China Camp State Park

3stars (3.00)2
2point5stars (2.50)
2stars (2.00)
San Rafael
More Info

Trail segments closer to shore flatten out and the sky opens up. San Pablo Bay can be seen in the distance.
Trail segments closer to shore flatten out and the sky opens up. San Pablo Bay can be seen in the distance.
China Camp State Park on the shores of San Pablo Bay once served as home to almost 500 residents of Chinese descent who fished for shrimp in the bay. At one time there were enough people in the area to support three general stores and a barber shop. Established as a park in 1976 the area now hosts recreation and historic enthusiasts.

The park's 1,514 acres feature trails that meander through the Oak filled uplands as well as through Sun drenched flats along the edges of marshland. Trails farther inland are provided with ample shade from the Sun thanks for the oaks that grow in abundance. Closer to the shore, on the edge of the marshes, the sky opens up.

The Shoreline Trail occasionally meanders inland to avoid the marshy lowlands nearer the shore. Shore birds such as Egrets can be found searching for food here.
The Shoreline Trail occasionally meanders inland to avoid the marshy lowlands nearer the shore. Shore birds such as Egrets can be found searching for food here.
The park's trails are shared by hikers and mountain bikers. Fire trails are wide and allow plenty of room, but space can be more constrained on the single track paths. It's a good idea to be alert and ready to move to one side or the other when encountering an oncoming cyclist.

Portions, though not all, of the park's trails are ADA accessible. Shoreline Trail and Turtle Back Trail near the western boundary of the park are marked as accessible. Look on the park brochure for the trail segments highlighted in yellow for these easier routes that might also be ideal for visitors with smaller kids.

The remains of the China Camp village are now preserved in the park boundaries.
The remains of the China Camp village are now preserved in the park boundaries.
The park opens up into wide, flat marsh land along the shore. Sprinkled along this flat canvas are a few high points with colorful names like Turtle Back Hill, Chicken Coop Hill and Bullet Hill. The park's brochure map shows Jake's Island to be separated from the mainland. Marsh is neither land nor sea but in the gray area in between. Depending on the tides, one may be hard pressed to think of it as an island as opposed to just another hill.

Near the southern end of the park sits the remainder of China Camp. A long boat dock, shrimp drying buildings, living quarters and other support structures remain. An exhibit near the boat dock provides some context into the history of the area and successes, trails and tribulations faced by the residents who settled here and made a living from the sea.

Several bridges span seasonal creek crossings, making the going easy. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Wrong hill
We found these seven turkeys on the wrong hill. This is Chicken Coop Hill! (Photo by Austin Explorer)
At the summit
Coppertone takes in the views atop Chicken Coop Hill. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Chicken Coop Hill
The trail leading up to the peak of Chicken Coop Hill is steep, but not terribly long. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Looking over the bay
Coppertone leads the way on the trail into a clearing with wide views of San Pablo Bay. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
The marshy shoreline of San Pablo Bay as seen from the trail. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
San Pablo Bay and parking
A view from the trail overlooking San Pablo Bay. The parking lot near our trailhead can be seen to the right. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Highlands and Islands
Turtle Back Hill is to the left and Jake's Island is closer to the center. Though the island looks land locked, it's surrounded by Marsh that can be impassible at times. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Shady Trail
The more inland segments of trail provide ample tree cover for relief from the Sun. (Photo by Austin Explorer)
Log Entries
Always be alert
By Austin Explorer on 9/22/2019
Rating: 3stars Difficulty: 3stars Solitude: 2stars
Distance: 4.24 Miles Duration: 2 hours, 4 minutes

Coppertone and I returned to China Camp to map out more of the trails.  We parked at Bullhead Flat, across the street from the ranger station.  Our plan was to head west along Shoreline Trail and turning around at Miwok Meadows which was the easternmost extent of our previous trip.

Like our first trip to the park, hikers were far outnumbered by cyclists.  The ratio today may have been 5 to 1.  Every cyclist was friendly, so no problems of that nature were encountered.  One or two did not adhere to slow down doctrine when passing by hikers.  Thankfully they didn't catch a rock the wrong way and crash into us.  If you really hate sharing the trail with cyclists, even when good natured, this park may be one to avoid.

We were hoping for a bit more of a bay breeze but our jackets got no use today.  The temperatures were moderate enough but very little wind provided any cooling opportunities.  Shoreline Trail is high enough off the shore that tree cover is fairly consistent.  Views of the shore are more sporadic through breaks in the trees here and there.

Near our turnaround point at Miwok Meadows we crossed North San Pedro Road to do the loop around and over Chicken Coop Hill.  On the far side of the loop a dead tree has crashed down on the trail, completely covering it.  We picked our way around the obstruction at the tree's trunk without too much trouble.

What stopped our progress more, in terms of time, was a rafter (a.k.a. flock) of turkeys crossing the trail.  The seven individuals were cautious of our presense but did not seem overly concerned provided we remain quiet and still.  Obviously, these birds had not gotten the memo about this being Chicken Coop Hill.  No mention of turkeys in the name!

We doubled back to the trailhead along the same trail.  Coppertone noted that it seemed that every single cyclist we encountered was headed from west to east.  Neither of us could really recall an exception to this rule.  This meant our return leg meant less spinning our head around at the sound of an oncoming bike.  We're not sure if this was pure coincidence or if there is an unwritten rule somewhere.

Because of chores and other responsibilities we had to attend to we did not complete Shoreline from the ranger station to the eastern boundary of the park.  That will have to wait for some other time.

Sharing the trail and staying on it
By Austin Explorer on 4/4/2015
Rating: 3stars Difficulty: 2stars Solitude: 2stars
Distance: 4.80 Miles Duration: 2 hours, 39 minutes

Coppertone and I stopped by to hike a bit after breakfast.  Discovered that there was a marathon being staged in the area, which forced us to park in a different location than planned.  Thankfully we were still able to get into the park and walk a few miles.

There were more mountain bikers than hikers on the trails.  If you are not comfortable around the occasional speed demon zooming by (most are not this way) then you might want to take this into consideration.

Saw a few folks walk right past offlimits signs to get to places they wanted to see regardless of the rules or the reasons behind them.

After the hike we walked around the remainder of the actual fishing camp that gives the park its name.

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