expanse of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Blue Heron Lake, more commonly known as Stow Lake, and Strawberry Hill offer a tranquil escape from the urban rush. This area, with its rich history, diverse wildlife, and recreational opportunities, has long been a cherished spot for both locals and tourists seeking to connect with nature and explore the city’s natural beauty.

History and Transformation

Stow Lake -Now Blue Heron Lake, established in 1893, is the largest of the artificial lakes within Golden Gate Park. Its creation was part of a movement to provide scenic beauty and recreational spaces for the city’s residents. The lake was named after William W. Stow, a park commissioner who played a crucial role in its development. Strawberry Hill, the island at the center of Stow Lake, was named for the wild strawberries that once flourished there. The hill offers panoramic views of the city and serves as a historical landmark, where an observatory stood before being destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.

Today’s Blue Heron Lake and Strawberry Hill

Today, Blue Heron Lake and Strawberry Hill remain pivotal attractions within Golden Gate Park. Visitors can rent boats to navigate the tranquil waters of Stow Lake, enjoying a leisurely paddle around Strawberry Hill. The lake is encircled by a path that provides a picturesque setting for walking, jogging, and nature observation. The Golden Gate Pavilion, a gift from Taipei to San Francisco, stands as an emblem of friendship between the two cities and adds a touch of exotic beauty to the landscape.

Wildlife and Flora

The area is a haven for a wide array of wildlife. Birdwatchers can spot various waterfowl and, if lucky, the eponymous blue herons that grace the lake. Turtles basking on logs are a common sight, much to the delight of visitors. The lush vegetation around the lake includes water-loving plants that create a natural boundary between the lake and the walking path, adding to the area’s serene atmosphere.

Not to Be Missed

  • Boat Rentals: The Blue Heron Lake Boathouse offers rowboats and pedal boats for rent, allowing visitors to explore the lake at their own pace.
  • Huntington Falls: This man-made waterfall on Strawberry Hill was funded by railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington, adding a dynamic water feature to the landscape.
  • Strawberry Hill Summit: For those willing to make the climb, the summit of Strawberry Hill offers unmatched 360-degree views of San Francisco.

Why You Should Visit

Blue Heron Lake and Strawberry Hill are not just about the stunning views and peaceful boat rides; they’re about experiencing a piece of San Francisco’s history and natural beauty. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply looking for a picturesque spot to relax, this area offers something for everyone.

Location and Website

Located within Golden Gate Park, visitors can access Stow Lake and Strawberry Hill from multiple points within the park. For more information on boat rentals and park features, visit the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department’s website.

Fun Facts

    • Did you know that Blue Heron Lake is home to the famous Ghost of Stow Lake, a popular urban legend among locals?
    • Strawberry Hill was once completely barren of trees before Golden Gate Park’s extensive landscaping efforts.
    • The Golden Gate Pavilion was meticulously constructed in Taiwan and reassembled in San Francisco, symbolizing the strong cultural ties between the two cities.

This serene locale within Golden Gate Park offers a perfect blend of history, nature, and recreation. Whether you’re paddling on the lake, hiking up Strawberry Hill, or simply enjoying the wildlife, Stow Lake and Strawberry Hill promise a memorable San Francisco experience.

Blue Heron Lake Boat Rentals:

The fleet of American-made boats includes rowboats and pedal boats that seat from one to four boaters. All support boats, are now electric-powered and silently glide across the serene waters of Blue Heron Lake. Blue Heron Lake Boathouse offers two styles of boats for rent: row boats and pedal boats. Boat rentals are first-come, first-served, so be sure to plan your day accordingly! 
Boats cannot be rented after 4:00pm.

More About the History of Huntington Falls

One summer, Park Superintendent John McLaren visited naturalist John Muir in the High Sierra. Muir, who had little use for human-made parks, pointed out several waterfalls set among magnificent trees. When McLaren returned to San Francisco, he described his vision to W. W. Stow, the wealthy chair of the park commission. Stow agreed that a waterfall would be a wonderful addition to the park and took his friend, railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington, for a buggy ride, passing Strawberry Hill several times. McLaren joined them, but it was Stow who convinced the tycoon that a waterfall tumbling down the slope would be a wonderful addition to the park, and two days later, a check arrived for $25,000 for the construction of the falls.


Information provided by SF Rec and Park Department and Blue Heron Lake Boathouse

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