93% SINGLETRACK6% FIRE ROAD1% ROAD
China Camp is a wonderful singletrack ride, especially if you're at a time when you're a little out of shape or if you have beginner riders with you. It's the best (and "only", really) beginner singletrack ride in the Bay Area, in my opinion. Any other beginner options are either more fire road than singletrack or have at least a few punishingly steep sections in the mix.
This route in China Camp is almost completely singletrack and requires almost no advanced climbing stamina or technical skills. While there are a number of technical spots along this ride that would pose difficulty to beginners (and be welcome fun for experienced riders), almost all of them are constrained to the first quarter of the ride, and then things get even easier.
You have free as well as fee-based parking options at China Camp. However there is also a trail-use fee that you'll have to pay even if you don't park in one of the fee-based parking lots. Both annual and daily parking passes allow free trail use for up to four people. Passes can be purchased online or at several machines in the park that accept cash in exact change or credit cards. (See that link for details.) Parking on San Pedro Road, as many bikers have been doing for the longest time, is still free and legitimate. However, keep in mind that you'll still be subject to the trail-use fee when you use that option. At the parking link on the left, I'm pointing to one of the paid lots because that's what I prefer to do at China Camp as a way of supporting the park and also because the day-use parking fee (which is $5 as of late 2015) is only marginally higher than the trail use fee anyway (which is $3).
Speaking of supporting the park, we need to recognize and applaud the Friends of China Camp for all that they have done and continue to do for China Camp. It's thanks to the efforts of this volunteer group that the park managed to remain open when it was slated to be closed due to the 2012 state park budget cuts. Today, they operate this park in partnership with the state park system. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that we owe the continued existence of this wonderful ride option to their efforts.
While, on most loops, I usually opt to ride in the direction where the climbs are longer and gentler, in China Camp, I prefer to ride in the direction where the climb is shorter and the descent is longer. This is because even the shorter climb is no challenge at all, and I'd rather keep the "work" short and the gradual and fun descent long, rather than working uphill (no matter how gently) for a longer while and shortening the fun of the descent.
This ride first climbs up the ridge part of the way, at a moderate but steady grade, and then slowly descends back to sea level, followed by a flat return meandering along the foot of the hillside. Other than a few short fire road sections here and there, it's all singletrack.
The ride also rewards you with one or two vista points where you can look to the north and the south, and the sea-level portion of the ride is frequently open to the northern coast of the park.
Near the eastern end of the loop, you'll see that this route includes a spur to visit China Camp Village. This tiny settlement is the last remnant of the numerous Chinese fishing villages that dotted the Bay Area and persisted until early in the 20th century, and happens to be what gives the park its name, obviously. Apparently, the general store here is still run by a descendant of the original residents of this village, who still resides here. There is also a small museum there that answers a lot of questions about the background of the place. The village easily deserves a visit at least for first timers.
If you find yourself looking for a place to eat after a ride in China Camp, one of my favorites is a Puerto Rican restaurant named "Sol Food" in downtown San Rafael. They have multiple locations. Be prepared to wait in line, though; it's very popular. Another good casual option for a post-ride meal is the San Rafael location of Pizza Orgasmica. The atmosphere is fun, the pizzas are decent, they brew their own beer, and it's a large enough place that you shouldn't have trouble getting a table.
© Ergin Guney
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