We decided to visit some State Parks that are slated to close next summer. One, we visited recently, we thought we’d visited years ago. Mistaken, yet delighted we arrived at another amazing California park.
We approached China Camp State Park from the North on N. San Pedro Rd in Marin County. This 1600-acre park is situated on San Pablo Bay. Wetlands, beaches and hills come together in a gorgeous setting.
The day was calm and warm. We passed a campground near the entrance that will only be open on the weekends after November 1. There are trails just above the road and more near and at the mountain ridge. We stopped briefly at Bullhead Flat.
Coast Miwok populated the area until the mission system and a Spanish land grant took the land from them. As grants go, the land was given and sold. For many years, part of the land was a dairy with grazing land owned by the McNear family. (A County Park just to the south bears their name. That’s the park we visited when we lived in San Francisco.)
Above Rat Rock Cove is a picnic ground, with interpretive signs about the area. Surrounding the cove was a Chinese village in the 1800s. The view is across San Pablo Bay from the Richmond Refinery to Marin and Sonoma County. It was like a view of our lives. Also, I fell in love with Rat Rock Island.
On a road downhill from the picnic grounds, is the area of China Camp Village and several remaining buildings that include a museum. When this village of 500 was at its height, it was only accessible by water.
The Chinese grew vegetables and fished for shrimp in the bay. They used huge nets from their stable junk-style boats and processed the shrimp on site, sending most to China. Due to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibiting more Chinese laborers from arriving (the railroads were built and the gold rush was over) the population declined. Later the nets they used were outlawed and switching to new net design was not enough to sustain the village.
Today the cove provides swimming, picnicking and boat launch for kayakers and other small boats. We had lunch at the rustic café owned by the last Chinese resident.
We drove back along the water and stopped at Turtle Back Hill. A nature trail and some of the Shoreline Trail across the road are relatively flat and are marked wheelchair accessible. The nature trail is a loop less than a mile and is packed sand and dirt with a boardwalk section.
Following the trail to the right is a view of a wetland area. A hundred acres of the park are made up of this important area to the bay’s health. Coyote bush line the trail with a few coast live oak. Uphill are more valley and black oaks, manzanita, Madrone and bay trees.
About halfway on the loop, is a boardwalk close to the wetland filled with pickleweed. Then the trail goes uphill through a forest of Madrone and Manzanita. It looks like many trees have recently been planted on the hillside. Pavers cover the trail in one area to prevent erosion.
Perhaps the calm warm day made me feel more peaceful, but that is the sense of the place that I came away with. Between a beautiful natural place and the now almost ghostly village, it relaxed me. The only eagerness I felt was to return again.
Parking lots and bathrooms are frequent along the main road. We have a day-use pass. Parking is $5.
On the Nature Trail – no dogs and no bikes.
Now for a plea. China Camp State Park is one of many state parks slated for closure due to California State Parks. Please donate to the Parks Foundation. Or donate to your favorite park.