Location: San Rafael
Time from Bridge: 20 min GGB
Mileage: Loops from 3.5 to 9+ miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Facilities: Multiple restrooms and fountains along North San Pedro road.
Parking is free in pullouts with self-pay parking in paved lots.
Dogs: Allowed on-leash in developed areas only. No dogs on trails.
101 North to North San Pedro Road.
North San Pedro road runs the length of the park.
With flat(ter) grassland along the waterfront and forested hills above, China Camp State Park has a bit of a split personality.
An easy 3.5-4 mile option is to pick up the Shoreline trail near the main campgrond entrance (just inside the park boundary on your right if you approach from North San Pedro Road). Shoreline does just what sounds like it might and stays relatively low along the cliff band running along the bay. Shoreline trail will take you all the way out of the park to the east, but to head back take the Oak Ridge trail from the trail intersection just above the Ranger Station (Shoreline, Oak Ride, and Peacock Gap trails all meet nearby). Take Oak Ridge west to the T intersection with Miwok Fire road (Oak Ridge trail ends here). Head downhill on Miwok Fire road to the intersection with Shoreline, bearing left, and you’ll soon be back at your car.
A great longer option that involves substantially more climbing also begins at the parking lot near the main campground entrance. Start out up the Bay View trail. Enjoy the switchbacks (500′ vertical) – you’ll follow the contours of the hillside, taking corners over wooden bridges that cross seasonal streams/waterfalls. When Bay View crests, bear right on Echo Trail.
Echo Trail climbs gradually to the West. A half mile of fun ridgeline running on Echo brings you to Bay Hills drive, a paved (though traffic restricted) access road. Headed left (South) on Bay Hills you’ll climb the Ridge Fire Trail. After a few minutes on Ridge Fire Trail you’ll see the viewing tower on your left (towards the bay). This is a perfect place to take 5, check out the view, rehydrate and refuel.
Continue on Ridge Fire Trail, steadily losing elevation and passing the Black Ranch Fire Trail intersection on your left. You’ll lose about 500 feet from your peak by the time you hit the intersection of Ridge and Miwok fire roads. Take a left on Miwok and quickly bear right on Oak Ridge Trail. A gradual downhill will eventually hook you back up with Shoreline trail – take a left on Shoreline and work back towards the main entrance parking lot and your car for a total loop of appproximately 9 miles.
Great single track and fire road terrain with enough options and variety to warrant multiple visits, especially given its proximity to the city. China Camp is also a rare Bay Area waterfront setting that sees spectacular fall colors. Deer, rabbit, and fox are all common year round.
The area’s popularity with mountain bikers can create stressful and dangerous situations (and staying right through turns does not always ensure safety).
Anything you’d like in San Rafael, though I pity those that do not get Mexican.