Back in 2012, China Camp in San Rafael was one of 70 state parks that was scheduled to be closed as part of a $22 million budget cut. Within weeks of that declaration, a loose affiliation of Marin County residents – fishermen, hikers, mountain bike and kayak groups, scores of history buffs – formed the Friends of China Camp to save the 1,500-acre park abutting San Pablo Bay that once served as thatched housing tracts for the Coast Miwok Indians, later thrived as a post-Gold Rush Chinese immigrant fishing village and has, since time immemorial, been home to delicate marine and arboreal habitats.
They were successful, so now it’s our job to go there and enjoy the beautiful and historic village and open space that otherwise would have gone fallow.
Not only are there fascinating historical remains of the Chinese settlement at China Camp Village on the promontory, but there are gorgeous bayside picnic spots at Weber Point, Buckeye Point and China Camp Point and, at the southernmost point, a beach that draws sunbathers and long-distance swimmers.
From a trail runner's or hiker's perspective, what China Camp lacks in vertical challenge (à la nearby Mount Tamalpais), it more than makes up in scenic beauty and untrammeled singletrack etched into the foothills. Few other places, it seems, can boast a route that, within minutes, takes you from sea level (tidal marsh and undeveloped shoreline) to a forest (oak, madrone and even the occasional coast redwood) in a 600-foot altitude change.
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Another plus: Unlike fog-shrouded Mount Tam and the wind-buffeted Marin Headlands, China Camp features a temperate microclimate thanks to the protective, hilly ridges that block the marine layer and keep temperatures relatively warm in chilly Bay Area springs and summers (70s to 90s).
Weekend Hike: China Camp State Park Loop
Distance: 6.7 miles
Directions to Trailhead: From Sacramento, take Interstate 80 West to Highway 37 (Vallejo). Travel west to Highway 101 South. Take the North San Pedro Road exit. Follow signs for the Marin County Civic Center and China Camp State Park. Turn left off the freeway and go onto North San Pedro Road. Follow San Pedro Road for about 2.5 miles to the sign for Miwok Meadows Picnic Area. Park on the side of the road and walk up a fire road 0.3 miles to the trailhead.
Route: Start at the Miwok Meadows picnic tables, head north, cross a wooden bridge onto the Shoreline Trail. Take the Shoreline Trail 1.5 miles to a three-way junction. Take a sharp left uphill onto the Back Ranch Trail. Make a left at the Bay View Trail and go 1.6 miles. Take a right on the Oak Ridge Trail for 1.2 miles. The Oak Ridge Trail descends to the Peacock Gap Trail. Continue downhill for a short ways to the Shoreline Trail and turn left. Take the Shoreline Trail back to the start.
Call The Bee’s Sam McManis, (916) 321-1145. Follow him on Twitter @SamMcManis.