By Michael Lanza

Pausing along the Coastal Trail, which slithers across crumbling bluffs that plunge 400 feet to the ocean in the rugged hills of Northern California’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, I’m struck by a sense of awe. Far below us, the surf sloshes loudly against the rocky shore of Pirates Cove, where stone pinnacles rise out of the sea, isolated by centuries of wave erosion. It’s the kind of scenery that makes talking sound like loud radio static, so we fall silent.

The moment stretches into minutes. I figure my running partner, Janet, a local who has run these hills for over 25 years, is politely letting me enjoy the view, because she has undoubtedly stood here many times. Then she confesses, “I never get sick of seeing this place.”

I’m here for an adventurous four-day, 42-mile run across Marin County, a place with a reputation for fearsome hills—and arguably the country’s best trail running (and great hiking). More than 700 miles of footpaths spider web a network of 40 federal, state, and county parks covering some 170,000 acres—an area about 200 times the size of Central Park in New York City. The parks contain forests of towering redwoods and Douglas firs, a rocky coastline where elephant seals bellow on secluded beaches, streams that boil with spawning coho salmon, and rounded hills harboring Tule elk and nearly half of all the bird species in North America.

My route from Sausalito to Inverness follows an itinerary at the extremes of rigor and decadence. With the exception of a short cab ride from one inn to a trailhead on my third morning, I’ll step out of a lodge every day in my running shoes and shorts, carrying just water, a couple bars, and a light wind shell, and run to the next night’s accommodations while a taxi transports my luggage. I’ll crank out nine to 12 miles a day, almost entirely on trail, with a calf-knotting couple thousand feet of cumulative vertical. Every evening, I’ll plow through a five-star dinner and kick back in luxurious digs.

The photo above is from this trip’s third day, through quite forest of big trees and across hilltop meadows on the Bolinas Ridge Fire Road. Read my story about this really enjoyable and scenic adventure, with more photos and information on how to plan it yourself.