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!


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)