Location: Mill Valley/Stinson Beach (All content assumes Mill Valley start)
Time from Bridge: 20 min GGB
Mileage: 7/14 M – Single / Double Dipsea
Difficulty: Single – Challenging / Double – Very Challenging
Facilities: Mill Valley and Stinson Beach both have full facilities.
Directions (to Mill Valley start):
US 101 to CA 1(to Stinson Beach). Take CA 1 for less than 1 mile to the first stoplight after passing the Dipsea Cafe on the right and a Walgreens on your left. CA 1 heads left up towards Mt. Tamalpais. Stay right (actually straight). This becomes Miller Ave.
Follow Miller Ave. through Mill Valley until going straight takes you through a municipal parking lot. Once through the lot (it opens on both sides) take a left on Throckmorton. Continue a few blocks until you spot Old Mill Park on your left. Street parking is plentiful, but take care to note any signed restrictions.
One of the country’s most historic trail runs, and laying claim to being the nation’s oldest cross-country race (first raced in 1904) – this trail is a must-do, either one-way or out-and-back if appropriate for your fitness level.
From your parking, follow Cascade Dr. – Cascade will bear right – you want to stay straight up what looks to be (and is) a driveway. At the end of this driveway you’ll find the first of three sets of stairs. This is, no bones about it, a brutal start to a long run. Your heart rate monitor, provided you have one, will start beeping pretty quickly.
Topping out on the first set of stairs, bear right, immediately cut back left on the first road (25 feet?), then look for stairs immediately in front of you/right side. Topping out on the second set of steps, turn left. Stairs are on the right again almost immediately. Think about how much you love the dipsea trail as you finish the third flight of stairs. Take a right here, on Sequoia Valley Road. Follow Sequoia Valley Rd. for about a 1/4 mile, continuing on to Walsh Rd. in to a subdvision with a large gate.
Run up through the subdivision. You’ll see a trail leading out the back of the cul-de-sac (signed as Dipsea Trail). Follow this trail (interesting Dipsea anniversary trail marker on the right through here) through a little house lined street, up to Panoramic highway. Cross Panoramic and look for the marked trail. From here the Dipsea is quite well marked.
The major layout of the trail from this point on is:
Drop down towards Muir Woods. Follow the trail through the parking lot (water here from the drinking fountain just before you hit the stream crossing), crossing the stream on a wood plank. Start your climb up Cardiac Hill.
After Cardiac Hill you run a rolling stretch (still gaining, on balance) known as the Hogsback. There’s some great open prarie running through this section. Stay with the singletrack instead of the fire road. They cross each other multiple times.
Ducking back in to the trees, you’ll climb Insult Hill, topping out just before a large open clearing. This is a natural place to suck down a gel and hydrate. It can either be totally socked in with fog (most often), but you can occasionally get perfect views to the west.
After this clearning you get a short flat, then begin your gradual drop across the side of some incredible steep ravines which look straight out of Star Wars’ Ewok Village. After a few switchbacks your descent begins in earnest, going down a bunch of often very slippery stairs. Keep an eye out for Banana slugs on this section of the trail. They’re intresting to look at but very slippery underfoot.
You’ll eventually cross a bridge at the bottom of the ravine. One uphill of consequence now stands between you and Stinson Beach. Ocean and beach views reward you the rest of the way in.
After crossing Panoramic Highway, a short section of trail eventually dumps you rather abruptly on the road heading in to downtown Stinson Beach – be careful as you could jump quite unintentionally in front of a car doing 30+ mph. Head right on the paved road and take your pick of refueling options. The general store 1/4 mile down on the right has most anything you might want, save fair prices and friendly service. The cafe trieste coffee stand just outside is a source of tap water to refill bottles, though (smile big when you ask!).
You’ve done roughly 7 miles and climbed/lost 2200 feet. Enjoy doing it again.
A double dipsea is a serious undertaking. 14 miles and 4400 vertical feet, including 676 steps (roughly a 50 story building – each way), will test even well-conditioned runners.
Do not set out without food/gels, water, layers, and patience. This was my first run with a fuel belt and I was incredibly glad to have had gel and hyrdation with me at all times. Layers are appreciated as you’re constantly running from sun to shade and back again. And hey: Stinson Beach isn’t known to be warm. The fog rolling in on the last stretch of trail can be frigid when combined with sweat.
Though difficult, this is a must-do trail; the history, beauty, and topography come together for a world-class run. Take your time and the trail will reward you. Perhaps most important tip to finish having enjoyed yourself is to manage heart rate and breathing to the degree you’re able. A heart rate monitor is a huge help on this run.
The Dipsea trail is well signed except the section navigating to each staircase and up to Walsh Rd. through Mill Valley.
Mill Valley is close enough to the US 101 that I’ve brought a snack for the car and made it back to the city to eat at one of my favorite high-calorie haunts back there. You can find just about anything near Mill Valley, though. Mill Valley Market, near the municipal parking lot mentioned above (on Throckmorton) has your typical Whole Foods type selection of prepared deli foods and sushi as well as plenty of expensive imported non-alcoholic drinks I’ve never seen before.
Food options in Stinson are plentiful. The general store above is the best place to grab drinks and snacks.