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

Directions:

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:

http://www.hillmap.com/m/agtzbG9wZW1hcHBlcnIQCxIIU2F2ZWRNYXAYsecCDA

 

Directions:

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!