The Coastal Trail traversing the steep slopes of Mount Tamalpais and Bolinas Ridge is one of the best stretches of trail anywhere. The stupendous views looking down at Stinson Beach and Bolinas Lagoon nearly 2,000 ft below, combined with the shimmering azure of the Pacific Ocean filling the horizon, never cease to inspire and delight. The terrain is quintessential northern California with steep grassy meadows punctuated by clumps of oak woodland and Douglas fir forest. On a clear day one can gaze north toward Point Reyes, west to the Farallon islands, and south towards San Francisco and the Santa Cruz Mountains. If there is a must-do for any trail runner or hiker visiting the Bay Area, it would have to be the Coastal Trail. It is no surprise that parts of this beautiful stretch of trail is utilized on some of the most famous trail races including the Miwok 100k and the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile championship race. A word of caution: avoid venturing here on a stormy day as the exposure on this high ridge results in strong winds, driving rains, and little to no visibility. Here are some photos from a recent run along the Coastal Trail and a description of the trail below. The complete photo album can be found here or here.
In order to access the Coastal Trail, one must travel along the Matt Davis trail from Pantoll. This section of the Matt Davis Trail features pleasant forest of Douglas fir, Bay trees, and oak woodland with a few nice waterfalls for the first 1.2 miles and then breaks out into the open grassland with dramatic views. Another 0.3 mile later is the junction with the Coastal Trail, which heads up the grassy slope while the Matt Davis trail descends into the forest and ultimately Stinson Beach in a steep 2.5 mile descent. Continuing up along the Coastal Trail, the views improve with the entire crescent strip of Stinson Beach coming into view. The trail hugs the steep hillside and contours narrow gullies with a plethora of interesting photography opportunities.
After 1.8 miles from the Matt Davis trail junction, the Coastal Trail reaches the junction with the Willow Camp Road. A left turn takes one on a jarringly steep 2 mile descent to Stinson Beach along the Willow Camp Trail, albeit with more magnificent views of Stinson Beach and Bolinas Lagoon. A right turn pops one out at Ridgecrest Blvd which can be crossed over into a large network of beautiful trails in the Marin Watershed, including the famous Cataract Falls. Continuing straight provides more fantastic scenery along the Coastal Trail. This next 1.1 miles features a slight descent and the ascent ending at Ridgecrest Blvd with more delightful contours along the hillside. A short stretch on pavement brings one to the McKennan Gulch trail junction.The continuation of the Coastal Trail for 2.5 miles beyond the McKennan junction is perhaps a notch below the scenery of the preceding portions, but is a very worthy stretch of trail in it’s own right. After some pleasant meadows, a large portion of this section is under forest canopy and even includes a lush redwood forest near its end at the Bolinas-Fairfax Road. Note that since this trail is infrequently traveled so it is more faint than the preceding portions and usually includes more trail debris and/or downed trees. Beyond Bolinas-Fairfax road, more trail miles can be found along the Bolinas Ridge Fire Road.