Environmental Factors

A mixture of coastal rocks at Baker Beach
Coastal rocks at Baker Beach provide evidence of tectonic activity over millions of years.

NPS photo

Located where the North American and Pacific tectonic plates meet, Golden Gate National Recreation Area is truly a park on the edge. The park is situated along the San Andreas fault, where the two tectonic plates slide past each other to produce earthquakes and actively moving landforms. It also lies above an ancient subduction zone where planetary crust was both added to the continental margin and consumed by the mantle to be recycled into new geologic materials.

Golden Gate contains a wide array of geologic features, from the Franciscan Complex, which represents subduction-related tectonic events that took place over a hundred million years ago, to the Merced Formation, which records glacier-driven sea level changes over the last 3 million years, to modern dune sands formed from bits of the Sierra Nevada Mountains transported to the coast by the Sacramento River. Whether formed from deep within the ocean crust or mantle under extreme heat and pressure, like serpentinite, or built by millions of microscopic sea creatures over eons, like radiolarian chert, the Recreation Area is a rock lover's paradise. These rocks also provide the substrate for the plants and animals that make the park their home.

Climatic shifts and geologic processes continue to shape this environment as they have for millennia. Most recently, human-caused factors such as air, noise, light, and water pollution, climate change, and the introduction of invasive species are having a large impact on natural resources here. The Recreation Area strives to keep a healthy and resilient natural environment where wildlife and world-weary humans alike can find refuge.

  • Black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis)


    Learn about how disease can shape Golden Gate’s ecosystems.

  • Close up image of layers of rock on a beachside cave.

    Geologic Activity

    Golden Gate’s location along the San Andreas fault is responsible for its rugged terrain, dramatic cliffs, and steep hills.

  • Image of rocky stream.

    Hydrologic Activity

    Learn about the eight significant watersheds and variety of different water resources located within the park.

  • Smoke from fire at Bolinas Ridge.

    Fire Regimes

    Fire can shape ecosystems in a major way. Find out how this powerful factor affects Golden Gate.

  • Night sky with silhouette of trees in foreground.

    Lightscape / Night Sky

    Because Golden Gate is such an urban park, darkness is a valuable resource for visitors and wildlife alike.

  • White-crown sparrow singing in a tree.

    Soundscape / Noise

    What can we learn by listening, rather than observing, the park around us?

  • Shot of invasive cape ivy covering a forest floor.

    Non-native Species

    Read about how non-native species affect the habitats and ecosystem structures at Golden Gate.

  • Cloudy skies over Rodeo Valley in the Marin Headlands.


    Learn about the various microclimates of the region.

Last updated: September 26, 2018

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Building 201, Fort Mason

San Francisco , CA 94123-0022


415 561-4700

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