Dipsea Trail: The HOW TO GUIDE!
I am providing this particular blog post as a public service! How to do the Dipsea Trail, Napanista style. As a self-proclaimed, "Napanista", I am a city girl at heart. I thrive off the buzz of the city, the fashion, the cafés, and the urban vibe. I also enjoy the occasional day in nature, combined with some exertion, especially if it is with good friends and involves a meal at the end! We have been talking about this hike for years, and we finally got a date on the calendar. As we began to research, we found the bare minimum of information online. It seemed complicated, to the point of being overwhelming, especially since we didn't want to do the round trip (about 16 miles). We were scratching our heads, trying to figure out the logistics of leaving a car on the Stinson side and then hiking there from the Muir Woods side, and hopefully grabbing lunch in Stinson, before driving back. Despite various creative Google searches, we couldn't really find the information we needed, and our friends circle didn't seem to include anyone who had experience with it. One thing the online posts do agree on: it is one of the more spectacular hikes in the Bay Area, if not all of California! That just made us want to tackle it even more! (The online posts also are unanimous in observing that there are "a lot of stairs"... and that is quite an understatement. There are stairs going both up AND down along the entire trail.)
As the chosen day approached (a sunny Tuesday in October) we were still perplexed and didn't really know how to approach the logistics of the hike. Luckily our friend, Janice, decided to join us. She knows the area well, since she lives nearby, and had hiked a portion of the Dipsea in the past, and she had some valuable tips. This is how we did it (a group of 5 fairly fit and healthy women), and I am passing this information on to anyone out there, who may be in the same position that we were...with no real clue as to "how to do Dipsea"!
The Dipsea Trail Logistics: One Way, Mill Valley to Stinson
Janice and Cate each drove separately and met at 8:30 am at the public parking lot in Stinson Beach, where they left Janice's minivan. For the Navi, you can program "Parkside Cafe", 43 Arenal Ave., Stinson Beach. Janice says you need to get early on the weekend if you want a spot, as it fills up, but on a weekday it was fine.
The girls drove about thirty minutes, in Cate's car, to our designated meeting spot: The Mill Valley Public Library. There is easy, free parking on the street, right in front of the library, and we all were able to easily find open spots to park our cars there. (There is also a fabulous coffee shop, Equator, that could be an alternative meeting spot if people need their caffeine or a visit to the toilet.) Even though we planned to meet at 9:00, by the time we got going, it was about 9:30. The trail begins right behind the library near a little playground, and is well marked ...and that is where you will hit your first set of steps!
The entire hike to Stinson is mostly going uphill until the final 45 minutes or so! First, you come these newly renovated sponsored stairs. Each stair has been adopted by friends of the Dipsea Race Foundation, and its fun to read the names and their mottos. The foundation must have been pretty successful with this clever fundraiser-their webpage says the sponsorship opportunities are sold out. The foundation has also laid out mile markers along the entire trail, which is very helpful to confirm that you are on the correct trail and to confirm your progress! There were a few occasions where we were not sure which trail to follow...but somehow we guessed correctly or happened upon a passerby coming from the other direction. Tip: when in doubt, just keep going up.
After the sponsored stairs, and a few roads to cross, you continue on gently inclined paths, through gorgeous redwood forests. It seems to go up for quite a while, forever really. I kept thinking "by now we must be nearing the crest"...but no, it continues upward for a majority of the hike, with a just few breaks of horizontal walking and dips. Every time we started going up another slope, I wondered if it was "cardiac hill". Since the entire hike is basically uphill, I didn't ever really notice one being substantially worse than another...it was just one big cardiac hill to me! It is definitely a good quad workout, and not advisable if you have hip or knee issues. I can't even imagine running this trail! There must be a lot of skinned knees.
Finally, about two hours in, you do reach the crest - the highest point (the top of Cardiac Hill)- and you are rewarded with a long, flat meadow, and the panoramic view of the ocean.
Next, it is downhill into a steep ravine (appropriately named "Steep Ravine Trail", at approximately Mile 6 of the Dipsea, (more steps!) and through a jade forest and a pretty little wooden bridge. Finally, you emerge to that stunning view of Stinson beach! An Instagrammable moment not to be missed (that is the selfie at the top of this blog post).
We emerged onto the main road of Stinson a little after 1pm. The entire trail, approximately 7.5 miles (25,000 steps), took us about 3.5 hours. We had only a few breaks (with delicious Superhero Muffins provided by Cate-see recipe below), and we had a pretty good pace going, not crazy fast, but not super slow.
Where to Eat Lunch!
In Stinson, we had a wonderful lunch at Parkside Cafe. It was lovely to sit down in the outdoor patio and sip a mimosa.
Sadly, service was a little slow, and we all had to get back for pickups, so we ended up taking our mains to go (mine was a delicious quinoa salad with roast asparagus). We wolfed these down in the back of Janice's minivan, on the winding roads back to Stinson- I would NOT recommend that.
We loved this hike, and thanks to Janice, we found the logistics to have been perfectly handled! Next time (and we will definitely go again) I would budget a little extra time for a leisurely lunch at Parkside and a stroll through Stinson-I hear they have an adorable bookshop. Or, we might do the entire trip in reverse, ending up for lunch in Mill Valley. In that case, we could all park our cars in Mill Valley (in front of the public library on Throckmorton Ave.) and call an Uber to take us to Stinson. I am not sure it would work from Stinson since its probably hard to get an Uber to go into Stinson. I will add to this blog post if I end up doing that!
Hiking Snack: Superhero Muffins from RunFastEatSlow.com
These were the muffins Cate brought on our hike and they really hit the spot. Hers had chocolate chips and we have since then made them with and without the chocolate chips...they are definitely more popular WITH the chocolate chips! These are easily frozen for a quick snack on the run...and you can use the recipe as a base, and then throw whatever you want to in there! On one occasion we threw in a ripe banana for extra sweetness and moistness.
- 2 cups almond meal
- 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup currants or raisins, optional
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup grated zucchini (about 1 zucchini)...do not squeeze out the liquid
- 1 cup grated carrot (about 2 carrots)...do not squeeze out the liquid
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 cup Grade B maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- paper muffin cups
Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper muffin cups.
In a large bowl, combine the almond meal, oats, walnuts, currants or raisins, if using, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt.
In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, zucchini, carrot, butter, maple syrup, and vanilla.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.
Spoon the batter into the muffin cups filling each to the brim. Bake until the muffins are nicely browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 25 to 35 minutes.