7.3 mile loop through oak woods along San Pablo Bay.
Distance, category, and difficulty:
This 7.3 mile loop hike is moderate, with about 700 feet in elevation
change. Trailhead elevation is around 5 feet. The hike's high point is around
Mostly shaded, some full sun
Dirt fire roads and trails
Good year round.
From US 101 in Marin County, exit North San Pedro Road. Continue east on
North San Pedro Road for 3 miles, then turn right into the park at the campground
GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
(* based on Google Earth
data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)
Parking in a gravel lot. $5 day use fee (self register if entrance kiosk
is unattended). Trail access is not unobstructed, but in general trails
are not wheelchair-friendly. There is no direct public transportation to
China Camp, but you can walk (or cycle) into the park from a Golden Gate
Transit bus stop near Civic Center: visit the Transit
Info website for details.
Gas, food, and lodging:
Gas, pay phone, stores, and restaurants back near Civic Center along North
San Pedro Road and in either direction on 101. China Camp has a campground
with 30 walk- and bike-in sites (no drive-in sites).
Most trails are multi-use. A few are designated hiking-only. Dogs are not
permitted. For day use, the park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset.
The Official Story:
China Camp page
China Camp park information 415-456-0766.
is described and mapped in 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: San Francisco,
by Jane Huber (yup, that's me, the creator of this website). Order
this book from Amazon.com.
Download the park
map pdf from CSP's website.
Trails of Northeast Marin County is my favorite map (available
from Pease Press).
Afoot and Afield: San Francisco Bay Area, by David Weintraub
this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a China
Hiking Marin, by Don and Kay Martin, has a few good maps and
some trail descriptions (order
this book from Amazon.com).
North Bay Trails, by David Weintraub, has a good map and trail
this book from Amazon.com).
Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page
Camp State Park has an excellent network of trails, enabling
hikers to create a variety of loops. This hike can be shortened or lengthened,
and is routed along easy and moderate trails -- it is the medium option
of the park's three most popular loops. China Camp can feel rather sleepy
in autumn and winter, but summer draws loads of visitors for hiking, biking,
picnicking, and camping. Miwok Meadows Group Area is a popular (reservations
required) day use site for family gatherings and work parties. Back Ranch
Meadows Campground hosts 30 walk-in sites strewn throughout pretty woods.
The campground is an extremely popular destination in summer, but you
can often snag a site at the last minute on an autumn or early spring
weekday; in winter the place is mostly deserted. Before you start your
hike here, take a minute to discuss trail sharing etiquette with your
hiking partners. China Camp is an unusual bay area state park, with all
but two park trails open to hikers, equestrians, and cyclists (most state
parks prohibit bikes from narrow trails). You probably won't see many
horses, but cycling is popular here, and you'll likely cross path with
lots of bikes. The protocol for multi-use trails is that bikes yield to
hikers, and everyone steps aside for horses. However,
on China Camp's narrow trails, I find it simpler to step aside for the
bikes, particularly when riders are slogging uphill, where momentum is
important. In a group, the first hiker who spots a cyclist is advised
to call out "bike!" to the rest of the party, who should veer onto the
right edge of the trail. When hiking with several people, try to remain
single file rather than stretching across the trail. Use special caution
near the blind corners on the upper trails at China Camp -- down in the
flats cyclists expect heavy hiker use, but further afield they don't seem
as prepared for encounters.
Begin from the day-use lot and walk on
the paved park road toward the campground (you can skirt the campground
completely via Shoreline Trail, but that option is longer and does not
route you past some of the nicest park rest rooms in the bay area, at
the campground). When we hiked here last, the smell of morning campfire
smoke drifted our way as a wild turkey trotted across the road. When you
reach the campground parking lot, pass the restrooms and information signboard,
step into the woods, cross a bridge, turn left, pass campsite number 1,
then leave the campground area and, after a few steps, meet Shoreline
Trail feeding in from the right. The nearly level path runs above a damp
area on the left,through
grassland dotted with young buckeyes and coyote brush. Deer are common
throughout the park, and we saw the first of several here on a summer
morning. Without tall trees blocking views, there are uninterrupted vistas
north to the shores of San Pablo Bay, and south to the park's tallest
hills. At about the 1/2 mile mark, continue straight on Shoreline Trail
where a path heads left toward Turtle Back Hill. Shoreline Trail runs
near North San Pedro Road briefly, then veers right as it skirts a marshy
meadow. Look for a pretty buckeye standing alone off to the left, conspicuous
in early summer when it is ablaze with clusters of white flowers. Shoreline
Trail passes through pockets of California bay and oaks, crosses a creek,
then reaches the edge of Miwok Meadows Group Day Area. Pass through the
parking lot, and continue on Shoreline Trail, here a wide dirt road (watch
for cars). At a level grade, the trail runs along the edge of sloping
woods on the right, where orange sticky monkeyflower blooms in spring
and summer. Shoreline Trail crosses Miwok Fire Road at 1.5 miles: continue
straight, following the signs "to ranger station." The trail shrinks back
to footpath size,and
once again parallels North San Pedro Road briefly. Look in the grass along
the trail for yellow mariposa lilies here in early summer. Shoreline Trail
pulls away from the road and heads into woods again, giving hikers an
opportunity to spot (or hear) some of the songbirds that call China Camp
home. Chickadees are common -- listen for their "chick-a-dee-dee-dee"
call as they flit through the trees. I've also seen a black phoebe and
spotted towhee in this area. Black phoebes have dark gray heads and backs
with white bellies and are flycatchers, so look for them perched on tree
or shrub branches, while spotted towhees shuffle through the leaf litter
on the ground. Spotted towhees are about robin-sized, and have rusty bellies.
Their black wings are speckled with white, which is most obvious when
they are in flight. Shoreline Trail winds through patches of grassland
and a forest of natives including madrone, coast live and black oak, and
California bay. At 3.7 miles you'll reach a junction with Peacock Gap
Trail (unsigned on my last visit). Bear right and ascend to a second junction
at 3.8 miles, where Peacock Gap Trail continues straight to the park boundary.
Bear right, now on Oak Ridge Trail. The narrow trail weaves uphill through
woods dominated by California bay. Switchbacks ease the climb and soon
you'll emerge from the woods at a junction at 4.2 miles. McNear's Fire
Road heads left and right, but continue straight on Oak Ridge Trail.
Slightly off the ridgeline, Oak Ridge Trail
sweeps across a sloping hillside dotted with oaks and a few manzanita
shrubs. Early wildflowers
here include milkmaids and shooting stars. Where breaks in the vegetation
permit, look off to the left for great views of San Rafael Bay and the
Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Oak Ridge Trail meets McNear's Fire Road again
at 4.6 miles. The fire road climbs steeply, to the left. up a ridge once
dominated by non-native eucalyptus. In 2001 the park removed the trees,
so the ridgeline is now bare. Continue straight, still on Oak Ridge Trail.
Back in the pretty mixed woods the trail keeps to a nearly level grade.
The shade is welcome on a warm summer day, but in the winter expect mud
in this section. Oak Ridge Trail ends at Miwok Fire Road at 4.9 miles.
Turn left and walk uphill a few yards to a signed junction with Ridge
Fire Road. Turn right. After miles on narrow trails, it's a pleasure to
stroll along this well-graded wide fire road bordered by California bays
and pockets of sticky monkeyflower. Look for lupines and paintbrush blooming
in late spring and early summer here. Ridge Fire Road ascends slightly
and reaches a junction at 5.2 miles. Turn right (unsigned at last visit)
onto Bay View Trail.
Another singletrack trail, this is one
of the park's quietest. Far uphill from the developed area, and without
a paved road or trail in sight, the trail provides easy and peaceful strolling
under cover of oaks, madrone, and California bay woods. In spring blue-eyed
grass blooms along the trail, and in summer look for California milkwort,
a native wildflower with rose-pink petals. Bay View Trail meets Back Ranch
Fire Road at 6.4 miles. Bear right.
This steep fire road descends rapidly,
switchbacking under power lines. The black oaks mixed through madrone
and California bay along the trail shed gorgeous orange leaves here in
autumn. After one last steep and slippery patch, the fire road ends at
a junction with Shoreline Trail (the leg left skirts the campground and
is an optional route back to the parking lot) at 6.8 miles. Continue straight,
and the trail drops into the campground (if you camped here you'd be home
now). A spur heads left near the restrooms, but keep going straight to
the bridge at 7.1 miles, then turn left and retrace your steps back to
Total distance: 7.3 miles
Last hiked: June 11, 2006