Turtle Back
Chicken Coop Hill
Bullet Hill
San Pedro Mountain P750 NN
San Pedro Hill

Tue, Apr 15, 2014
San Pedro Mountain
San Pedro Hill
Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPXs: 1 2 3 Profile


Following a nighttime hike in the Marin hills, I was awaken early from the quiet Novato neighborhood where I'd spent the night by the sounds of motorists heading off on their morning commute. I had to be back in San Jose in the afternoon, but figured I'd get some hiking in while I wait out the morning rush hours. I drove south to San Rafael then exited east to China Camp State Park. The park, along with several other park entities, covers much of San Pedro Mountain, surrounded by city on three sides and the SF Bay on the fourth. In addition to the highpoint, there were a number of lesser (in all cases, much lesser) named summits that I planned to visit while in the area.

Turtle Back / Chicken Coop Hill / Bullet Hill

These three hills lie in a line along the north of San Pedro Rd overlooking the salt marshes lining SF Bay. They are all rather small and take no more than a few minutes to reach the top. All of them have parking available along the road, but it's not much effort to hike all three from one starting point. The two outside hills, Turtle Back and Chicken Coop Hill have official trails encircling them, but not actually going to the top. Still, there are use trails that can be found reaching to the summits, useful in avoiding the bounteous poison oak that grows on the slopes. Views from the tops are limited due to the oak woodlands found there. Bullet Hill, the easiest of the three, has fewer trees and better views and is the only one with a signed trail to the top. I spent about an hour hiking maybe 2.5mi to cover all three plus some additional trail segments within the state park. I followed a good portion of the Shoreline Trail through Miwok Meadows and along the base of San Pedro Mtn. The trail (and most others in the park) appear to be very popular with mountain bikers who were far more numerous than hikers. The trails are good for both activities, and quite scenic too. There were lizards, wild turkeys, ravens, a skink, squirrels galore and some fine flowers along the way. A nice hike, but with almost no elevation gain, not much of a workout.

San Pedro Mountain

With more than 750ft of prominence, San Pedro Mountain at least offers a good workout. It can be approached from at least three different directions, but since I was already parked on the north side, I left my car where it was and set out to climb it from that side. This one had some effort to put in, some 1,300ft worth and about six miles all told. There are several possible trails to use from the north. I used the Back Ranch and Ridge Fire Trails for the ascent and returned via Bay Hills Drive and the Bay View Trail. The route took me through portions of Harry Barbier Memorial Park as well as San Pedro Open Space Preserve. There are occasional views to San Pablo Bay and inland from the trails that follow through oak woodlands that dominate the north side of the mountain. There are two summits to San Pedro Mtn, neither of which have much to offer in the way of views. The north summit, a small clearing with a utility shed, appears to be slightly higher than the south summit according to the GPS. The south summit, about 1/4mi away, has a more substantial tower complex surrounded by a fence. But the better views are found from various locations on the way to and from the summits. My descent route took me through the Back Ranch Meadows Campground. It was here that I learned that I was supposed to pay a $5 parking fee and/or a $3 trail fee. This was the first time I'd ever seen a fee charged simply to use a trail. My wallet was back in the van but I doubt I would have bothered to pay unless pressed to do so.

Back at the car, I continued on San Pedro Rd heading clockwise around the mountain. I stopped briefly to visit what remains of China Camp Village, the Chinese shrimp fishing community that flourished in the 1880s. There are a number of buildings still standing, maintained by a collection of volunteers who could be seen around the area, talking to visitors, working to repair garden fences and other activities.

San Pedro Hill

The last named summit in the area shown on the topo map, San Pedro Hill was the highpoint of what is now a gravel pit. It can be reached most easily from McNears Beach Park found just outside China Camp SP and north of the quarry. From the parking lot, I hiked a short distance south through a grassy area lined with palm trees, scrambling up the slope at the back to reach the edge of the quarry. San Pedro Hill as depicted on the topo map is now a large pit. I wandered over to what remains as the highest point found at the edge of the quarry, a disappointing pile of tailings mixed with rusting cables and other detritus, brush growing over much of it. Don't get your hopes up on this one...

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This page last updated: Thu May 1 15:09:05 2014
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