Run: Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve (Big Rock)

Bay Area > Marin > Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve

8.4 miles // 1,450 feet vertical gain//loss

Area Map

This is a great run for:

-I can’t recommend this run as we did it…

-The trail beginning at Big Rock (described at the end), however is great for a good shortish climb (<5M with about 1000′ of vertical gain/loss) and highly recommended


To the Big Rock Variation (recommended): 101 to Lucas Valley Road Exit. Take Lucas Valley Road until you see a really big boulder on your right hand side. You’re there. No restrooms.

To the variation done and described here: 101 to Lucas Valley Road Exit. Take Lucas Valley Road 3.4 miles west to turn right on Westgate. Turn right onto Creekside road. Park on the road near the gate. No restrooms.

It’s always incredible to be reminded that after years of making it my business to find and run trails all over the place in the Bay Area, there will ALWAYS be more to explore.

I let my wife call the destination for this one, and she did a great job of finding us something new and beautiful – at least mostly…

The open Space Gate. Park here.

While there were a few web reports of an out and back run starting from Big Rock, we wanted a few more miles, and cobbled together a loop beginning at the base of Luiz Fire Road,turning west on Big Rock Ridge Fire Road, and taking what the official map calls the Big Rock Trail/Bay Area Ridge Trail (though this name doesn’t appear on other quads that I referenced), then finishing by running down Lucas Valley Road to return to the car. This is a very suboptimal loop for a few reasons.

First, you begin with Luiz Fire Road and its 15% grade for two miles. You are not running this. Seriously, nobody is running this. Actually scratch that: about halfway up I got the idea that somebody should hold a race simply from the gate to the crest of the ridge. This would be perhaps the most brutal 2 mile race ever conceived. Anyway, as I said – you’re not running this. While Luiz Fire Road is a fine walk, we wanted to run.

We were hopeful that we might run consistently once on the Big Rock Ridge trail. While it looked promising on the topo, this too proved less than great running, though it’s at least within the realm of possibility. Footing is rocky and sometimes insecure.

You too can enjoy visibility like this…

On Big Rock Ridge Fire Road

Eventually you’ll come across some moderately post-apocalyptically-creepy antenna towers and then a bit later after that you’ll see what looks to be an old bunker of some kind (?), but overall the ridge is forgettable (at least with the visibility that we had, which approached zero). A feature of Lucas Valley Open Space preserve is the number of easements granted from private landowners. In practice, this just means you need to open and close a few gates along the way. After a gate next to a little shed, you’ll see the character of the trail change quickly.

From a very inauspicious beginning, this trip got better, fast.

From the shed/gate, the trail trends to gently downhilling singletrack, and IT IS GOOD. The trail switches back and forth and is totally rippable – easy grade and good footing.

Mixed Oak and Chapparal

A stand of Oaks.

From here, keep smiling and running downhill until you arrive at Big Rock.

We, like total idiots, chose to run back to the trailhead along Lucas Valley Road to complete a loop. Do not do this. Lucas Valley road is full of blind turns, has absolutely no shoulder in places, and is a truly dangerous stretch of road to run.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Park at Big Rock and do an out-and-back up Big Rock Trail to the ridge. It clocks in at a bit under 5 miles roundtrip with 1000′ elevation gain/loss. There’s a reason this is the first web page to describe the loop we did – it sucks.


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!

Run: Marin Headlands (Old Bunker / Coastal / Wolf Ridge / Miwok)

5 miles // 1350′ gain/loss

This is a great run for:

-holding a max HR

-working on downhill speed.

Bay Area > Marin Headlands > Rodeo Valley Trailheads



Take the Alexander Av. exit from the 101. Take a left on Bunker Road and follow the main valley to the right turn marked “Roads Division” just at the crest of a hill with Rodeo Lagoon on your left. Park on the road or in the Marine Center overflow parking. Run through the car gate at the end of the road, headed west, on old pavement.

From here, follow signs for COASTAL TRAIL, eventually hitting some stairs (!). When nearing the top of the hill (and fully experiencing hypoxic hallucinations), you’ll see WOLF RIDGE TRAIL on your LEFT. You can go up and tag HILL 88 (recommended – very weird James Bond set-esque place, though recent extensive rehab is taking a lot of the “spook” out of it). Follow WOLF RIDGE TRAIL until it ends at MIWOK TRAIL. Turn RIGHT on MIWOK, following it back down in to the valley. At your FIRST INTERSECTION, turn RIGHT, following a flat trail back to Rodeo Lagoon.

See if you can maintain a run – any speed will do – through the entire uphill portion (I do not run the serpentine scree at the top of the Coastal Trail stairs) and really open it up on the downhill section.

One of my favorite short (brutal) runs in the world.

Coastal Trail Stone Stairs

View (North) from Wolf Ridge

Hill 88

Hike: Kalalau Trail in a day

22 miles // 10,000 feet gain/loss

South Pacific Ocean > Hawai’i > Kaua’i > Napali Coast State Park

Kauai is the ultimate embodiment of a place that’s wonderful to spend a week or ten days of your life while being totally unsuitable for long-term habitation. At least for me, though the thousands of denizens and untold millions more longing to move there contradict my sentiment. Our time on the island was great – the perfect mix of active and passive – and the highlight of my activity was the Kalalau trail.

I can’t quite remember how I even became aware of the Kalalau. I’d probably searched for Kauai trail runs or some such nonsense, only to come across this  masochistic gem of a dayhike.

The trail is 22 miles along the Na’Pali coast, round trip, from Ke’e beach (the road’s end on the north side of the island), to Kalalau beach, gaining and losing about ten thousand feet of vert (!) for good measure.

While the intervening years have made any sort of running commentary a bit of a stretch for my memory, I can share the following with  anyone sizing this excursion up:

-I did this in June. Temperatures were hot but far from unmanageable, but I do wish that I had carried electrolyte tablets or gel.

-I missed the near-clockwork afternoon rains, but am confident that they would have turned the tone of the trip much darker (see below).

-Consider getting a pre-dawn start and using a headlamp. The trail is easy to follow, provided you have a map. I did not.

-If you, like me, decide to strike out on this walk without a map, DO NOT GO HIGH on the grass path immediately out of the parking lot at Ke’e! Although the trail is basic and fairly idiot-proof, the first 1/2 mile is the only bit that threw me. Instead of going high, stay along the shore on the very well-trodden dirt path with views of the small Ke’e bay. Taking the high trail leads  to some exceedingly interesting (and also spoooky, given my early start and solitude) indigenous ruins and waterfalls (dry in May), but this ain’t where you want to be. Visit this another day, or perhaps on your way back.

-Cache Water: I carried 3 liters of water, plus a tallboy can of Arizona Green Tea. This, in retrospect, was definitely a sub-optimal amount given the heat and length of exertion. I could have made the whole endeavor easier, however, by stashing part of my water for the return trip along the trail, perhaps halfway in (i.e. at a quarter of the total distance).

-Carry enough water: Roughly 3.5 liters of water was not enough for summer conditions. I was hallucinating and losing coordination in the final 2 hours of the hike, and I this was at a time when I regularly ran 3+ hour trail runs at an 8:30 pace in the Marin Headlands (similar topography). When you do the hike on the way in, you’re likely to note clearly that there are MANY portions of the trail where a complete loss of footing could be disastrous and potentially fatal. Carrying electrolytes could have mitigated some of my symptoms,  but more water is the other half of the solution.

-Don’t believe that you’re going to run. Some will – yes – but go in to it without that expectation. I expected to run/jog about half of the miles and ended up powerhiking (fresh) and dragging myself along (tired). Thoughts of running were dashed quickly by the roots and rocks endemic to the trail. Also, while I’m comfortable with exposure, there are a good many “no fall” stretches on this trail simply unsuitable for anything beyond a brisk walk.

The Kalalau trail in a day stands as my most gratifying single outdoor experience. I’m not sure how, given that I’ve spent most of my time in the mountains and have slowly amassed a proud amateur’s list of backcountry exploits in the Sierra Nevada.  This one day, though, tested my resolve – and rewarded it – in a singular way.

PS – feel free to have a car drop in the AM and hitchhike back to your accommodation. I held my thumb out for about 2 minutes before a couple (with child! not the kind you often think of as amicable to picking up a hitchhiker!) took pity on me.

Permit: I rolled the dice as a day-tripper. I got a away with it. Though I’m not able to find any information on the fine amount online, I imagine it’d be steep.


State Park Map


Backpacker Magazine Article on the Kalalau (10 most dangerous hikes feature)

Presidio Trails

Presidio Trails - Thanks NPS

I am fortunate enough to live minutes from the Presidio, which makes for a pretty easy choice when I head out to do a little pre or post-work running.

I joined Trails Forever, thank the volunteers whenever I see them out, and am appreciative of the work that’s done. But lately I’ve seen a move to turn every trail in to a superhighway. Singletrack is being widened and “improved” with stone borders and edging, paths are being graded with huge machinery, and one high-use path near the bridge is getting a coat of tarmac.

Trail improvements are great when they are actually improvements – taking something and making it better, not bigger, cleaner, and less wild. We need to keep what few natural areas we have – and San Francisco is one of the best cities in the world at this, all told – and to enhance the experience, not lower them to the lowest common denominator.

To think that I may come back in 10 years time to tread trails, now literally hidden jewels of nature within the city, and find them just another walk in an urban park, is saddening.

Another Bay Area Duathalon (shorter but still backwards)

Cycling/Run/Cycling: 24M on the bike and 7M sweet sweet trail miles

Ride: SF->Miwok Trailhead (@ Shoreline)

Run: Miwok Trailhead->Miwok (->Miwok Cutoff->Tennessee Valley->Fox->Coyote Ridge->Miwok->Miwok Trailhead

Ride: back home.

If you’re wondering where to lock that expensive road bike you rode to the Miwok Trailhead, consider that with a cable lock one could actually secure a bike to an enormous eucalyptus tree somewhere back in the woods a bit…

There’s also a moderately secret ridgeline finish that takes you back to the trailhead. On your way back, stay left and high, even when it looks improbable, and you’ll find it. Recommended.

An alternative run (longer, definitely more brutal): from the same pullout, cross the 101 north to pick up Miwok (in to Mt. Tam rather than the Marin Headlands, and take Dias Ridge Trail down in to Muir Beach and back again.