Run: Mt. Tam (Matt Davis to Coastal)

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).

Costal Trail Wildflowers

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.

Wildflowers on the Costal Trail, Mt. Tamalpais

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!

Matt Davis Trail Running

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…

Bolinas Ridge looking towards San Francisco

Trail Running Costal Trail, Mt. Tamalpais

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.


Run: Mt. Tam (Old Mine Trail to Coastal Fire Road)

6.4 miles // 1,400′ vertical gain/loss

This is a great run for:

-working on settling in to a long climb

-exploring the difference between windward and leeward flora on Mt. Tamalpais

Bay Area > Mt. Tamalpais > Pantoll Station


Map Here:



Arrive, via your preferred route, to Pantoll Ranger Station. Avoid the temptation to ask why there is an ancillary parking fee ($8, though avoidable) when California already has one of the highest income taxes in the country. Pantoll has restrooms and water pumps/fountains available.

From the parking lot, begin due south on a paved path. The trail, signed “OLD MINE TRAIL“, begins on the LEFT almost immediately (Steep Ravine goes RIGHT almost immediately. Good trail, just not the one you’re looking for). Old Mine trail (recently “improved”, in state parks parlance, though they actually did a decent job at it) winds through an often cool and damp old-growth mixed deciduous and evergreen forest. This trail itself would be a beautiful run were a bit longer.

Old Mine trail ends at a large open trail junction – the meeting of Old Mine, Coastal Fire Road, and two directions of the Dipsea. To gain Coastal Fire Road continue essentially straight, following a wide fire road down a grade. Soon you’ll see a big trail etiquette sign informing you (and, hopefully, others) who yields to who – walkers/runners, cyclists, and equestrians. This trail gets little midweek use in my experience, but cyclists outnumber runners easily 3:1 from what I’ve seen. This sign does indicate that you’re at the start of the Coastal Fire Road and gives mileages to both HWY 1 and the Heather cutoff.

So, here you are – this is about as straightforward as it gets in trail running: you’re gonna go straight down, hit the end, and come straight back up to where you’re standing. Enjoy. The trail itself has suffered a bit in recent years and the downhill running is marginally impeded by the trail condition. What it lacks in maintenance, it pays in views. There are wonderful stretches after rounding a hill with huge views to the Pacific, made more spectacular by the terraced nature of the hillside so that you often find yourself at eye level with soaring hawks and vultures. Jackrabbits, California quail, and other birds are found throughout. Possibly my favorite part of the run from a scenery perspective, though, is the incredible perspective it lends on the coastal environment. As the trail changes from windward to leeward sides of the hill, you’ll notice a wonderful change of flora: dense, lush, and diverse plants and bushes on the wet and fog-bound leeward side, with low, nearly monochromatic scrub on the scoured windward side.

Great views continue throughout. At about the halfway mark you’ll pass through a wonderful grotto of oak and elm forest. The final fifth or so is indeed the steepest, and ends – depending on your preference – either at the Heather Cutoff junction or all the way to the highway (0.1 mile additional, each way). I suggest simply turning around at the Heather Cutoff junction, as the trail can be overgrown for the final bit and the views do not improve as you descend to the highway.

Take a drink, marvel at where you are, and buck up for the climb. This is a great climb to learn how to “settle in”. A phrase more often used in cycling than running, settling in is a (somewhat nebulous) concept that encompasses finding a sustainable pace and (most importantly) letting your body mechanics become quiet – letting go of tension in unused muscles, focusing on efficiency in your stride, and just generally getting “loose”. A quick time back to Pantoll from Heather Cutoff is just sub-half hour, so good news: You’ve got plenty of time to work on it!

Easily the biggest grind of the whole trip home is the stretch through the trail junction between Coastal Fire Road and Old Mine Trail mentioned above. Strange, but Old Mine Trail is super flat and a good place to open up for the final stretch.

Afterwards, go eat at Grilly’s – a surprisingly decent burrito for Mill Valley!

Bay to Beach to Tam to Beach to Bay

I’ve toyed with doing the Race Across Marin for a while now, but have been put off for some reason. Envirosports puts on good events, but it’s always seemed to me like I could do something like this on my own and save the $200 entry fee.

This is my version of something nearly as terrible, but $200 cheaper.

Essentially it’s the following:

-RIDE from SF up to Stinson Beach (20m)

-RUN Steep Ravine Trail to (Old Mine Trail) to Pantoll Station

-RUN Coastal Fire Road  HW 1 (or Heather cutoff) to Muir Beach, turn around and go back up Coastal Fire Road to Pantoll Station

-RUN back down Steep Ravine Trail to Stinson Beach (16m running total), get back on the bike and

-RIDE back to SF (20m).

All-in it goes at 40 miles of cycling, bridge to bridge, and 16+ miles of running – all but about 3-4 miles of which are on great trails.

LOGISTICS: water and fuel are perfectly spaced: Home (yours, not mine), Stinson (food and water), Pantoll  Station (water), Shoreline (the fruit and drinks stand is always there in summer, though I didn’t take advantage this time), Muir Beach (plenty of unattended garden hoses down that way. I’m just saying…), Pantoll Station, and back to Stinson Beach and then homeward. You’re never more than 1:30 from h2o.

Other tips:

The big boat chain along the fence that faces the fire station makes for a sturdy and well-attended place to lock a bike for the run section.

One could shorten both the bike and run distances by starting the run at the trailhead to Coastal fire road on HW1. It’s directly across the street from the large pullout where the fruit stand is always set up. In the absence of the fruit stand, you can find it by keeping an eye out for the fire road truck gate about 1 mile after the Muir Beach overlook sign.

This would probably put the bike around 30m and run around 13m, r/t.

Mt. Tam: Coastal to …

Trail Run


<1000 ft. +/-

(Pantoll)/Matt Davis/Coastal/Ridgecrest Blvd./Bolias Ridge Fire Road/Ridgecrest Blvd./Coastal/Matt Davis/(Pantoll)

This was the obvious choice after having such an incredible time last weekend on the first few miles of Coastal Trail out of Pantoll.

Our day started by looking for parking at Pantoll Ranger Station on a Sunday… at 10:30 am. Parking secured (.5 mile away) we were on our way.

Everything about this was just as great as I remembered it last weekend – better, even, given that we got to start out fresh on the flats this time.

Matt Davis trail is a such a fun stretch of improved trail, following along the wooded hillsides, that you don’t realize how fast you’re going until you hit the major landmark of this piece: the large stump/rock formation. There’s no way to run straight through/over this, so you do have to come to your senses, but it does let you know that you’re about to break in to the open and get the views.

Matt Davis Trail Running

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 NorCal sun in an instant. If you don’t smile or thank whatever/whoever you thank for having a life this good (this was easter, after all) when you round that turn, you’d better reevaluate why you’re out doing this stuff.

The wildflowers have started to hit. 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

.Costal Trail Wildflowers

It bears repeating: this is the flattest, fastest stretch of running you are going to do on Mt. Tam (sez I). That is, of course, unless you somehow come across a group of (I could not make this up) 40-50 almost-elderly asian hikers.

I thought this was a phenomenon unique to Japan (everybody there hikes in groups, all kitted out with bear bells and engraved walking sticks, etc.), but this group was speaking Mandarin. Coastal is a SUPER narrow piece of singletrack, and passing was damn near impossible for 5-6 minutes, and then only after the people in back yelled in a mix of Mandarin and English:

Guy yelling: TO THE LEFT, TO THE LEFT!


This made for an interesting situation, but we swam through the sea of humanity, and got far more smiles than smirks. Upside? This was not a bad place in the world to have to walk for a few minutes. The scenery (and I hope I never tire of saying this) is off the charts.

Wildflowers on the Costal Trail, Mt. Tamalpais

Successfully having navigated the Easter Sunday Chinese Gauntlet, we were back at it, making our way out to Ridgecrest Blvd. I thought it better to get some road miles in – just at feeble attempt to convince myself I was actually ready to run 26.2 on pavement – and took the road towards Bolinas-Fairfax Road instead of continuing on Coastal.

Somehow I was convinced that I had never been here before, even though I’ve ridden this stretch (Seven Sisters, to you road bikers out there) many times on two wheels. Have I mentioned that this is without question one of the most beautiful runs you could ever hope to do in your life? I think I have. Good.

Ridgecrest Blvd. Mt. Tamalpais

This run was like a greatest hits of places I’d seen while riding and never actually “seen”, so we continued up on Bolinas Fire road, which I’ve seen more times than I can count, though often while panting for breath after making the climb up from Alpine Lake on the Alpine Dam cycling Loop. Bolinas Ridge fire road cuts through Audubon Canyon Ranch on Bolinas Ridge. This is a real fire road, rough hewn and obviously utilitarian. I’d love to park at the Fairfax-Bolinas pulloff and hook this up to some of the Point Reyes trails someday.

Took in this view towards San Francisco and turned back.

Bolinas Ridge looking towards San Francisco

Oh yeah, and then we had views like this on the way back:

Trail Running Costal Trail, Mt. Tamalpais

We were like packhorses turned to the stables. I’ve been so focused on building distance that speedwork has faded like a distant memory. Cranking up our turnover and footspeed felt incredible – the feeling of moving at your body’s limit and damn near flying is what hooked me on running in the first place. The last stretch of Coastal through Matt Davis has to be one of the most uplifting 3 miles one can run: good footing, net downhill, and pure enjoyment. My GPS tells me I hit a 5:30 pace, and let me tell you, I am no 5:30 runner in most 15 mile jaunts. This trail will take you as fast as your feet, lungs, and head will take you.

When this marathon is over I can’t imagine a better 10 mile Saturday fun run than Pantoll to the Ridgecrest gate; this is close to perfection as far as I’m concerned. Just watch out for well-meaning but slothlike groups…


Marin Headlands – Keeping it up (the vertical, that is)

Marin Headlands and Mt. Tamalpais

Trail Running


3400 ft. +/-


Miwok/Dias Ridge/Miwok/Redwood Creek/Deer Park Fire Road/Dipsea Trail/Coastal Trail/Old Mine Trail/(Pantoll)/Matt Davis/Coastal Trail


Matt Davis/Coastal/(Pantoll)/Coastal Fire Road/Heather Cutoff/Muir Woods Rd./Muir Beach Rd./Coastal Fire Road/Fox Trail/Tennessee Valley Trail

Another “thank god I live in the Bay Area” day, another trip to the Marin Headlands.

Starting out from the Tennessee Valley Trailhead for the first time was an exercise in patience, with equal measures cars and baby joggers out. But with parking secured, we were on our way.

I had never done the stretch of Miwok that picks up from Tennessee Valley trailhead but found it a fine enough stretch to warm up, though I have to cop to powerwalking the steeper sections. I’ve really tried to get better about managing my heart rate, especially in the first hour or so, as I work on longer distances. Has it worked? Who knows – my knees are always the limiting factor in the final hour(s).

Trail Running Marin Headlands

Erm, Redwood Creek trail – I just saw you a month ago, and now you’re all gnarly and overgrown with poison oak? Nasty. The best part was seeing the old (old) lady in shorts who seemed genuinely unfazed by it while she bushwhacked. I love old people in Marin.

Redwood Creek took us to the Deer Park fire road gate and a familiar stretch of the Dipsea. It’s funny how I’m starting to put things together, spatially, in the North Bay as I run more and more trails. “Ok, so THAT’s where I am…”

Pantoll was a welcome refueling stop. After my hydration debacle a few weeks ago I was now running with fuel belt + (2) 20oz. water bottles (and electrolytes), though I realized in retrospect that without the opportunity to refill at Pantoll I would have once again been hosed. How do those ultra guys carry enough fluids?

First time on the Matt Davis trail. I’d read about this stretch a few places and saw it recommended, but this trail is 10/10 – flattest terrain on tam and the views are beyond description once you’re out of the woods. This is definitely my new go-to when friends are in from out of town and are up for an hour or two of walking.

Trail Running Mt. Tamalpais

Also finally made it to coastal fire road headed south from Pantoll on the return trip; this is another of my new all-time favorites, although I loved it even more because we were descending, and man I needed it right about then. The diversity of vegetation and awesome nontechnical singletrack were great.

Big mistake taking Heather cutoff with it’s overgrown vegetation and endless switchbacks. We would have been better served staying on coastal and getting a few more road miles in on Hwy 1. Lesson learned.

Oh, and Coastal Trail/Coastal Fire Road, ascending from Muir Beach? Screw you. Screw your endless steep-ass grade at the end of my day when I am already fried. I didn’t need that from you. Coastal is open to Pirate’s Cove, though – I need to check that out.

From the peak of Coastal (intersection Coastal/Fox) it was all downhill to the car, starting with a view of our ultimate destination, San Francisco.

Trail Running Marin Headlands