After training 4 months for MCM (training recap coming soon!), I knew I would need some time off before my next training cycle. Taking time off doesn’t necessarily mean being a sloth, however; it means approaching running without the pressure of “training”. I wanted to run purely for fun for a while. Enter: Cathryn, and our ongoing trail explorations around the Bay Area. So far, we’ve hit Lake Chabot in the East Bay and Huddard Park in Woodside (check out her recaps here and here). For our next adventure, we both wanted to check out the Marin Headlands, a.k.a. the Golden Gate Recreational Area maintained by the National Parks Service. The area offers stunning views of the Pacific coastline, Golden Gate Bridge, and the San Francisco skyline. I’m embarrassed to say that despite having lived in the Bay Area for 8.5 years, I’ve only run in the Headlands once, for a 5-mile race in July 2012. It was time to change that!
After doing a bit of online research on running routes, I came upon an 11.5-mile loop posted by Paulette, who was then nice enough to share her gmap of the route. From there, I looked at the NPS map to get the approximate mileage between trails so that we could hopefully avoid getting lost! I also found Google maps satellite images to be extremely helpful with the planning. Because there seems to be a dearth of running route information out there, I’m posting our route details below, including potentially tricky turns and mileage readings based on my Garmin. Hopefully this will be of help to others while planning a run in the Marin Headlands. And if not, just sit back and enjoy the photos! (For more photos and the tale told from a different perspective, check out Cathryn’s post!)
I met up with Cathryn at 8:30 a.m. at the Tennessee Valley Trailhead parking lot, which was already starting to fill up quickly. We said good-bye to Cathryn’s husband and son, then set off on a long climb up Marincello, a wide fire road. After about 5 minutes of jogging and chatting, we gave up on the latter and concentrated solely on getting up the hill. It was only a matter of time before we resorted to run/walk intervals. Even though the grade wasn’t too steep, I thought it was better to be conservative early on than to be too proud to walk — we still had a lot of miles and hills to go. We got to the top, then reveled in our first of many picture-taking breaks.
Next up: Bobcat and Alta Trails. Thankfully, Cathryn noticed the sneaky cut over to Alta from Bobcat so we stayed on course. Along the way, we took in more amazing views of the San Francisco Bay.
At the end of Alta, we hit Wolfpack Ridge Road, at which we followed the sign to turn right on Rodeo Valley/SCA trails. After a few minutes, we turned left at the fork to stay on SCA, a beautiful section of single track and one of my favorites of the day. We also got our first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge!
From SCA, we turned left onto Coastal, then took a quick left downhill to do an out-and-back on narrow single track toward the Golden Gate Bridge. We decided to turn around when we noticed that the views were getting less impressive as we descended rapidly toward the parking lot. We skipped the short out-and-back to Slackers Hill because the area is closed for condor habitat restoration.
We continued on Coastal and made a brief pit stop at McCullough Road, where there is an outhouse (bonus!) and an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco skyline (double bonus!). Throughout our run, Cathryn and I kept saying to each other, “This is SO pretty!” We were both also tremendously grateful for the gorgeous weather and that we were able to run. I think Cathryn said something like, “THIS is why we train.” I agreed wholeheartedly.
To continue on Coastal from McCullough, we found the single track near the small parking area and continued for quite a while until we hit Bunker Road. The map was a little confusing in this section, plus there’s some construction, so we got lost briefly. Tip: to get to Rodeo Valley Trail, turn left on Bunker Road, then turn right across from the equestrian center. Once on Rodeo Valley, it was a quick 3 or 4 minutes before we made an unmarked left turn on Miwok (note: there is a wooden bridge here).
Having run down Miwok previously, I wasn’t super excited about making the climb up. Again, we took it in short walk/run intervals, interspersed with plenty of picture-taking breaks. Even though we were running very slowly, I’m proud to say we overtook a group of mountain bikers! (They were stopped taking a break, but still…)
The only turn we missed was the last one from Miwok to Old Springs. It wasn’t a huge deal because we were able to take Miwok over to Marincello, our first trail of the day. From there, we reaped the fruits of our labor and easily ran down Marincello back toward Tennessee Valley. Thus ended our delightful trek around the Marin Headlands! What a wonderful morning spent enjoying gorgeous scenery with great company. I’m a lucky girl!
Additional information that might be useful: I usually never run with sunglasses, but found it to be crucial on this route. It was very exposed and sunny, with glare coming off the water and the trails. We totally lucked out with weather, but definitely check the conditions before you head out — it might not be a bad idea to bring extra layers in case of rain or fog. There is absolutely no water, so carry your own. Parking at the trailhead is free. And finally, here’s the data from the run:
p.s. Special shout-out to Cathryn, who took the photo that is now my new blog header. Thanks Cathryn!