Awesome Marin Run: Mt. Baldy (Bald Hill)

Yesterday, I did an actual trail run, like a hard(ish) one, and my leg didn’t give out. Crazy.

For some reason, I decided it was a good day to run up Mt. Baldy in San Anselmo/Ross, which isn’t actually a mountain at all, but a large hill with odd prominence because there’s nothing else around it. Technically, it’s called Bald Hill, but if you say you went for a run up Bald Hill no one in Marin will respect you — or know what you’re talking about.

Historic photos of Mt. Baldy from back in the day when San Anselmo was just the seminary at the base of the hill.
Historic photos of Mt. Baldy from back in the day when San Anselmo consisted of just the seminary at the base of the hill.


The second week we moved to Marin, back in 2008, I went to a group run with Tamalpa and we did this loop run up Mt. Baldy and then down the other side. That time I didn’t walk at all, because I was terrified of getting lost and wanted to keep the front people in my sight. (Fear is my most powerful athletic motivator.) But, the two or three times I’ve done it since then, I almost always end up walking a little bit because it’s just so damn steep.

The Phoenix Lake trail.
The Phoenix Lake trail. From Marin Mommies.

Start out parking by the Lagunitas Tennis Club in Ross and run into Natalie Coffin Greene Park and up the main trail to Phoenix Lake. (You can also park next to the Ross Commons – necessary on weekends – or at the parking lot at the Phoenix Lake trailhead, but there’s usually a line of cars waiting for one of the 10 parking spots in that lot to open up.)

At the top of the main trail, as you come up on Phoenix (pictured at left), you could turn left and go across the dam and run around the lake.  Also a good time. But, don’t. Stay on the big trail to the right as it weaves around the lake. There’ll be lots of people on this trail and other trails leading off it, etc.

After 1-2 miles of running, depending on where you parked, you’ll be at an intersection. You could take one of the two steep trails (Fish Grade or Eldridge) to your left to go to the upper lakes or you could take the small single-track and continue around Phoenix Lake. Instead, if you just keep going more or less straight, the trail turns into Shaver Grade, a gentle 1.5 mile climb up from the lake.

At the top of Shaver is an intersection where five trails meet, creatively named Five Corners. It also, most importantly, has a bathroom. (And a permanent sign warning of mountain lions.) Most of these trails lead you to the other lakes or down to Deer Park. Take the really stupid steep looking trail to your immediate right, before the bathroom. It’s only steep for 100m or so and then opens up onto a nice single-track trail that weaves along the edge of the hills.

That single-track eventually dumps you out at another intersection where five trails connect, oddly called Six Points. The immediate right trail takes you down to Hidden Valley and then connects back to Shaver Grade, which you just ran up. (One time, I ran this because it was getting dark and I thought it would be shorter. It might have been, but I was too terrified by the coyotes in the dusk to notice.) Trail to your immediate left goes down to Deer Park. The other two are branches of the Yolanda Trail. My all-time favorite run is to follow Yolanda on the right back down to the lake. But, I didn’t do that yesterday because the bottom of it is super overgrown and running through tall grasses freaks me out.

Follow Yolanda. And, no, I don't know what Yolanda means.
Follow Yolanda. And, no, I don’t know what Yolanda means.

Take the left-hand Yolanda Trail, with the arrow saying To Worn Springs Road. (You’ll know it’s the correct trail on your left because it’s the one going up and Mt. Baldy is up.)

This trail is also super nice single-track, weaving up and down, though gradually up, and along the back side of the hill. It’s also relatively un-trafficked, by which I mean I didn’t see anyone from when I left Phoenix Lake to when I was close to back to it. The single-track dead-ends into a fire road that is Worn Springs Road. At this point, it gets nasty and steep. When it drops you out on Worn Springs Road, there’s a gate in front of you that would lead you down to fancy houses in Ross, where Sean Penn lives, but you turn right onto the fire road and start the climb up to Baldy.

The climb goes up in spurts, steep and then gradual and then steep. I walked twice for 45″ or so, just because it was so steep my shuffle wasn’t moving me very quickly. You’re going around the back side of Baldy and eventually (after 10′ or so), you’ll crest the trail and it’ll start to head back down on the other side, with Mt. Tam in front of you. Before going down, though, there’s a short (50m) detour to your left that takes you right out onto the top of Mt. Baldy.

At the top, this is what it looks like:

The fact that the hill is bald means you can see all around.
The fact that the hill is bald means there aren’t any trees blocking your views. From Pelican Studios.

The top is actually really cool — in an area inundated with cool views. Because there’s nothing around it, you get a 360 degree look at everything, and the wind is usually blowing (sometimes hard), which makes it almost impossible not to throw your arms out and yell at the tiny people below.

When you’re done with that, head back down the detour to the Worn Springs Road trail and continue on it, down the other side of the hill now. That trail is very steep, so unless I’m training for some downhill race I take it easy. It’s not technical, though, and is wide and sweeping (often filled with eagles floating on the wind currents). If you wanted to bomb the descent, you could. Worn Springs Road eventually drops back down to Phoenix Lake, turn left at the lake trail (shake your legs out from the trashing they just took), and head back to the trailhead and back to your car.

Wide open spaces.
Wide open spaces. The Worn Springs Trail from Mt. Baldy.

Most people actually go up this trail (Worn Springs Road), because it’s the most direct route from Phoenix, and then they come back down it the same way. I like the loop because it makes it an actual run, about 8 miles, around 1700′ of elevation or so, and about 1:15 run time. Steve says I should do the loop the opposite direction, because going up the steep part and down the gentler side would be better for my legs and a better workout. But, that sounds shittier.

Steve also swears that when he used to do running time trials up Worn Springs to Mt. Baldy in high school, he could do it in 14′.  It took me 14′ to go down it, but I kind of want to run up it at full speed now to see what I could do.

Whenever I do trail runs I don’t know (which wasn’t this, but other times) I use detailed Marin County Trail Maps (PDF at that link), but trail maps never quite seem to show how things actually look once you’re out there, so I tend to combine it with directions like these from someone who’s done it before.

Have you run Mt. Baldy? What’s the best trail run?

9 thoughts on “Awesome Marin Run: Mt. Baldy (Bald Hill)

  1. I haven’t run Mt. Baldy, but its on my list the next time I’m in the bay area. My best trail run is Wildwood Trail in Forest Park. The best. My happy spot indeed! 2500 elevation gain — it’s amazing. I love trail running though 🙂

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