Running the Double Dipsea Trail
Running the Double Dipsea Trail was something I knew I wanted to do before I left Northern California.
The Dipsea Trail runs from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach. It is about 7.2 miles and has 2000 feet of elevation one way. There are over 680 stairs. It is one of the most technical trails in the country and definitely in the Bay Area.
I wanted to do the Double Dipsea Trail, which means roughly 14 miles and running the trail out and back. Why? Just to say I did.
The Dipsea Race was founded in 1905 and is the world’s oldest trail race. There are only 1500 entries, and it has an interesting handicap system that makes anyone eligible to win overall. Yes, even you! You can read all about it here.
My Experience Running the Double Dipsea:
First, I knew this would be challenging, and I knew it would require the right equipment, including plenty of hydration and snacks. I also knew it would be fast. It took me roughly 3:20 to finish 14 miles. You can see my mile splits and experience on Strava.
The Dipsea Trail Mile: 1
The first mile is made up of hundreds (yes hundreds) of stairs. Looking for the Dipsea Trailhead is actually incredibly challenging, and you feel like you are taking steps into someone’s property. The signs are well marked, and you can easily follow them. As you climb the steps, you’re surrounded by houses that look like treehouses. You’re going through someone’s neighborhood.
During the first couple of miles, you do cross a couple of roads. The Dipsea Trail signs remain easy to follow. After 5 minutes, I looked down at my watch, and I had gone a third of a mile. Yes, 1/3! WE had already gained a couple of hundred feet in that time.
Around mile 1 of the Dipsea Trail, you dip down into some runnable trail. You think, ok, this won’t be so bad. But don’t worry, the Dipsea Trail is seldom “easy.” There are very few runnable flat parts.
The Dipsea Trail Mile 2:
Around mile 2, you’ll reach the entrance of Muir Woods and parking. You can park there and do about 9.6 miles of the Dipsea Trail (out and back). When we ran by around 8, there was almost no one parked. By 10 am, the parking lot was full.
The second mile has more climbing, and you wonder, how much more climbing do I *really have left?*.
Since the Dipsea Trail is 2000 feet of gain one way, you have a lot. There is some singletrack climbing as well as a fire road. We saw a few other people going downhill, which gave some motivation. I questioned how the heck I was going to do 12 miles more miles of this trail.
The Dipsea Trail Mile 3:
Mile 3 of the Dipsea Trail includes a lot more climbing, rocks, roots, and ruts. During mile 3, you go up the section known as “Cardiac.” It’s a 1000+ foot climb to the highest point of the Dipsea Trail (1368 feet). Not only that, but it’s extremely technical. I logged a 16-minute mile, and I was CRUSHING IT! At the top of mile 3 of the Dipsea Trail, you are rewarded with a gorgeous view of the mountains, Muir Woods, and the Pacific Ocean.
This was also around mile 10 of the Double Dipsea. On the return back to Mill Valley, I kept telling myself, just make it to the top of Cardiac.
The Dipsea Trail Mile 4:
Mile 4 of the Dipsea Trail mostly runs along the top, and you’ll have a panoramic view. It’s one of the “easier” miles and also one of the most beautiful. You get a gorgeous reward for nearly 2000 feet of climbing. Unfortunately, there is no shade so that it can get hot.
The Dipsea Trail Mile 5:
When you realize it’s time to go downhill on the Dipsea Trail, you think…it will be so easy. But it is not. The downhill section of the Dipsea Trail is equally as technical. In fact, I might have preferred going up when I did the Double Dipsea.
When heading into the Redwoods on the Dipsea Trail, you feel like you are running in a magical fairytale or movie. You’ll go down hundreds of steps. I wanted to pick up speed there, but there are many bolts jetting out, and it can cause serious injury if you fell.
The Dipsea Trail Mile 6:
Most of mile 6 of the Dipsea Trail is downhill. And easyish downhill! It kind of jaded me because all I could think about was running back up for the Double Dipsea Trail. It felt great to run downhill at the moment, but my mind was swirling with running back up soon. You see the Pacific Ocean for nearly a mile and a half, so you think: “I’m almost there,” but you really aren’t.
In fact, the Dipsea Trail wouldn’t let you get off “that easy,” and you have a short incline during the mile.
Dipsea Trail Mile 7:
Finally, once you reach mile 7, you’re almost there. Stinson Beach is a cute town. The rest of the Dipsea Trail is flattish, heading to Stinson Beach. You’ll run across a couple of roads. Finally, you will probably smell the Parkside Cafe before you get to the end. I would bring a credit card to buy something. There is also the famous local bar called the “Sand Dollar.”
The Trail obviously points to point, so to get back; you will either need to do the Double Dipsea (which takes you exactly where you came) or the Marin Transit Shuttle or Uber.
Doing the Double Dipsea Trail:
After climbing Mount Diablo a few months ago, I thought, “this won’t be so bad,” but let me tell you, 4000+ feet of elevation is not easy. I am glad I did the double dipsea, but it was one of the most challenging trails I’ve ever done.
I think the stairs are actually harder to do going down. I mean, 600 stairs at any time are hard, right? At the very end, I felt as though I couldn’t go “too fast”; otherwise, I would tumble down about one hundred stairs. Plus, after 14 miles of technical terrain, your body is tired, and one misstep might be enough to injure or break something.
If you are looking for the most challenging and grueling trail in the Bay Area, I highly suggest the Dipsea Trail. On the other hand, if you are slightly crazy, the Double Dipsea is a good option for you.
You can see more hikes and trail runs here.
Questions for you:
Would you ever do the Double Dipsea?
What is the hardest trail you’ve ever done?