8 miles // <500 ft. vertical gain/loss (potential to extend easily: see here)
This is a great run for:
-Burning the flats on singletrack
Bay Area > Mt. Tamalpais > Pantoll > Matt Davis Trail
Get to pantoll station. Avoid (this time) groups of screaming boy scouts that are throwing things – large things, of a size and density that could end your life – in the parking lot. The Matt Davis trail starts uphill from the main parking lot, closer, actually, to the secondary parking lot just above the road closure gate.
Matt Davis trail is a wonderful piece of improved trail, following a contour through a wooded hillside. Open up and get loose – soon enough you’ll come to a stop: the large stump/rock formation requires reasonably precise footwork, with no way to barrel through/over it. You may as well slow down; you’re about to get a treat: the views (provided it’s not totally socked in with fog – and honestly, sometimes it is).
Breaking out in to the open on the Matt Davis trail is one of the coolest turns you can take in California (and maybe the world). The trail goes from dense forest to a panoramic pacific view and full sun in an instant. If you don’t smile or thank whatever/whoever you thank for having a life this good when you round that turn, you’d better reevaluate why you’re out doing this stuff.
In spring, you get wildflowers. Lots of them. Since I’m not much on flower knowledge, I can just tell you that they’re quite pretty, and blue. Sorry, nothing more specific than that.
It bears repeating: this is the flattest, fastest stretch of running you are going to get on Mt. Tam. The singletrack is in need of a trail day, but still totally burnable. Turn it up to 11.
You’ll repeatedly run through fun little forested areas in the areas of steeper drainage. If it’s foggy, these serve as collection points for condensation – so much so that it is often raining in these forests while there’s nothing more than fog outside. Pretty incredible!
After two or so trips through forested areas, there will be an obvious trail junction. Matt Davis slopes left and downward, terminating in Stinson Beach (a great loop: take Matt Davis down and Steep Ravine back up to Pantoll), but you want COASTAL TRAIL, which trends UPWARD AND RIGHT. (ADDED: July 2012: There is no longer any signage at this junction) From here on out there are no major and few minor trail intersections (anything that goes right or left is a spur trail to a viewpoint), making it easy to follow Coastal Trail.
For this run, as described, your turnaround point is the intersection with the WILLOW CAMP FIRE ROAD. It’s well signed. Should you choose to run further, you’ll eventually hit an intersection with the paved road West Ridgecrest Boulevard (though I think everyone just calls it Ridgecrest). This adds another 1 mile or so, each way. Should you want EVEN MORE, see the run outlined here.
The views on the way home are pretty good, too…
EDIT: I have done this run or some longer variation of it (including doing the return leg along Ridgecrest Road – highly unpleasant for a trail runner) many times during different seasons, and have come to the conclusion that high summer is a totally unsuitable time to use this trail. You are constantly cut by dry grasses and thistles encroaching on the singletrack, the trail is in poor repair, and it’s generally not nearly the wonderful experience you want it to be – probably best to visit this particular slice of Marin from late fall to early summer.