China Camp State Park,
California State Parks,
Marin County

In brief:
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 630 feet.

Exposure:
Mostly shaded, some full sun

Traffic:
Moderate

Trail surface:
Dirt fire roads and trails

Hiking time:
3 hours

Season:
Good year round.

Getting there:
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 sign.

GPS coordinates* for trailhead:
Latitude 38 0'21.39"N
Longitude
12229'48.28"W
(* based on Google Earth data, shown as degrees, minutes, seconds)

Trailhead details:
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).

Rules:
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:
CSP's China Camp page
China Camp park information 415-456-0766.

Map Options:
 This hike 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 (order this book from Amazon.com) has a great map and descriptions of a China Camp hike.
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 descriptions (order this book from Amazon.com).



Go to Bay Area Hiker Home page



China Camp State Park has an excellent network of trails, enabling hikers to create a variety of loops. Trailhead photoThis 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. Trail through campgroundIn 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. Shoreline TrailAt 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. Oak Ridge TrailAt 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. 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 the trailhead.

Total distance: 7.3 miles
Last hiked: June 11, 2006