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What was once a thriving 19th-century fishing settlement is now one of California’s most popular state parks for runners, hikers, bikers, and all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts. Located just east of San Rafael and one hour north of San Francisco, China Camp boasts an extensive, 15-mile network of trails that twist and turn through dense forests and vibrant wildflowers. Each of these gems offers views of San Pablo Bay, Mt. Tamalpais, and San Francisco Bay. Here are the most awesome trails in China Camp State Park, plus some interesting facts.
China Camp State Park Loop
By far the most popular hike in the park is the China Camp State Park Loop. The nine-mile loop is considered to be a moderate hike, and winds through tons of wildflowers, wildlife, and shady sections (depending on the season). Some sections offer views of the bay, but most of it is spent in the woodland areas. It’s open to horses and bikers as well, and many people note having to step aside for all the mountain bikers, especially on the weekends. There is a parking lot at the Back Ranch Meadows parking area, which costs $10.
Turtleback Point Loop
For those looking to just get some great views and not exert too much energy, the Turtleback Point Loop circles Turtleback mountain and only lasts about 0.6 miles. It’s popular for all experience levels and particularly enjoyable for people hiking with kids. Avid birders should also prioritize this loop in the park as it offers lots of options to see various species of seabirds.
The Shoreline Trail offers just what it advertises — an excellent route that hugs the shoreline of the San Pablo Bay. It offers a pretty simple and straightforward out-and-back trail that stretches for about 10 miles, but you can feel free to turn back at any point. The trail has a $3 walk-in fee and stops at several picnic tables and camping sites where tent camping is permitted. The shoreline trail is just a quick walk from China Camp Beach (right next to China Camp Village), which is arguably the most popular destination in the park. This part of the park offers picnic areas right on the shore of San Pablo bay, and it’s one of the most relaxing spots in all of Marin County. If camping is your thing, brush up on Camping California: Best Locations and Pro Tips.
The Bayview loop is another moderate-level trail that winds around the park for 3.5 miles. It can be accessed on foot, bike or horse, and takes on some significant elevation gain (1,610 feet in total). If you opt for the Bayview Loop, you’ll be rewarded with good views across the bay and pine forests at several points throughout your hike.
Oak Ridge Trail
Especially geared towards mountain bikers, the Oak Ridge Trail is a quick 1.5-mile out-and-back single track trail that winds through a great section of China Camp. Although there are some great downhill sections, don’t go so fast that you miss the views! Bikers should especially be on the lookout for other hikers as they come around bends. If you fancy something a little more adventurous, check out Backpacking Yosemite: Best Hikes and Useful Tips.
If you’re eager to do a workout, consider the Peacock Gap trail. It’s only three miles, but the incline is significant as it gains some decent elevation. The hike ends with switchbacks up to Mcnears trail, but most of it is shaded so you won’t be roasting in the heat. For competing trail runners, the trail hosts the Peacock Gap Trail Run every year, and they have options for 5k, 10k, a half marathon, and a full marathon.
Ridge Fire Trail
Setting off from the China Camp Village, the Ridge Fire Trail is a 4.3-mile out-and-back, moderately-difficult trail. From the top of the switchbacks, you’ll find a gorgeous patch of eucalyptus trees and views from the bay all the way over to Richmond. However, like many of the other trails, it’s very popular with bikers. Try to do this trail during the week, otherwise, you may be stepping aside for cyclists every couple minutes or so. If you’re looking to find some nightlife after hitting the trail, consider the Coolest Jazz Clubs in San Francisco.
A Bit of History
As far as names of state parks go, China Camp is definitely peculiar. The name dates back to the second half of the 19th century. After the gold rush and the completion of the international railroads, Chinese laborers found themselves looking for different work. As it turned out, the San Pablo Bay mudflats and salt marshes turned were ideal ecosystems for starting up a shrimping business. By the 1880s, about 500 people of Chinese descent inhabited what is now China Camp. Each year, over three million pounds of shrimp were caught, packaged, and shipped to China.
There’s plenty to do around China Camp that doesn’t include just hiking and biking trails. For starters, San Pablo Bay is one of the most kayak-friendly bodies of water in all of the San Francisco Bay area. In that category are also stand-up paddle boarding and sailing. There are also lots of events coordinated by the surrounding community including naturist-led hikes, a book club, and beach clean-ups. To learn more about how to get involved in the China Camp community, Friends of China Camp is the volunteer organization that has managed the park since budget cuts in 2012 threatened its closure.