Trail: CHINA CAMP: San Rafael to San Pablo Bay


China Camp State Park is a short ride from San Rafael and is home to some of the area’s best beginner mountain biking along with tons of wildlife and gorgeous views of the San Pablo Bay. If road biking is more your thing, then China Camp offers you a great ride around the coast of the San Pablo Bay that can be added on to a ride, or can just be a destination for the day.

Distance from The Short Cut: 8.4 miles (16.8 miles round-trip); Larkspur Ferry Terminal and Larkspur Connection: 10.70 miles; Marin Crossroads: 18.92 miles; Distance from Sausalito: 22.94 miles; Distance from San Francisco Ferry Building (see Golden Gateway Trail): 32.75 miles.

Elevation Gain on trail: 312 feet (624 feet round trip)

Difficulty: The ride features an urban ride through San Rafael which gives way to rolling hills and scenic views of San Pablo Bay, out far enough to make it a full day ride, but not so hard to get to a tourist couldn’t make it.
-Elevation Map for the Route provided by MapMyRide.com
Starting at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Second Street in San Rafael, the end of The Short Cut or partially through Let’s Grab a Beer, continue north along Lincoln Ave. Basically, follow Lincoln Ave. across Second St., or with the heavy traffic on Second St. if you are coming from downtown San Rafael (the faster route detailed in Let’s Grab a Beer), the safer option is to make a right onto Lincoln Ave. from Second St. and do a U-Turn on Lincoln Ave. and then cross Second St.
Follow Lincoln Ave. to Fourth Street (the route for the slower option detailed in Let’s Grab a Beer), then make a right onto Fourth Street, or continue to go straight if you are coming from Fourth St.
Follow Fourth St. as it crosses over the railroad tracks and under US-101.
Continue to follow Fourth St. until you reach Union St. Make a right at Union St.
Follow Union St. and make a left onto Third St. at the light.
Follow Third St. through San Rafael as it leaves the city and climbs to the rolling hills toward San Rafael Bay. Third Street becomes Point San Pedro Rd. This is Bike Route 24.
Continue to follow Route 24 as it passes by San Rafael Bay with views of the McNear Brickyard along the way.
Just a bit further up the road is McNears Beach. McNears Beach has an outdoor pool, tennis courts, fishing and walking trails.
The hill leading up to and past McNears Beach is a tough climb ranging from 7 to 11%. Fortunately, it’s a short hill, so just power through it and you’ll almost be to China Camp.
After the climb, you get a nice descent to gain some speed as you enter China Camp.
At the entrance to China Camp Route 24 ends and Route 26 begins. Continue through the next 3.5 miles of rolling hills through China Camp. Click here for a map of China Camp.
The first section of China Camp is a bit of a climb as you go by the entrance to the Shoreline Trail and mountain bike paths on your left.
Your first descent takes you past China Camp Point as you round the sweeping left hand curve which leads to Five Pines Point.
Rounding Five Pines Point takes you on a descent with views of San Pablo Bay.
You’ll pass the Ranger Station on your right and then the road levels out for a short stint before climbing up to Weber Point where you can stop and take a short break.
The hills keep coming as you make another climb past Buckeye Point and descend through a couple of “S” curves to the next section of flats and the first section of marshlands.
Continue past Chicken Coop Hill and another entrance to the Skyline Trail will be on your left.
You’ll then pass by Bullet Hill with the Bullet Hill Trail entrance on your left and marshlands on your right.
Another quick rolling hill takes you past Turtle Back Hill with another trail entrance on either side of the road.
The flats after the descent from Turtle Back Hill takes you past the campground entrance on your left.
Once you past the campground entrance, you are just about out of the China Camp. Another mile and a half of flats brings you up to the boat launch area, which is where we typically turn around.
At this point, you have two options for returning back to San Rafael. The first is to turn around and take the same route back to San Rafael.
The second option is to continue along North San Pedro Rd. under US 101, make a left at Los Ranchitos Rd. and Los Ranchitos until it become Lincoln Ave. Continue along Lincoln Ave. until you cross Second St. in San Rafael and then make a right onto Irwin St. You will then meet up with Let’s Grab a Beer or The Short Cut and head back to Larkspur.
We typically turn around and take the scenic route through China Camp back to Larkspur. It’s a nice ride with a lot less traffic. If you decide to turn around as well, follow the road and once you get to San Rafael, continue on Third Street until you reach Lincoln Avenue, then make a left on Lincoln Ave. Follow Lincoln Ace. as described above and you’ll be back to Larkspur in no time.
No matter if you are looking to add some extra miles, or have just never been past San Rafael, China Camp is a great place to cycle.
Happy Thanksgiving!

2 thoughts on “Trail: CHINA CAMP: San Rafael to San Pablo Bay

  1. I really enjoy your site. I live in Georgia and have only been to the S.F. area once but hope to get back there soon with my bike. Thanks for all the pics and info.

    • Hi Greg, thank you for the kind words. We keep checking back as we will be updating the site with more rides beyond San Francisco and Marin to include East Bay and Half Moon Bay rides too!

      If you don’t want to travel with your bike, Blazing Saddles has a location where you can rent a high-end road bike. We’ll put up another article with the info regarding the rentals soon.

      Hope you can make it back to the Bay Area again and experience the trails first-hand!

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