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Hit the (Dirt) Road: 5 Urban Running Trails

Ditch the treadmill and track for these five urban trails that wind through the great outdoors.

Lands End
Trail running doesn’t get any more majestic than this. To avoid the tourists ogling the “Steep Cliff” signs, head to the Lands End Trail in the early morning (be prepared for fog). Enter the trailhead around the Legion of Honor, and run the wide-ish path atop of the windswept coastal cliffs. The run is moderate, save for some blood-pumping staircase action. The views are definitely worth the pain. parksconservancy.org

Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve
This just in: There’s a rainforest in San Francisco. OK, so it’s not a real rainforest, but this fern-flanked urban oasis feels like one. To access the network of Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve trails, start at the Edgewood trailhead in Cole Valley at the top of Edgewood Avenue, and follow the (sometimes muddy) path up and to the right. You’ll go around the mountain and catch glimpses of the Golden Gate through the trees. Follow the Historic Ridge Trail around, or connect with the North Ridge Trail for a shorter jaunt. Along the way, you can see Sutro Tower at the top, where a spa-like eucalyptus grove stands. After a good stretch, head down the East Ridge Trail, and connect with Fairy Gates back to Edgewood Trail. natureinthecity.org/mtsutro

Ocean Beach to Fort Funston
This route is best tackled at low tide, when you can jog on packed sand near the surf. The starting point is anywhere along Ocean Beach, depending on how ambitious you’re feeling. For a six-mile loop, start at Lawton Street—there’s a paved path closer to the Great Highway, but that’s for pansies. Also, the paved path turns into dry, impassable sand around Taraval Street. Head to the surf, then run south toward the zoo, with surfers and wave-dodging sprints as your entertainment. The turnaround point is under the rugged, sandy bluffs of Fort Funston, near the intersection of Skyline Boulevard. parksconservancy.org


Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park’s trails are labyrinthian, but for an easy-ish five miler, start in the Botanical Gardens, which you can enter on Lincoln Way and Ninth Avenue. Stay closest to the paths that run parallel to Lincoln Way, and keep heading west (cross Crossover and Transverse drives) to a narrow dirt path that winds past the park’s small lakes. Continue past the polo fields and the equestrian center, and loop behind the Golden Gate Park Golf Course to North Windmill and (hark!) the ocean. Backtrack to your starting point. nps.gov

The Presidio
The Presidio trails are all top-notch for trail running. Short jogs around the Ecology Trail and up Lover’s Lane (hello, hill training) are nice, but for a solid five-miler, try this loop: Start at Mountain Lake Park (11th Avenue and Lake Street), and connect with the Bay Ridge Trail to your right. Then, turn onto the California Coastal Trail, and skim the ocean to the Batteries to Bluffs Trail. If you want to get a few stair sets in, the wooden ones down to Marshall Beach should do the trick. Turn back toward the city on the Lobos Creek Valley trail. presidio.gov

Farther Afield: Five More Trails

Tilden Park (East Bay)
This sprawling open-space park boasts great bay views at Inspiration Point, a cow or two, and miles of fire roads for your running pleasure. ebparks.orgs

Rodeo Beach (Marin)
This four-mile loop through the Headlands in Sausalito takes you over breezy slopes above the Rodeo Lagoon, Tennessee Valley, and the ocean. nps.gov

Redwood Regional Park (East Bay)
This park is the trail-running mecca of the East Bay. The French Trail Connector is a good introduction to Redwood Regional Park and takes you through dense redwood forests. ebparks.org

Phoenix Lake (Marin)
At nearly three miles, this loop off Lagunitas Road is a trail runner’s paradise. If you’re up for a climb, trails branch off of the lake up to Mount Tam. transitandtrails.org