One of the most famous trails in California, and host the oldest trail race in the country. Featuring the Dipsea stairs, giant redwoods, and incredible coastal views. There are more than a few reasons than running the Dipsea Trail should be on every hiker and runner’s bucket list. The 7.5 mile point to point trail starts in Mill Valley, leading you through the Muir Redwoods, and ending at the beach in the small coastal town of Stinson Beach. And to take it a bit further, I’ll be running what they call the “Double Dipsea”. Completing the trail as an out and back for over 15 miles. Below I’ll cover what you need to know to have a successful day on the trail. With tips on parking, water sources, and more!
The Dipsea Trail – Running the Double Dipsea – Tips and Info
The Dipsea Trail Video
7.2 Miles One Way
14.4 miles Out and Back
2,000+ One Way
4,000+ Out & Back
- Lots of stairs
- Redwood forest
- Incredible ocean view
- Small beach town
- Flowy trails
Dipsea Trail Map
Getting Ready for the Trail
There are a couple things you want to take into account when planning your day on the Dipsea Trail. The first is the weather. Obviously the weather on the coast of northern California is notoriously unpredictable, but you can better your odds by watching the forecast in advance. Even on nicer days you can expect some fog in the mornings that will often break off in the late morning /early afternoon. I completely lucked out on the weather for my trip. There was snow on the trail the very next week.
The second major thing you want to put some thought into is parking and your ride situation. Parking at Old Mill Park in Mill Valley is very limited at the trailhead, with most of it being permitted or marked as a few hours. Although there are a few unlimited time parking spots in front of the park, these fill up early. So if you do the trail one way, you will have to coordinate having a fishing car car /ride and getting to / back to the start. If you are running the Double Dipsea you will need to get there very early to get a spot, or get dropped off.
The Dipsea Stairs and Getting to the Muir Woods
The trail starts with a short road run before hitting the Dipsea stairs. Which consists of 4-5, I lost count, long cement and stone staircases leading you past 70’s style bungalows, as you climb to the top of the hill. You will want to watch for signs along the way as you reach the top guiding you to the next set of stairs. I tried my best to capture them in the video I shot above.
After the stairs you will hit a roadside trail leading you through some incredible houses. Just stay on the well worn path and you will be fine. This will eventually open to a cul de sac, with a fire road trail entrance directly at the end. Once you get on this trail it becomes pretty straight forward as you pass the first Dipsea mile marker. That said once you hit the end of this section you will hit a “T” with no outlet. Take a right here and the trail will be down the road on the left.
From here you will catch your first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, at least on a clear day, and start your descent into the Muir Woods leading you to the park’s visitor center.
The Muir Woods to Coastal Ridge
The trail leading down to the Muir Wood parking and visitor center is a flowy non technical descent. With the starting panoramic views, quickly turning into tree covered shady and wet trails. That gets very little sunlight even in the middle of the day. The first section to the Muir Wood parking lot and visitor center feels short and was probably one of the most forgettable sections of the trail. Not because it was bad, rather the rest of the trail is just so memorable.
At the Muir Woods visitor center, before crossing the road I hit a sign signaling a small detour. Apparently there is a bridge out from the recent storms, so I’d be taking a small detour along the paved road and connecting with a fire road. Adding about 0.5-0.7o miles each way. Sadly the detour is definitely less scenic than the traditional route. But once you connect to the main trail, it’s back to business as you push to the final ridge between you and the coast. With incredible redwoods and forest views in the valley down to the right. While the ridges highest points to the left are covered with wild grass standing several feet tall, flowing in what little wind there was.
Once you make the ridge, get ready for the coastal views and the kind of trail that people on the east coast can only dream about!
The Descent Into Stinson Beach
This was by far my favorite section of the entire trail. With endless coastal and ocean views in front of you. And some of the most perfect trails I’ve ever run under your feet. It’s hard to keep your eyes on the trail with so much beauty all around you. The Dipsea trail drops you down through some incredible redwoods just as it opens up to some incredible views of Stinson Beach. With the trail pointing you straight into town.
As you make the final drop into the city. The trail becomes much more lush and fern covered. With a few small wood / first stair sections and a bridge covered creek crossing. The trail takes you right into the city dumping you on the main road running through town. From here, just head straight towards the beach. Trust me, you can’t miss it!
Making your way onto the cold white sand beach. It’s clear this trail is one of a kind. And worth every bit of praise I’ve heard about it over the years. And after a few minutes of self reflection, it was time to head back. Completing the second half of the Double Dipsea.
Back to Mill Valley – For the Double Dipsea
Once you decide to turn around and head back up the climb leading to the Muir Woods, it can be a sad feeling. With the views behind you, it’s back to the grind of making the climb from the coast. I spent a lot of time turning around and taking in the view. Along with a lot of video. And while this is the biggest climb of the day. Overall it’s nothing too intense and the trail is in pretty good condition. With no rocks or roots, this trial will always stick out to me for how well it was maintained. It’s very runnable, even on the up hills.
After the descent into the Muir Wood and the fire road detour. You will have one last smaller climb before hitting the road and starting the Dipsea stairs down to Old Mill Park. Finishing up with a bit of a quad blaster to leave one last memory of an epic trail in your mind.
Closing Thoughts on the Dipsea Trail
I’m officially jealous of the people that get to run and hike this trail on a regular basis. From start to finish the Dipsea Trail is such a unique experience. Everything from the Dipsea stairs to the unique houses. The redwoods and all of those amazing coastal views. And end at the sea.. then running it back for the Double Dipsea. Just a great experience overall. One I will definitely be doing again. I may even think about putting the effort into the Dipsea Trail Race. Which is notoriously difficult to get into. And I’m understanding why.
If you’ve had a chance to hike or run the Dipsea Trail, let me know in the comments!