Hike: Rae Lakes Loop

We looked for a little backpack for the summer and finally settled on something I’d done before, but knew was worth the repeat: the Rae Lakes Loop.

My previous trip was counter-clockwise, beginning from the West-side approach. This time, Jenna and I also began from Road’s End but took the trip clockwise.

We were up at 4 to drive from SF to the Road’s End permit station in SEKI. Take note, this is a reasonably long drive. You MUST call to let them know that you will not be there by 9 to pick up your permit – otherwise they will release it to any random fool who walks up looking for last-minute availability. The 50-60 y/o female ranger at Road’s End is awesome. The 20 y/o female ranger at Road’s End is lame.

Also, FYI: despite the fact that Carl’s Jr. will SELL you a cheeseburger at 7:30am, you may not wish to PARTAKE of said foodstuff.

Our original itinerary was much more interesting than what we ended up doing (including cross-country travel from JMT in to 60 lakes basin and one night at Dragon lake), but the mosquitoes on the stretch from Dollar Lake to the southernmost Rae Lake were absolutely obscene, so we cut out a day and a half plus one night. Total time: 72 hours almost to the minute.

Final analysis: views are better going counterclockwise, but the hiking is easier going clockwise.

Having done it twice, I’d do a four day loop with the following counterclockwise itinerary:

D1: Road’s End to as high as you can make it (Vidette Meadow, ideally)

D2: Vidette Meadow to Rae Lakes

D3: Rae Lakes to Upper Paradise Valley

D4: Upper Paradise Valley to Road’s End

Additional days are best spent in 60 Lake Basin or as layovers at the Rae Lakes (and it pains me to say that, given the amount of impact the Rae Lakes watershed sees…).


Day One: Road’s End // Paradise Valley Trail // Upper Paradise Valley (camp)

Looking down Paradise Valley

Upper Paradise Bath – Only the towel reveals the presence of the secret bathing compartment…

Day 2: Upper Paradise Valley // Castle Domes Meadow // JMT Intersection (Wood’s Creek Crossing) // JMT // Baxter Creek Crossing // Arrow Lake (camp)

Jenna, dropping in to Upper Paradise Valley

Jenna, doing the Wood’s Creek Crossing

JMT – South of Wood’s Crossing

Day Three: Arrow Lake // Rae Lakes // Glenn Pass // Bubbs Creek Trail // Vidette Meadow // Junction Meadow (camp)

Jenna, at a mandatory creek fording near Rae Lakes

Rae Lakes Scenery

The Painted Lady

Approach to Glenn PassUpper Glenn Pass (traffic jam)

Nearing Glenn Pass (North)

Day Four: Junction Meadow // Bubbs Creek Trail // Road’s End

This crossing is VERY close to the car…


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.

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)