Bon Tempe Lake
Ross Commons- Natalie Coffin Greene- Phoenix Lake- Shaver Grade- Hidden Grove- Sunnyside- Shadyside- Pumpkin- Madrone- Fish Gulch- Phoenix Lake
Alpine Lake might be my new favorite lake in Marin, but this run has the sentimental factor going for it. I have run this loop many times, and it's one of the tried and true runs in my book.
Getting started with this run is a big tricky, especially on the weekends. Natalie Coffin Greene should be the trailhead, but the parking lot is miniscule and trying to find parking on the weekend is a good joke. (Today there were at least three cars waiting for people to leave the lot when I went through.) Thanks to Ross' highly territorial parking restrictions (do not tempt them either-- I misread a sign and ended up with a $30 ticket once--more expensive than I generally want my runs to be), you are not permitted to park anywhere along Lagunitas Road until you get to Ross Commons, almost a mile from the trailhead. During the week, parking can be found by the tennis courts, but parking is prohibited here on the weekends. I don't get it, but in a county that didn't want Bart in the 1970's, I suppose it all makes sense.
From Natalie Coffin Greene, the fire road leads up to Phoenix Lake, following the lake until Phoenix Junction. At Phoenix Junction, I took Shaver up and up, past the Five Corners (six, actually) trail junction and continued up Shaver until crossing Sky Oaks road. The trail follows the road for a hundred yards or so until the tiny Hidden Grove trail forks to the left. It is possible to continue straight on the road and end up at Bon Tempe Dam, but I prefer Hidden Grove, both for the view of Bon Tempe coming over the hill, and also because it provides more time to run on the Sunnyside trail.
Sunnyside is, as its name promises, the hotter, sunnier side of this trail. It is also the side of the trail one is more likely to see fishermen casting from lakeside, dry grasses and big oak trees- a completely different ecosystem than Shadyside. I also ran past a man who looked old enough to be my grandfather (definitely older than my father) who was wearing what looked to be a Quad Dipsea shirt. Thank you sir, for reminding me that running a 50K in my 30s is not the pinnacle of greatness I can aspire to. Talk about upping the ante! Despite my irritation with Marin's parking pitfalls and its lack of trails where dogs can be off-leash, Marin has a long and glorious history of trail running, and it is sometimes possible to see people on the trail who might have been around for all of it and who are still out there running. This alone is enough to make me feel inspired while running in Marin--I run by someone who has obviously seen a few years (and a lot of miles) on the trail and I am reminded that even if I can't trip the light fantastic the way I could when I was 20, there are a lot more miles of trail spreading out ahead of me.
Back to the run-- the trail goes over the dam and then to Bon Tempe's Shadyside. Instantly, the temperature drops, making this a great trail to run on a hot day. It's hard to believe, looking at the picture to the left and the first one, that these microclimates are literally steps away from each other. (As an aside, Oakland's Museum of California has a marvelous permanent exhibit on the different ecosystems of California- no other state has as many!) Shadyside eventually winds around to the Lagunitas Picnic Area. If you want to add crazy mileage and elevation gain to your run, this is a great place to run up Mt. Tamalpais, but today I was not ready to add so much more.
From here, it's possible to head straight down to Phoenix Lake by way of Fish Grade, but I decided to add a little loop, taking Pumpkin Ridge to Madrone, then back to Fish Gulch which parallels Fish Grade and eventually ends up at Phoenix Junction, where I retraced my steps back to the car. This loop adds a little uphill on Pumpkin Ridge, but the downhill on Madrone is tons of fun, and the trees for which the trail is named (Pacific Madrones) are beautiful, with even smoother bark than Manzanita.
It is possible to take dogs on this trail, provided they are on leash. This is also a great picnic area--benches and gorgeous views abound, should one decide to stop the running for a snacky-poo. All in all, one of my favorite running routes in Marin. Highly recomended.