The Dipsea Trail is the ultimate challenge run just north of San Francisco. With unique access to ocean views, redwood forest, and river crossings, the Dipsea winds out of Muir Woods and reveals varied terrain and challenging obstacles along the foothills of Mt. Tamalpais, toward the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
The route isn't easy. There’s an estimated 2,200 feet of vertical ascent over the full trail. Expect it to take over an hour to get to Stinson Beach from Muir Woods. Once there, enjoy the beach for a bit, or grab an ice cream cone at the nearby Parkside Snack Bar.
What Makes It Great
Every June since 1905 the trail has been host to the Dipsea Race, the second oldest trail race in America, a 7.5-mile competition that draws competitive trail runners from all over the world. With trail names like Steep Ravine, Cardiac, and Insult Hill, the course is admittedly brutal, yet unmatched for those who prepare for it. While the trail can be difficult to navigate at times, local residents have created handmade Dipsea Trail markers to help runners find their way.
From Muir Woods, the trail crosses a river and immediately climbs up Suicide Hill along a narrow, wooded trail. The route is full of side trails and shortcuts that locals memorize in order to make the trail their own and dominate their out of town competitors on race day.
The 2-mile stretch from Muir Woods to Cardiac Hill is the steepest and most rewarding section of the trail. After two miles of mostly uphill trails with thick brush overhead, emerge at The TCC Trail Junction with views of the Pacific Ocean and a cold water fountain. Stop for a moment to enjoy the views before tackling the final 3 downhill miles to Stinson Beach.
Who is Going to Love It
Serious runners aiming to push themselves to their physical limit and outdoor enthusiasts training for a big hike or backpacking trip will thrive on the Dipsea Trail. From thick wooded areas and narrow footpaths to steep stairs, switchbacks, and sweeping ocean views, the varied terrain on this trail is made more challenging after a storm, when felled trees and slippery roots require extreme focus and coordination.
Adventure seekers will delight in the potential to go off trail and discover new routes, though it is advisable to study a trail map before setting out and not to be ashamed to bring handwritten notes or ask a local for directions while on the trail.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
The Muir Woods side of the Dipsea Trail can be crowded so it’s best to arrive early and park in the small lot here. Look for signs indicating Dipsea Trail west and cross the river to begin the uphill trail.
While the official Dipsea Trail starts up a set of nearly 800 stairs in downtown Mill Valley, most visitors find it easier to begin a few miles down the trail at the Muir Woods trailhead. Marin Transit runs a shuttle to Muir Woods (Route 66) from May to October that leaves from stops in Sausalito and near Highway 101.
One water fountain services the trail about 2 miles from Muir Woods, many runners run with a small camelback or water bottle as temperatures can rise especially on the exposed ridge line.