Running off-road serves up major benefits for both body and mind. Navigating small obstacles like rocks and roots strengthens everything from the muscles in your feet to your core (not to mention, your legs), and the connection to nature provides a mental break from the daily grind.
And if you’re in the Bay Area, chances are, a trail is closer to you than you may think. The Bay Area is riddled with fantastic trails, ripe for runs of every kind—from smooth, meandering dirt paths, to root-riddled singletrack through redwood forests, to lung-searing climbs offering outstanding vistas.
Wherever you are in the Bay Area, there’s a trail awaiting your running adventure.
-- Within San Francisco
Head to the Presidio or Golden Gate Park and the Panhandle to hop on dirt trails within San Francisco city limits. The Presidio trails wind through the old army post among eucalyptus groves, and the Golden Gate Park trails extend all the way west to Ocean Beach.
-- North Bay
Trails abound in Marin County, with fire roads and singletrack winding their way throughout the Marin Headlands and the 2,574-foot Mount Tamalpais. For a challenging, scenic and storied trail run (it’s the site of the oldest trail race in the country), start in downtown Mill Valley and run the Dipsea Trail west to where it appears to “dip” into the “sea” at Stinson Beach.
For a more mellow option nearby, run the smooth, flat dirt and gravel path of Tennessee Valley in the Marin Headlands to the beach and back for a 3.4-mile out-and-back.
-- South Bay/Peninsula
A short drive from most of the Silicon Valley, Huddart Park offers 900 acres and miles of trails among redwoods. Trail options abound here for short or long, looped runs. Trail races from 5 miles to 50K take place here throughout the year.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park (California’s oldest state park) in the Santa Cruz Mountains offers over 80 miles of trails among redwoods and the occasional waterfall.
-- East Bay
Tilden Regional Park sits in the Berkeley Hills, and trails range from short and mellow, to more challenging. And Strawberry Canyon behind U.C. Berkeley climbs into the hills for great views of the bay and Mount Tamalpais to the west.
Oakland’s Redwood Regional Park also serves up nice dirt paths.
-- All Over
The Bay Area Ridge Trail currently consists of 365 miles of trail around the Bay Area, circling through San Francisco, Marin, Novato, Petaluma, Santa Rosa and the Wine Country before diving down south through the East Bay, through the South Bay and back up through the lush Santa Cruz Mountains toward the city. When all 550 miles are completed, the trail will connect in a giant loop.
Need to Know
Be aware that poison oak exists in the Bay Area, and follow the rule: “Leaves of three, let it be.” And know that the weather can change quickly on a trail run, especially near the coast. Wear layers. And while many parks have drinking fountains or spigots in parking areas, water isn’t likely available long the trail, so be prepared. For more trail running advice and a schedule of classes offered by REI, visit http://www.rei.com/learn.html.