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Dipsea is well-known by trail runners in Marin County, and by many in the greater Bay Area, as the course of an annual race as well as an every-day favorite for fitness.
This 7-mile footpath links some of the best scenery between Mill Valley and Stinson Beach, passing through Muir Woods and Mount Tamalpais State Park.
It begins in an urban forest, dives into deep redwood groves, climbs to rolling grassland and panoramic ridgelines, and finishes at the beach. The start is on Cascade Way next to Old Mill Park.
This first section is mostly stairs, which climb between neighborhood streets and houses on the mountainside.
Though not particularly scenic, the Dipsea Stairs are a rite of passage for the rest of the trail.
After crossing Panoramic Highway, the route leaves the neighborhoods and becomes more aesthetic as it parallels Muir Woods Road toward the national monument.
If you want to skip the stairs section in Mill Valley, you can start from Muir Woods, but a parking or shuttle reservation and fee are required. Cross the main Muir Woods parking lot, and then Redwood Creek on a plank footbridge.
When the creek is flowing high you won’t be able to cross, so in winter and spring you may have to detour on Frank Valley Road and Deer Park Fire Road.
From here the trail enters more natural scenery on the undeveloped slopes of Mount Tam’s southeast ridges and begins a long and grueling uphill. Climb out of the lush redwood and douglas fir groves of Muir Woods to meet the fire road on a ridgeline.
Dipsea Trail follows a separate but similar path to the road along this ridge, as they both dip in and out of pine groves and grassy meadows.
In clear weather, you’ll enjoy views over surrounding hills toward the Pacific Ocean.
This climb ends at the trail’s high point, called Cardiac Hill.
There is a water fountain and bench here if you need a rest.
Next comes a glorious downhill and return to shady forest. The trail rolls along an open hillside for a bit longer before dropping into Steep Ravine via switchbacks and a lot of stairs.
The forest here is even denser than Muir Woods.
Bushes and ferns fringe the path and the canopy closes tightly overhead.
It can be muddy in spots and quite steep, so use caution.
Cross the cascades of Webb Creek on a footbridge, then take on one final uphill to emerge from the forest once again, with the beach coming into view.
A final downhill traverse of the nearly treeless hillside with ocean views leads to the streets of Stinson Beach.
Cross Shoreline Highway and a public parking lot to reach the sand, the waves, and the rewarding finish to Dipsea Trail.
To return to the start, you can retrace your steps, use other trails through the state park, or take transportation back to Mill Valley. Sources: https://www.dipsea.org/course.php https://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/471/files/MountTamalpaisSPFinalWebLayout110816.pdf