Crest Canyon and the Joys of Urban Trail Running

Sometimes you just have to make do with what you have, and when you're making do with what you have, you realize that you have a hell of a lot. That's how I was feeling for most of the day yesterday as I revisited one of my first and favorite urban trail runs.

While I envy people who live in trail-running meccas like Boulder, Bend, or Park City, and I occasionally catch myself drooling over pictures of miles of uncrowded singletrack trails that can be found within walking distance of the front door of the inhabitants of these cities, I do, however, immensely enjoy the challenge of stringing together trails in an urban environment. It's fun to solve the puzzle of how to join sections of trails together in a logical way to make a loop with the least amount of pavement. It involves getting to know an area really well, getting lost on the trails, and lots of time tinkering and testing the magnification settings on Google Maps, trying to determine if that squiggly line is indeed a runnable trail, or a dead-end path leading to the den of a local pack of coyotes.

When I was training for my first marathon a few years ago, I lived next door to Paul Thomas, who was an amazing runner and world-class duathlete, and I would pick his brain about running every chance I could get. He encouraged me to get out on trails and introduced me to some of the trails around our neighborhood, trails that I run nearly every day. One day I asked Paul what his favorite local trail was, and he told me that any time one of his old running friends came out to visit, he would take them to Crest Canyon. I asked for more details. Paul gave me a starting point and a cryptic description of a loop that crossed some streets, went along some train tracks and a cliff, but mostly he encouraged me to just get out there and explore.

I started going out to Crest Canyon in Del Mar for my weekend long runs. I got lost a few times, found some beautiful trails, mixed in some connectors on the road and incorporated one of my favorite spots in the world, Torrey Pines State Park. It was so much more enjoyable than running up and down the long, straight (but also beautiful) Coast Highway. My current Crest Canyon loop is about 12 miles and I included some details below, but if you want to do the run, just get out there and explore, string some of your own trails together, or get lost and find new routes. It's part of the challenge and most of the fun.

I park at Roberto's on Carmel Valley Rd. because burritos are good. I head toward the coast, then turn right onto Del Mar Scenic Rd. The first trailhead is at the end of the hill. This trail will lead you to Del Mar Heights Rd. Cross Del Mar Heights and connect to the Crest Canyon trail. This will lead you to San Dieguito Dr. where you turn left, cross Jimmy Durante Blvd, and run west along the Del mar Riverpath until you hit the Coast Highway. Turn left and head towards 15th St. park. Run through the playground and take the trail that follows the railroad tracks on the cliff. From here, I run up the inside grade of Torrey Pines, do the short, but beautiful Guy Fleming trail loop, then down the beach trail to the beach, north on the beach, then under the bridge, through the Torrey Pines parking lot, and then let the sweet smell of breakfast burritos lead you back to Roberto's.

15th Street Park

Along the tracks in Del Mar

This is a great trail, but (wait for it...) it gets congested.

Ended the day at the Torrey Pines Gliderport with some friends in bright yellow shirts

Thanks for reading.


  1. Great photos - looks like beautiful coastline, the colours of the earth have me drooling! Do you end up with red legs?!

    1. Thanks, Stephie. The red dirt and sand were quickly washed away as I found myself hopping from rock to rock in knee-deep high tide with the face of a cliff on my right and the ocean on my left.

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