Camping San Rafael

by Guest

San Rafael is a small city in Marin Country just north of San Francisco in California. Before the city was founded in the early 19th century, the area was home to several Miwok villages as well as several missions. In 1879, the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad arrived in the city which linked it to the rest of the nation, making it much more accessible. Throughout World War II, the US Navy operated out of San Pablo Bay nearby. While most visitors who come to the city stay in the hotels and guest houses, it's also possible to stay in one of several campsites in nearby national and state parks. One of the closest and the best is the Black Ranch Meadows Campground in nearby China Camp State Park. Nestled along the banks of the San Pablo Bay, the China Camp village was created in the late 19th century by Chinese immigrants who came to the area to fish for shrimps. During its peak, there were more than 500 people living at the site and many of the wooden huts where they lived are still standing. They survived by walking across the mud flats when the tide was low in search of shrimps, and either sold them to local restaurants or dried and shipped them back to China. Unfortunately, the China Camp community and industry went into decline in the late 19th century when Chinese immigration was curbed and the expert of seafood was banned. Guests can still see the old village, the drying platform, the grinding hut, and the huge wooden pier. There is a museum chronicling the history of the region as well as a grocery store run by Frank Quan, the ancestor of one of the founders of the site.

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Back Ranch Meadows Campground

There is just one campsite in the China Camp State Park which has pitches available for just tents. Campervans, motorhomes, and caravans are not permitted due to the space. It's located right next to the park's entrance and not far from the city of San Rafael. It's also close to the many walking trails, the shores of San Pablo, and the Turtle Back Hill Nature Trail.

camping san rafael

Camping in San Rafael. Photo by Sharon

It's small with just over 30 grassy pitches available amongst the forest of oaks and laurels. Facilities are basic and none of the pitches have electricity or water hook ups. They also can't be booked in advance and operate on a first come first served basis. When you arrive at the campsite, you will need to park up around 200 metres away, and carry all the gear you will need to the pitch. Remember to bring your own tent, sleeping bags, provisions, water, and camping stove. They do have wheeled carts to help you move your stuff to the site. Each of the pitches include a picnic table and a fire ring where you can cook up and eat camp dinners. The site also provides lockers at the pitch to discourage wild animals from eating your provisions. The site is split up into different areas: the Glade site has 15 grassy shaded pitches and are accessed from a lower path, the Hill site has a further 15 pitches which are also accessible a little further away by another trial, and there is another site available for disabled travellers. Though the site is only available for campers, motorhomes are allowed to spend one night in the car park. Campers are permitted to stay up to seven nights and costs US $5 per person per night.

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While you camp, there are plenty of things to do. Visit the nearby city of San Rafael with all of its restaurants, bars, and museums, or enjoy the scenic beauty of the countryside. The picnic areas are a wonderful place for families or groups to get together, cook, socialise, and eat in a serene environment. One of the largest nearby picnic areas, the Miwok Meadows, can accommodate up to 200 people. This picnic area can be hired for parties, and has fire pits and grills, a horseshoe toss area, and washrooms, though there is no running water.  Two smaller picnic sites include the 50 person Buckeye Point and Weber Point, both of which enjoy spectacular views over the bay. Generally, they do not need booking in advance, though big events like weddings may need to get a permit in advance.

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While you are in the park, you can hike along the dozens of miles of trails, which are also open to mountain bikers and horseback riders. The trails are well signposted, so guides are not needed, and take visitors through some stunning North Bay countryside and wildlife habitats including wetlands, grasslands, and forests. Popular routes include the Turtle Back Hill Nature Trail, a 1 mile route which takes a circuit around the salt marsh bay and is also available to wheelchair users. Alternatively, take the Shoreline Bayview loop trail, a long 7 mile hike that works it was from one side of the peninsula to the other, and lets visitors take in the rich wildlife of the lake and forests. Lastly, the Back Ranch Fire Trail is a 6 mile hike to the summit of San Pedro Mountain. It's a challenging hike, but worth the effort for the views from the top alone that overlook San Pablo Bay, Marin County and Mount Diablo. Mountain biking along the trails is also popular, and most of the paths are available to adrenaline junkies who want to ride along the lakeshores and down the mountain. In the park, it is possible to hire kayaks and paddleboards as well as yachts to go sailing. It's often be described as one of the most kayak friendly spots in the whole of the San Francisco Bay area.

camping san rafael

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