Despite living in San Francisco for nearly fifteen years, somehow I never got around to renting a boat at Golden Gate Park’s Stow Lake… until now.
Yesterday I rented a rowboat with a friend and we took it for a ride around the lake. Peddle boats of various sizes are also available, depending on the boat rental fees are around $20 to $40. The sign at the boathouse said these were “hourly” fees, but in practice nobody seemed to be keeping track of time, let alone looking too closely at tickets. It’s a pretty low-key operation.
The lake itself forms a ring around Strawberry Hill with a couple bridges going over the lake to the hill. The Huntington Falls waterfall built into the side of the hill feeds into the lake. A number of birds including ducks, geese, and herons have made this part of the park their home.
If you want to find the lake, from the Music Concourse it’s just up the hill from the Japanese Tea Garden. While it’s unintuitive to go uphill to reach a lake, according to SF Recs and Park the lake was built in 1893 “…for leisure boating, as a promenade for horse-drawn carriages, and as a reservoir for park irrigation.” (Emphasis mine.) In other words the lake acts as a water tower for the plants in the park.
Stow Lake is associated with an infamous local ghost story. Here’s the haunted tale as I understand it.
In Stow Lake’s early years a mother brought her baby to the lake in a stroller. She met another woman and they chatted at a bench. At some point when the mother wasn’t looking the stroller slid into the lake, sinking with the baby. Horrified after realizing her baby was missing, the mother ran around the lake asking if anyone had seen her baby. Failing in her search the mother drowned herself in the lake.
To this day the mother is supposedly spotted in a white dress in the dark of night near the lake.
While I’ve never seen any ghosts in Golden Gate Park, it can definitely feel unsettling at night. Most of the park isn’t well lit and the canopy of trees and thick fog make it difficult to find your way around.
Regardless as to whether you believe Stow Lake is haunted or not, it’s a fun story to tell while you’re rowing or peddling your way around the lake.