12 trail runs under 10 miles in SF and the East Bay

I can’t overemphasize the rewards of starting a running club. About a year ago, I started one nearly by accident— a routine of solo running morphed into a weekly social event. Every Saturday or Sunday five or six of us gather in the mid morning, run five to ten miles, and then have brunch together afterwards. The way I see it, this is a quadruple refill for the soul; a combination of four things that have immense positive impact on your mood:

  • You’re getting exercise
  • You’re being social
  • You’re outside getting sunshine and nature
  • You’re accomplishing something

The delicious food (and, frequently, drinks) at the end of it don’t hurt either.

With that plug out of the way, I offer below a catalog of twelve routes we’ve found over the last year.

Some of these have alternate routes, so be sure to use the Google Maps layer view to selectively view the one you’re interested in, so the two routes don’t clutter each other:

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East Bay

Skyline Gate / Redwood Regional Loop

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  • Length: 4.8 miles or 7.8 miles
  • Altitude range: 750 ft (short) or 960 ft (long)
  • Cover: Shaded
  • Trailhead facilities: Bathrooms, water
  • Park map: Link
  • Variants:
    • 4.8 mile: This involves a steep downhill along Fern Trail, through tall redwoods.
    • 7.4 mile: This extends the (mostly) gentle downhill of West Ridge trail, through the partial shade of oak trees, and adds a length of steady, gentle uphill along Bridle Trail and Stream Trail.

This is among the prettiest trail runs, and is almost entirely shaded. The last half mile or so is a strenuous uphill push, but is quite doable with the reward of the finish line (and brunch afterwards) dangling at the end of it. Start the run by veering to your right at the trailhead (following the reverse loop will add a very steep uphill section).

Marina to Marina

  • Length: 8.6 miles or 9.4 miles
  • Altitude range: 15 ft
  • Cover: Exposed
  • Trailhead facilities: Water, bathrooms.
  • Variants:
    • 8.6 mile: Simply turn around after taking in the view at the end of Spinnaker Way.
    • 9.4 mile: This adds a loop around the perimeter of Cesar Chavez Park.

This out-and-back run is scenic and flat. While mostly unshaded, the breeze from the Bay will keep temperatures pleasant on sunny days.

Wildcat Canyon

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  • Length: 6.6 miles
  • Altitude range: 840 ft
  • Cover: Exposed
  • Park map: Link
  • Trailhead facilities: None. Bring water!

This trail is more strenuous than the numbers suggest. There are two climbs, one of about 450 ft at the very beginning, and a second of about 600 ft at the halfway point. The trail is quite exposed; it may be more comfortable on breezy or cool days. Your effort is rewarded with a sweeping vista at the peak. When you reach the first saddle point, turn right to make a counterclockwise loop around the basin.

Inspriation Point / Tilden Loop

  • Length: 5.5 miles
  • Altitude range: 460 ft
  • Cover: Mixed
  • Park map: Link
  • Trailhead facilities: Bathrooms

A steady uphill for the first third of the loop will give you your mile’s worth of exercise. Navigation near the turnaround can be tricky, so pay attention!

Lafayette Reservoir

  • Length: 5.0 miles or 7.8 miles
  • Altitude range: 525 ft
  • Cover: More exposed
  • Trailhead facilities: Water, bathrooms
  • Park map: Link
  • Variants:
    • 5.0 miles: Follow the Rim trail around the basin’s ridge and loop back to the parking lot.
    • 7.8 miles: Before or after tackling the Rim trail, follow the lake loop, which is flat and paved.

This route has quite a few steep ups and downs. Beware of a particularly treacherous downslope just after the water tank at the peak. This course is not recommended on wet days, when the trail can become very muddy and slippery. There is a $3/car parking fee.

Bort Meadow Loop

  • Length: 5.6 miles or 7.0 miles
  • Altitude range: 525 ft
  • Cover: Mixed
  • Trailhead facilities: None. Bring water!
  • Park map: Link
  • Variants:
    • 5.6 miles: Follow Brandon trail all the way to Deer Canyon trail.
    • 7.0 miles: Follow Escondido trail until it meets back with Brandon trail; take a sharp left to return to Brandon trail, then a right onto Deer Canyon trail.

There is no cell phone service in this canyon, so be sure to study the route ahead of time. A small wooden signboard by the roadside gate may have paper maps available. The first mile or so of trail can be uneven and scattered with cow pie land mines!

Alameda Waterfront Loop

  • Length: 8.1 miles
  • Altitude range: ~20 ft
  • Cover: More exposed
  • Trailhead facilities: Water, bathrooms.

This route has some more urban running in its return stretch, but the waterfront part of the loop makes it nice. There are plenty of good places for brunch afterwards on Park Avenue, Alameda’s main strip. St. George’s Spirits is also nearby, and offers tastings and a tour of their distillery, which is a great post-lunch activity.

San Francisco

Across the Bridge and Back

  • Length: 7.1 miles or 9.8 miles
  • Altitude range: 240 ft or 600 ft
  • Cover: More exposed
  • Trailhead facilities: Water. Bathrooms are a few hundred meters down the trail.
  • Park map: Link
  • Variants:
    • 7.1 miles: Turn around at the vista point at the Marin end of the bridge.
    • 9.8 miles: Take the pedestrian tunnel under the bridge from the Marin vista point and continue up Conzelmen Road, then turn around at the roundabout at the saddle point.

This run is an out-and-back. Though the route is exposed, the ocean breeze will surely keep you cool. Watch out for pedestrians and throngs of people ogling the view.

If you are taking the longer variant, stick to the pedestrian trail on the ocean side of the guardrail. For a nice view of the bridge, take a quick detour out to Battery Spencer.

Yacht Club to Sausalito

  • Length: 6.5 miles or 7.4 miles
  • Altitude range: 240 ft
  • Cover: More exposed
  • Trailhead facilities: Water. Bathrooms are a few hundred meters down the trail.
  • Park map: Link
  • Variants:
    • 6.5 miles: Stop at the Sausalito ferry terminal.
    • 7.4 miles: Continue to Le Garage for brunch.

This route is not a loop (unless you want to double the length); you can return to the city by ferry to Pier 41, from which it is a two mile waterfront walk (or Lyft ride) to the St. Francis starting point.

This is a good run for occupying most of the day, as the ferry ride back is meandering and stops at Tiburon and Angel Island before continuing to SF. The boat trip is enjoyable in of itself— particularly if the weather is nice; or if not, the boat’s concessions stand sells hot Irish coffee— and is worth doing if you have the time to spare.

Presidio Loop

  • Length: 5.8 or 6.9 miles
  • Altitude range: 360 ft
  • Cover: More shaded
  • Trailhead facilities: Water and bathrooms about 1/2 mile down the trail.
  • Park map: Link
  • Variants:
    • 5.8 miles: Finish near the Yoda fountain by Letterman Drive.
    • 6.9 miles: Continue up the hill to the starting point.

A major feature of this trail involves a hearty down and uphill stair climb by the sea. After jutting through the Palace of Fine Arts, the route passes into the ILM campus, where there’s a hidden statue of Master Yoda. This also makes a good spot to end the route for brunch (and excellent beer) at Sessions if you aren’t attached to closing the loop by grinding back up the hill.

If you do stop for a photo with Yoda, be respectful of the privacy and peace of those working in the adjacent buildings.

Golden Gate Park Loop

  • Length: 8.6 miles
  • Altitude range: 270 ft
  • Cover: Mixed
  • Trailhead facilities: Bathrooms and water about four blocks into the route, at Ashbury.
  • Park map: Link (1)Sorry. It’s a dreadful map.

This is a long, pleasant, moderately-sloped, mostly-green run down the Panhandle to Ocean Beach and back.

Mission to Twin Peaks

  • Length: 7.3 miles
  • Altitude range: 760 ft
  • Cover: More exposed
  • Trailhead facilities: None. Bring water!

This route is a bit more urban than the others, but the challenge of conquering the Peaks (and the view at the top) makes it worthwhile. Most of the difficulty is in the first third of the run; after getting to the top you can relax somewhat and go for distance.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Sorry. It’s a dreadful map.

2 thoughts on “12 trail runs under 10 miles in SF and the East Bay

  1. Maggie

    For your Mission to Twin Peaks run, both Midtown Terrace Playground and Douglass Playground have restrooms with water fountains.

    I’d also recommend checking out Land’s End, Mt Sutro Open Space, McLaren Park, and San Bruno Mountain in SF/South SF, lots of trails to be found.

    Reply

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