Marin Headlands


I’m expanding my definition of  an “adventure run”.  No longer does it have to include risking one’s life; now it can just be really fun, interesting, or new.

Such was the case a few weeks ago.  I was in the Bay Area visiting Galen and Kristin, spectating the amazing North Face 50, and really enjoying the weather.  While a massive high pressure cell was pounding my home on the Front Range with near-zero temps, wind, and snow, the same system provided NoCal with unprecedented warmth and absolutely clear skies.

G & K live in Mill Valley, right on the east flank of Mt Tam.  So on Monday out their front door I went, looking for a very easy but full day of exploring the beautiful and unique terrain of the Marin Headlands.

Literally minutes out the door I was stopping to gawk.  Even though I’ve been in Redwoods 50 times, each time I’m among these big trees, I stop in my tracks.  These are creatures to appreciate.  I don’t ever want to get used to being in them.

So before I was even out of town, I was stopping and taking pictures.  I live in a pretty nice place in Boulder, but these houses make me feel like I’m from Omaha.  Check it out …

A Marin classic: the Porsche Carrera parked lazily in the driveway of fallen leaves

A funicular required to carry groceries to the house, unreachable by car

Running is great for sightseeing; one sees things unfindable from any road

A mile from the house, I pop over the ridge and am in Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  In an instant, one is out of the big trees and into mellow grasslands rollicking down to the blue Pacific Ocean.

If that description made it sound easy, well, it was.  Everything seemed nice and easy.  Marin just seems … easy.

This is Muir Beach; my route then climbed up thru these houses on a very helpful little path that is a dedicated public easement – they think of everything in California, don’t they?

OK, a quick architectural tour of Muir Beach; sorry, can’t resist.

OK, this could go on forever; better get back to running.

Clearing the last houses in Muir Beach, I immediately was on the Coastal View Trail, going up to Pan Toll, which by day is a little Visitor Center for Mt Tam State Park, but on the weekends is an aid station for the NF 50, the Miwok 100, and is next to the Dipsea Trail – this is an iconic place for runners.  Like a climber going to Yosemite for the first time and climbing Royal Arches, I was a running tourist, doing the routes made famous by the trail running greats.

I also noticed how easy – there’s that word again – it was to run.  Something in the air, the big views? Or was it just that I was at sea level, and the trails are consistent grades and very smooth with no rocks?  I intended for a very casual day, mixing in hiking all I wanted, but it was easy to trot all the way up, a very big blue ocean at my back.

To me, the most dramatic feature of the Marin Headlands, is the abrupt shift from open grasslands on the sunny slopes, to the deep, dark Redwoods on the north facing slopes. It’s like walking into a root cellar!  Cold, damp, and dark.  From Pan Toll, it’s called the Steep Ravine Trail – you gotta love it:

And then just as abruptly as one enters, one pops out of Lothlorien, and back into the land of real people, with Stinson Beach, terminus of the Dipsea Trail, glistening in the sun and surf:

OK, time to reverse course and head home.  The endless sea becomes more endless as I leave Stinson, cranking up another absurd trail, into the rolling grassy headlands.

A combination of remarkable little trails – and not seeing one other person – finally takes me to the topic of Mt Tam, one of the most iconic summits for it’s size anywhere.  At 2,574′ it’s not a whopper, but as the birthplace of mountain biking, with over 100 miles of trails, no one would ever consider it unworthy.

This is the only clear photo in ever taken of San Francisco in December:

And then straight down, back into the welcoming arms of the big trees.

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2 Responses to “Marin Headlands”

  1. Galen Says:

    Makes me want to go for a run!

  2. URP Daily News | Says:

    […] case you were wondering why Marin County (just north of San Francisco) is such a trail running hub, these pics and post should explain […]

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