RUNNING/HIKING THE DIPSEA TRAIL
Hiking or running the Dipsea Trail is one of the Bay Area’s (and life’s) special treats. The Trail is open everyday, and spectacular, and different, in every season. Below is a detailed description of the full Dipsea course, from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach, as it appeared (with some changes) in the first edition of Dipsea, The Greatest Race. The Centennial Edition of the book will include a removable, color, shaded relief, waterproof map of the Dipsea Trail and surrounding area by award-winning cartographer Tom Harrison. It will also have the most precise laser measurements of the course yet taken.
A few cautions are in order before setting off.
- The Dipsea Trail is 7-miles long and has 2,300 feet each of very steep, often slippery, uphills and downhills. It is not for everyone.
- Because the route is one-way, hikers and runners need to do some extra planning. Some go part way, for example, from Mill Valley to Cardiac, or Muir Woods to Cardiac, then return. A few hardy souls do the full out-and-back on foot. Most through hikers and runners arrange a return ride, or shuttle cars to have one waiting at the end. There is one public transportation option, the West Marin Stage. Visit www.marintransit.org and look for the schedule and fares for Route 61. Note that, when returning from Stinson Beach, tell the driver to stop at Bayview Drive/Panoramic Highway. It is then a one-mile walk back down to Old Mill Park.
- There are water fountains in Old Mill Park, on Walsh Drive, and by Redwood Creek in Muir Woods. Still, it is essential to carry water.
- Poison-oak grows beside much of the Dipsea Trail throughout most of the year. Learn to recognize it, and to avoid it. Shower and scrub with a strong soap such as Fels Naphtha as soon as possible after.
- A hiking stick will make the steep descents easier and safer.
- While the route is reasonably well-marked, first-timers should be accompanied by a veteran.
THE DIPSEA COURSE
The Dipsea course may be unsurpassed among the world’s footraces of its length for combination of stunning scenery, physical challenge and colorful history. The route generally follows the Dipsea Trail, which may have been blazed by the native Miwok Indians before the arrival of European settlers. It was certainly in use as a cross-Marin route when California was part of Mexico, and appears on the first published County trail map of 1854.
Described below is the present “consensus” route as marked by organizers on Race day with blue and white ribbons. (In the 1960’s, red ribbons marked hazardous areas, such as barbed wire.) Some earlier paths, and some of today’s shortcuts, or “alternate routes,” are cited as well. The most recent measurement of the consensus route, using Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology, yielded a distance of 7.2 miles. Reese meticulously measured the course in 1979, before several of today’s restrictions, at 6.8 miles.
The start of the Dipsea Race has always been beside the train depot in downtown Mill Valley. This was the terminus of the rail spur that connected with the Northwestern Pacific main line at Almonte (and then either south to the Sausalito ferry terminal, or north through the Alto Tunnel to Corte Madera and beyond.) This station was also the base of the Mill Valley & Mt. Tamalpais Scenic Railway (renamed the Mt. Tamalpais & Muir Woods Railway after the first Dipsea Race), which ran up the Mountain from 1896 until 1930. After train service ended, the depot served as a bus stop. Today, the building is a popular cafe and bookstore.
The starting line has varied by a few feet over the years, and was actually on Miller Avenue in 1905. For decades now it has been fixed at the flagpole on Lytton Square. This precise spot was initially chosen simply because it was the best place to tie a start rope. Lytton Plummer Barber was the first Mill Valley resident to die in World War I (of spinal meningitis, before he went overseas). Earlier, the start was at the historic clock–dedicated to the volunteer fire fighters who fought the town’s terrible 1929 inferno–on the corner. In the crowded years of the 1970’s, runners backed up around the block to the movie theater.
The course begins west, up the easy grade of Throckmorton Avenue. During the second half of the 19th century, Samuel Throckmorton owned much of southernmost Marin, including what became Mill Valley. After around one-quarter mile, runners veer left through redwood-lined Old Mill Park. Runners go left or right around the bathroom. (This is the only public bathroom astride the route, and the adjacent fountain is one of now three between the start and finish). The “old mill” on the left, built by John Reed in 1834 and origin of the town’s name, was completely rebuilt after a tree fell through its roof in 1968. A restored Mt. Tam gravity car, which carried visitors down the mountain by gravity alone, stood to the right for many years, but was moved to the plaza south of the Depot Bookstore in 2008. Runners cross Old Mill Creek over the wood footbridge, or, when it is crowded, on the road.
Just beyond the bridge is the intersection of Cascade Drive and Molino Avenue (molino is Spanish for “mill”). Runners go straight, onto steep path Cascade Way, which has homes on both sides. Atop the drive, 75 yards up and .40 miles from the start, begin the infamous Dipsea steps. (Don’t confuse them with first private stairway on Cascade Way on the left).
“The Steps” are the most talked-about part of the course, challenging everyone. Accounts of the Race in the 1940s talk of “400-plus steps.” From the late 1960’s, when a major rebuilding project was completed, there were 671 steps in three flights (307, 221, then 143). This number became the basis for Jack Kirk’s famous line, “Old Dipsea runners never die. They just reach the 672nd step.” Subsequent repairs raised the number to 676 in 1993.
The first flight, to Millside Lane, is the longest, presently with 313 steps. (Two houses passed on the right are accessed only via the steps.) Some strong, impatient racers ascend on the narrow sliver of dirt outside the rails. The topmost 33 rock steps are much the steepest. Runners then go right and up on Millside Lane a few yards, then left onto Marion Avenue. Several unrelated old trail signs are nailed to the redwood at the Millside-Marion junction.
Immediately up Marion is the second flight, 222 steps. There is a sloped stretch without steps near the top. Years ago, runners would cut left here, until the property owner erected tall, sturdy fences. Today, Race rules prohibit running on private property.
At the top, runners go left 20 yards on Hazel Avenue to the third flight (141 steps, or 142 counting the curb). This last set was completely rebuilt in 2007-08 by the Dipsea Foundation and City of Mill Valley. The old wood steps were placed by concrete ones. Dipsea runner and Foundation board member Eric Ellisen oversaw the project. The Foundation financed the project through sales, at $1,000 each, of metal plaques embedded into each step. (The 14th step was purchased in my behalf by Dipsea veteran Barbara Robben and others. I chose the inscription Esto perpetua, “May she live forever.”)
The third flight, with the topmost step appropriately dedicated to Jack Kirk, empties onto Sequoia Valley Road at Edgewood Avenue. Victorino’s refreshment stood here in the 1920’s and ’30’s, serving cold drinks to hikers turning off right here onto the old Pipeline Trail (today largely covered by Edgewood Avenue) toward Mountain Home and other Tam destinations.
Runners proceed right up the narrow shoulder of busy Sequoia Valley Road. A safer hiking path (mandatory in the Quadruple Dipsea) has been carved above the road on the right, beneath the Belvedere Reservoir water tank.
In 150 yards, runners enter the stone gateway of Walsh Drive, and steep climbing resumes. Until the late 1980’s, this was the site of Flying Y Ranch, where horses and dogs would be companions along the dirt path. (Earlier still, it was a dairy ranch, and the route through sometimes called the 4H Road.) Now million-dollar homes flank both sides of the road. There is a dedicated trail easement on the right. A homeowner on the right has placed a fountain.
The pavement gives way, past a gate, to a dirt connector to Bayview Drive. Halfway through this French broom-lined section is the one-mile mark. When an overhanging branch on an adjacent Monterey cypress right was removed in the 1980’s, the words “One Mile Tree” were written on the cut. The tree healed the wound, and the words covered. In 2006, a stone marker was placed here and ceremonially unveiled. Dipsea organizers intend to place other mile markers along the route.
Bayview Drive is then paved up to its junction with Panoramic Highway at the ridge top called Windy Gap. For the first 60 years of the Dipsea, runners would proceed straight across and plunge down the extremely steep hillside to the west. In 1969, the first of a pair of houses was built. Years of increasingly nasty confrontations over through access ensued. The (former) owner of 315 Panoramic came to be known as “the barbed wire lady” for fencing she erected. She also began hiring a guard on Race day. (Norman Bright allegedly fed the resident guard dog before the 1970 Dipsea so he could pass through unimpeded.) All attempts to secure an easement failed. So, in the mid-1970’s, Race director Jerry Hauke led construction of a longer alternate trail that begins 50 yards to the right on State Park property. Don Chaffee dubbed this section “Hauke Hollow.” Steep shortcuts that bold runners once took left off the trail here are now off-limits.
The Trail descends and bends sharply left at a wood bridge. At a signed junction immediately beyond, Sun Trail departs right to the Tourist Club. The Dipsea Trail continues plunging left, down steps and often muddy patches, to Muir Woods Road.
The Trail empties, after the steepest steps, onto the principal vehicle access road to Muir Woods National Monument. Here once stood the old Redwood Roost refreshment stand, which served early Muir Woods travelers. Directly across the road is a dirt alternative (presently closed due to a slide) that was carved in 1981. This route is quite attractive, but all racers choose the roadway, where they can stretch their legs for the first time.
After .44 miles of fast road downhill, runners veer left off the pavement at a junction, aptly called The Mailboxes, with the top of Camino del Canyon Road. (In the earliest Dipseas, runners would proceed a few yards beyond Camino del Canyon, then drop left down a path, now posted as off limits, to Joe’s Place, a long-gone restaurant.) Camino del Canyon descends to the valley floor but runners, of course, take a more direct route.
This precipitous downhill ahead has known controversy. In the 1960’s and ’70’s, runners went straight onto the dirt until the first bend. They then plunged directly down, over a web of dusty, very slippery paths, a hillside darkly dubbed “Suicide.” In 1978, the State Park restored a more gradual, longer trail (dubbed “The Rangers Trail,” though now a part of the Dipsea Trail) directly to the right of the mailboxes.
State Park and Muir Woods officials increasingly insisted on keeping all runners on the “Ranger’s Trail” while Dipsea officials fought to keep Suicide open. By 1991 the conflict had gotten so serious that the permit for the Race was threatened. A compromise was finally reached, with the top and lower sections of Suicide closed and improvements made to the Rangers Trail. All runners now go down the uppermost steps of the Rangers Trail. Most everyone then cuts left, through a section of fence that is removed only on Race day, onto an extremely steep, broom-lined path. The Rangers Trail is notorious for abundant, hard-to-avoid poison-oak, not usually cut back until late May. The Suicide path and Rangers Trail meet where the latter makes a sharp bend right.
The route drops, past mile 2, the short remaining distance to Muir Woods Road (historically called Franks Valley Road). A children’s day care center stood here in the 1960’s. The former direct Suicide route emptied onto the road, after a steep final jump, about 100 yards to the left. In 1992, a Muir Woods ranger cited nine runners, and tried to have them disqualified, for using an illegal shortcut near the base of Suicide. The “Muir Woods Nine” came within one day of a court appearance when they proved their shortcut was inside the State park boundary, not in Muir Woods. (Race rules, and the Race’s permit, mandate no shortcuts whatsoever within Muir Woods National Monument.)
All runners then cross Muir Woods Road and enter the Monument’s overflow visitor parking lot. They pass a water fountain. (The author is proud of being an advocate for building this fountain, which was then pushed through by site manager Mia Monroe). A few steps bring the Dipsea Trail to Redwood Creek, which runs through the heart of Muir Woods National Monument and still supports a salmon run. In 1974, a footbridge was built here after a campaign led by beloved Marin nature instructor Elizabeth Terwilliger. It bore a much ignored “No Running On Bridge” sign, and some runners continued to splash through the creek as before. Curiously, this bridge was then removed each winter, just when it was most needed, forcing hikers and runners to take a half-mile detour left on Muir Woods Road to the Dipsea Fire Road. Now a plank across the creek remains in place all year.
Runners used to cross Redwood Creek on a different bridge about 100 yards upstream, until it was washed away in a storm during the winter of 1938-39. It led to a very steep uphill known as “Butler’s Pride,” apparently for a San Francisco nautical instruments dealer who had a cabin in the area. For the 1940 Dipsea, a new route, roughly today’s Dynamite, was carved and first used.
By the 1960’s there were two options uphill; a steeper, more direct one named “Dynamite” and a more gradual (and more runnable) alternative dubbed “Switchback.” Although the direct line is now off-limits, the whole half-mile ascent is still called Dynamite. A carpet of sword ferns adds to the sylvan beauty, but beware of abundant poison-oak.
At its junction with the Dipsea Fire Road (also called Deer Park Fire Road), the Trail leaves Muir Woods National Monument back into Mt. Tamalpais State Park. Dipsea Fire Road, formerly an old trail, was widened by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. It snakes back and forth and over the Dipsea Trail until ending at Coastal View Fire Road below Cardiac. In 1989, the fire road was designated part of the 500-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail. Some call the next steep uphill section, from the top of Dynamite until the Trail directly crosses Dipsea Fire Road, “Upper Dynamite.” The early part is under trees, then cuts through tall shrubs, then joins the Fire Road for about 100 yards.
The next, open section is called the Hogsback. (“The Meadows” was an alternate name in some early references.) The Hogsback was once part of the huge Brazil Brothers ranch, formerly fenced grazing land. In the 1960’s, 2,150 acres were purchased by John Fell Stevenson, son of presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, then sold to the First Christian Church of America. After this “church” was discovered to be only a front for a real estate development firm, the land was acquired by the State in 1968 for $3 million. With cows gone, bracken fern, baccharis (coyote-bush) shrubs, and Douglas-fir trees are now colonizing the grassland.
Some runners start the Hogsback on the fire road right, for better passing. Views open, to the ocean and to the three summits of Mt. Tam. Dipsea veterans feel that it is here on the Hogsback, noticeably uphill but much less so than the climbs before, that fast times are made or lost; it must be raced.
The Trail and fire road again recombine for some 100 yards (mile 3). This time the Trail leaves to the right, into a steeper section wooded with oaks. The Trail then crosses the fire road.
The prominent lichen-covered rock outcropping on the left past the first telephone pole is called “Halfway Rock.” Russ Kiernan coined the name, because it represents his normal halfway time. (Because Kiernan is such a brilliant downhiller, and more downhill remains than uphill, most runners reach the rock in somewhat less than half their final time. In 1979, Reese measured the rock as 44% into the course.) Soon after is a formerly muddy seep, fairly dry recently, known as Hogsback Spring. The Trail enters another wooded stretch, then re-emerges back into grassland.
The Dipsea leaves the grassland, the Hogsback, and Mt. Tamalpais State Park to re-enter Muir Woods National Monument. This wooded section is called “the Rainforest” because summer fog often drips like rain off the Douglas-firs, redwoods, tanbark oaks, madrones, and laurels here, occasionally even turning the ground muddy. Another common name for this deep woodland is Deer Park, and in early Dipseas it was called Deer Forest.
Just in is a good spot for sharp-eyed runners to spot, in spring, orchids such as spotted coralroot. What was long known as “The Log,” a huge, downed Douglas-fir which forced runners to clamber over, is now cut in two. Protruding roots must be heeded.
At a prominent signpost, marking the upper end of Ben Johnson Trail (which descends to the main Muir Woods canyon), the Dipsea Trail bends left. It then unites, .33 miles into the Rainforest, with the Dipsea Fire Road for the last time (mile 4). After 150 yards of uphill, the Trail departs right at the base of the infamous one-fifth-mile long Cardiac Hill. (A humorous “no u-turn” sign once stood here.)
The uphill markedly steepens on Cardiac, and most all runners, weary from the climbing, walk-run, or just walk. A signed intersection with TCC Trail marks the start of the final push. The Dipsea Trail leaves Muir Woods for the last time as it emerges from the tree canopy.
The Trail enters grassland, then tops at the glorious, open, 1,360′ summit of Cardiac, highest point on the course. The term “Cardiac” was, according to Reese, coined by Dr. Alfred Duff in 1954 and quickly gained in popularity. It had earlier long been called “The Sugar Lump.” A water station provides refreshment here Dipsea day. The stunning views–of San Francisco and ocean even beyond the Farallon Islands–and knowledge that the serious climbing is over, give added relief.
(There was a lively debate over the years as to the true highest point on the Dipsea Trail, Cardiac or Lone Tree just ahead. To settle the affair, Race director Jerry Hauke took sophisticated surveying equipment to the area in August 1993. I served as “rod man,” holding the measuring pole. After several measurements, it was determined that the trail was a mere FIVE INCHES higher at Cardiac than at Lone Tree. The Lone Tree area has since been altered when the former fire road was converted to a trail, but Cardiac presumably still retains preeminence.)
The Trail crosses broad Coastal View Trail, gently dips, then rises. This .19-mile stretch from Cardiac to Lone Tree is known as Farren’s Rest. James Farren, Jr. was a devoted Mt. Tam runner and Dipsea announcer who died of cancer in 1981 at the age of 39. A group of his friends gathered at Cardiac, then spread his ashes along the Trail (a practice now banned in the State Park). A trophy (no longer awarded) for “Sportsmanship, leadership and dedication to the Dipsea” was named for him.
Farren’s Rest used to end at broad Lone Tree Fire Road, a few feet below the Lone Tree itself. But in 2005, the State Park, without posting any sign of its plans, bulldozed and obliterated the entire length of Lone Tree Fire Road, one of the oldest routes in all Marin and part of the Dipsea Race since 1905. Until the change, runners had a choice of following the Dipsea Trail or Lone Tree Fire Road to the cutoff to the Swoop. Now, the widened and reconfigured Dipsea Trail is the only option.
The redwood known as Lone Tree (or, mistakenly, as Lone Pine) is just above on the right. It was long the most famous landmark on the whole route; the Dipsea Trail itself was originally known as Lone Tree Trail until around 1916. Photographs from the early 1900’s show it as the only tree on the hill, then actually called Bald Hill. But the hillside, free from fires and grazing for decades, is now covered with Douglas-firs. The redwood is still evident from Cardiac as the large tree on the lower left, with a different profile than the Douglas-firs above. A small path right leads up to Lone Tree Spring. A fountain tapping it, built by the Tamalpais Conservation Club in 1917, was long the only reliable source of water for Dipsea runners practicing in summer. (Tam land managers now discourage drinking from non-filtered sources, and, after a shift in the spring in 1982, the fountain is usually dry anyhow.) Seepage from the spring onto the Trail is common, and the section is sometimes called “The Spring.”
The course veers left at the former Trail-fire road split. After a section through light woodland, the Trail emerges into open grassland. This next stretch, sometimes called “The Overlook” for its ocean views, was changed at the time Lone Tree Fire Road was bulldozed. It rolls more gently than formerly, but following natural contours, is longer. The old, more direct line is still faintly visible, but labeled off-limits in Race rules.
At a signpost, the Dipsea Trail veers right and down. (Until the late 1920’s, when Steep Ravine became part of new Mt. Tamalpais State Park, runners stayed a bit longer on Lone Tree Fire Road. They then veered right, and ran down the ridgeline above Swoop Hollow. That now-overgrown route, referred to as “the Hog’s Back” in old accounts, emptied into Webb Creek, via a final steep pitch called “Devil’s Slide” just west of, and below, the base of Insult.)
After a short section of shrubs and trees with low, overhanging branches, the Dipsea Trail meets (mile 5) a fence. This is the top of “The Swoop,” so named by Jack Kirk, and another area of much controversy. State Park officials have long wanted to close the very steep, narrow, rutted direct route down the grassy ravine. In 1977, a lovely, new, .36-mile section of the Dipsea Trail was carved through the haunting redwood, Douglas-fir and laurel forest to the right. Runners later dubbed it the Gail Scott Trail, for the 1986 champion who mistakenly took it in ’87, possibly costing her a repeat victory. But Dipsea officials, and runners, remained adamant in keeping Swoop part of the Race. In 1991, as a compromise, a barrier fence was erected with a section that is removed Dipsea day. Then, in 2007, the State Park widened and smoothed Gail Scott Trail. With the Swoop increasingly eroded and overgrown, making it even more dangerous than ever, many runners are now opting for duff-covered Gail Scott.
At the base of the Swoop is the old “Slash” or “Trench,” off-limits since 1981 and now overgrown but once a direct entry into Steep Ravine. The modern route bends right and joins the base of the “Gail Scott” section.
Here, at an old survey marker, the Dipsea enters Steep Ravine, frequently cited as one of the most beautiful parts of the entire Bay Area. William Kent donated it to the new Mt. Tamalpais State Park the day before he died in 1928.
Racers rarely notice Steep Ravine’s charm because the extreme drop, the rocks, roots, and steps–I counted 354 to the Webb Creek Bridge in 2008–demand undivided attention. Passing in this .22-mile section, often critical because some runners are flying (a few of the best downhillers have been known to leap four steps at a time) while others are moving cautiously, produces the most dangerous situations in the race and the most serious injuries. The steps, scary enough, are themselves considered an improvement by some from earlier years. The 1946 champion, Charlie Richesin, vividly describes descending much of Steep Ravine sliding on his rear end. But two-time champion Joe King writes of his first Dipsea in 1947: “Steep Ravine had no steps. Actually, I feel it was a safer descent without the steps even though it was more of a winding Suicide as we slipped and slid, grabbed at small tree trunks like Tarzan and occasionally slid on our butts again. But there wasn’t the hazard of catching a shoe on a step edge.”
The Trail crosses Webb Creek over a bridge and bends left. Steep Ravine Trail joins here from the right. (Steep Ravine Trail descends from Pantoll, crossing Webb Creek seven times to the Dipsea Trail junction.)
The lands from the base of Steep Ravine to Stinson Beach were the last major section of the Dipsea beyond Windy Gap to remain in private hands. In 1968, George Leonard, the principal landowner, presented a permanent public easement for the Dipsea Trail to the County. (Leonard’s widow Wilma recalled that each year Dipsea officials were granted permission to cut through their ranch fence on condition they would promptly be repaired; gaps would invariably be left open and cows would escape.) In 1970, Leonard ran the Race with his daughter, Barbara Robben, and grandson, Michael. A year later, Leonard sold 1,311 acres, including the Dipsea Trail, to the new Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
The briefly combined Dipsea and Steep Ravine trails pass a small reservoir, built in the 1960’s to augment the community of Stinson Beach’s water supply. Next is Insult Hill. It was named by Don Pickett; the course’s final “insult” to racers who thought they had conquered all the uphills. It’s short but stiff, and several winners have walked it. Halfway up, Steep Ravine Trail veers off left to Highway 1.
A white barn stood for decades in a clearing on the left near the top of Insult. The barn, part of the old White Gate Ranch, was torn down soon after the ranch became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This area is still alternately called White Barn and White Gate. The broad path coming in from the left was actually once a section of the original Highway 1.
Runners then face a fork. The marked Dipsea Trail veers left uphill onto the Moors, also named by Pickett, for its gloomy appearance in the area’s frequent fog. The fork right rises to a gate and Panoramic Highway. Most all runners take, as they have for decades, this latter option. (Organizers close the Panoramic Highway option, directing everyone onto the Moors, late into the Race.) They run downhill on the Panoramic Highway road shoulder (mile 6). After .2 miles, at a spot usually marked with white paint, they cut left and descend a narrow path, formerly known as “Leonard’s Lane” because it was part of the trail easement George Leonard donated to Marin County. There are now two options down, labeled “Door #1” and “Door #2.” At the base of the steep, narrow descent, runners veer right, duck under a limb, cross a seep, then clamber up a few steep yards to rejoin Panoramic at a wide bend.
This second stretch on Panoramic is some 250 yards. At the highway milepost marker 8.48, just before a bend right, the speeding runners cut left again through a gap in the metal barrier.
They immediately face a short but extremely steep and root-covered plunge to the southern fork of Easkoot’s Creek. This drop is among the two or three most dangerous spots in the whole Dipsea. It has also been the scene of some of the Race’s highest dramas; for example, the collapses of Ralph Perry in 1956, Alan Beardall in 1957, and Joe Ryan in 1981, the shortcut of Carl Jensen in 1967, and the blunder of Russ Kiernan in 1979. It was that latter incident that gave the fording its name today, “Kiernan’s Crossing.” (Until around 1970, runners crossed the creek farther downstream; that option ended when a house was built there.)
The alternate Moors route was opened in 1975 after long being fenced for grazing. It has better footing, room to pass and great views, but one additional uphill. It was seemingly quicker than Panoramic until its final downhill (called “Moose Hill” or “MacDouche”) into Stinson Beach was closed off for the 1977 Race. The Moors option, which is the official Dipsea Trail, rises to meet and cross Fire Road 640. This was the access to a World War II enemy ship spotting installation still visible to the far left. The route then descends (passing mile 6 near the top) through grassland. A half-mile down, before the barbed wire fence that closes off Moose Hill, the Trail bends right into woodland.
The Moors and “shortcut” routes merge in a lovely coastal forest called “The Grotto.” Runners can sense the nearby ocean. The Trail crosses a boggy area below over a wood bridge; a single plank sufficed in earlier years.
Decades ago, runners exited the Trail just beyond this bog and crossed Panoramic Highway. They then entered, through a stile, a fenced-in area called “The Horse Pasture” and descended to Shoreline Highway (Highway 1). Later, until 1977, the crossing was lower on Panoramic, over a diagonal shortcut still used in the Double and Practice Dipsea races. (An improved, higher route, now signed as part of the Dipsea Trail, has recently been cut.)
But just before the Dipsea Trail bends right to Panoramic Highway is a junction that is barely noticeable except on Race Day, when the path left is cleared. In 1977, as a concession to Stinson Beach officials trying to improve emergency vehicle traffic flow, Dipsea runners were barred from crossing Panoramic and instead directed left directly to Shoreline Highway (Highway 1). In 2008, this junction was dubbed “Teeple’s Choice,” after Rod Teeple, then in 29th place, inadvertently went right and was disqualified. The mandated veer left adds extra yards and two menacing final challenges, leaping over the stile and then immediately negotiating the short but very sharp drop onto Highway 1. This infamous stile, scene of many falls, has become perhaps the Dipsea’s most photographed locale.
After the stile, runners bend right and begin a 150-yard downhill sprint on the pavement. The road was built in 1870 to connect Sausalito and Bolinas, and was originally called Bolinas Highway. It was renamed Dipsea Highway in the 1920s, with several Dipsea Indian signposts, but the name did not stick.
For almost all Dipseas through 1963, the finish was straight ahead, at Calle del Mar in front of Airey’s Hotel (or Hotel Airey). (Built in 1906, it still stands, now the town grocery store.) From 1964 through 1973, racers were directed left on Arenal Avenue to finish in front of the Parkside Cafe. Now runners are directed left just before Arenal onto the 200-yard long park maintenance driveway, called Lawrence by some for the long-time Stinson Beach family of that name. A fence blocks through access on non-Race days.
Entering the Stinson Beach parking lot, the route makes its final turn, a left onto the finish straightaway. Some 490 feet remain, always lined (to the runners’ right) with spectators. The very welcome finish line is by a speed bump at the entrance to the south, dirt parking lot. This lot was built around over a brackish body of water variously described as a lovely lake and, less affectionately, as “Mud Lake” and “Poison Pond.”
(Note: For further descriptions of trails that intersect the Dipsea, readers may wish to refer to my book, Tamalpais Trails.)