Lake Merced Loop

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Summary

This 4.5 mile loop is a popular place for runners and for races.

Written by

Blane Bachelor

Distance

4.5 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

5.5 miles

Difficulty

2 of 5 diamonds

The 4.5-mile loop is relatively flat, making for an easy route that can be extended for longer-mileage runs.

Time To Complete

1 hours

Depending on pace, runners can usually finish this route in an hour or under. It's easy to add another loop (or two) for a longer-distance run.

Seasonality

All Seasons

Lake Merced is a good year-round choice for hikes, with coastal breezes keeping things cool, even in the summer. However, as with most western neighborhoods, the area experiences some fog, especially in the winter.

Dog Friendly

On Leash Only

Lots of runners opt to run at Lake Merced with their dogs; just make sure they are on a leash. In addition, there is an off-leash dog park near Lake Merced Boulevard.

Fees Permits

No

No

Land Website

Lake Merced Park

Review

Intro

Tucked into the southwestern corner of San Francisco, the 4.5-mile loop around Lake Merced is great spot for a traffic-free run with a lovely dose of nature in the urban environs of San Francisco. Popular with runners, joggers, and walkers, this mostly flat, paved path—along with a dirt trail alongside it—circles Lake Merced and a portion of the nearby golf course amidst the 614-acre Lake Merced Park. It’s a solid choice for a quick run, whether on your lunch break or to shed off the stress from a long day in the office, and a popular spot for races.

What Makes It Great

Lake Merced won’t win any awards for “most epic run,” but for an easily accessible, nature-centric escape from the urban grind in the southwest corner of the city, it can’t be beat: there’s the freshwater lake, often dotted with rowers, the traffic-free path, and the refreshing breeze blowing in from Ocean Beach. On the days when new route-exploring seems like too much work, this is a great go-to option.

This 4.5-mile loop is a nice option for an easy run to shake out the muscles; do it twice to add extra mileage or if you’re training for an upcoming race. Except for one small stretch, you’ll have views of the freshwater lake throughout. High school rowing teams slicing through the water, as well as wildlife like ducks and waterfowl, adding to the scenery.


Another bonus: Because Lake Merced is tucked into a mostly residential area away from the most San Francisco landmarks, you won’t be battling for sidewalk space with selfie-snapping tourists. Instead, it’s all about those who are out enjoying a run, whether they’re racking up the weekly training mileage or out for an easy jaunt with the jogging stroller.  

Who is Going to Love It

Locals looking for a low-key spot to crank out a few easy miles, as well as stroller-pushing runners, will find the Lake Merced Loop a perfect option. While it doesn't have the brag-worthy status of running hotspots like Golden Gate Park or Crissy Field, it's a solid choice for a no-hassle, relatively tourist-free experience.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Lake Merced is located on (surprise, surprise) Lake Merced Boulevard, with two free parking lots that make for a stress-free start to your run. One lot is located at the point at which Sunset becomes Lake Merced Boulevard; the other is at the lake’s southern tip along Lake Merced Boulevard. Parking is usually available along Sloat Boulevard as well. On race days, parking will be a little trickier to find, so be sure to arrive early.

Location

Lake Merced Loop

San Francisco, CA,
37.721493, -122.4924

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