Flat Frog, Middle Ridge, and Fish Trail Loop
Total Distance: 7.8 miles round-trip
Hiking Time: 4 hours
Elevation Change: 1,000 feet
The closest thing to wilderness in the South Bay is Henry W. Coe State Park. This well-known but not-so-well-traveled state park is the second largest in California (the largest is Anza-Borrego Desert State Park near San Diego). Comprised of tall ridges bisected by deep, steep ravines, Coe Park is notoriously hilly and rugged. Its varied terrain includes grasslands, oaks, chaparral, pines, and mixed hardwoods.
Henry Coe is so large—87,000 acres and growing—and its terrain so rugged that to see much of it, you need to take a backpacking trip lasting at least a few days. But day hikers can tour the western part of the park on this nearly eight-mile loop around Middle Ridge.
Two requirements for the trip: First, pick a cool day to hike, ideally in late winter or spring when Coe Park's streams are running. The park is notoriously hot in summer. Second, bring plenty of water, even if the weather is cool.
This loop begins just across the road from the visitors center at park headquarters. It mostly avoids the wide, exposed ranch roads and instead sticks to narrow footpaths. Take the single-track Corral Trail, which parallels Manzanita Point Road. In typical Coe Park fashion, Corral Trail passes through three distinct ecosystems in short order: mixed oak woodland, grasslands, and chaparral. Spring wildflowers are plentiful, especially iris, poppies, buttercups, and popcorn flowers. Watch for the more unusual purple monkeyflowers.
In less than a mile, turn left on Springs Trail to cross Manzanita Point Road, then immediately bear left on Flat Frog Trail to begin a gentle ascent to Frog Lake. This 2.3-mile trail isn't the shortest route to the tiny lake; it's nearly double the length of Hobbs Road to the west. But it's a pleasant, single-track ramble with scenic views of Middle Ridge, traveling through a surprisingly varied woodland. Ponderosa pines are mingled with the black oaks and madrones. In spring, look for giant trillium in the forest understory. Its large, mottled leaves are easy to identify. Bright red columbine, purple shooting stars, and Chinese houses are also common.
Flat Frog Trail connects with Hobbs Road just before Frog Lake; take either trail to the tiny former cattle pond. A backpacking camp is located nearby. One-acre Frog Lake is spring-fed; even in dry years it usually has a little water in it. It supports a few bass and bluegill, but they aren't easy to catch. Frequently the surface of the water is completely covered with green algae, but nonetheless, the pond is a good place for bird-watching. Acorn woodpeckers use the dead snags around the lake as granaries for their acorns. On one April trip, we spotted a pair of colorful western tanagers flitting around the trees bordering the lake. We watched their bright-hued feathers for almost an hour.
Cross Frog Lake's dam and continue uphill to Middle Ridge. The oak-dotted grasslands above Frog Lake support goldfields, lupine, poppies, and even a few dogtooth violets—providing much to pause and admire while you catch your breath on this climb. Once you reach Middle Ridge, look forward to a roller-coaster walk with many lovely views of Coyote Creek canyon. Although the trail initially leads through alternating grassy clearings and groves of pines and black oaks, it later enters a stand of giant, tree-sized manzanitas growing 15 feet tall.
Follow the ridge for just over a mile to the right turnoff for Fish Trail. Enjoy a pleasant descent through two canyons filled with black oaks, bay laurels, and willows. Cross the Little Fork of Coyote Creek. Where the trail parallels Fish Creek, you'll have the good company of this small cascading stream. The final leg of the trail brings you back into grasslands dotted with huge valley oaks. Many bear large clumps of mistletoe growing high in their branches.
Where Fish Trail ends, cross Manzanita Point Road, take Springs Trail to Corral Trail and follow it west for the final stretch back to park headquarters and your car.
A longer hike, but one that is a great adventure in the cool spring months, is the trip out to China Hole, a year-round pool on the Middle Fork of Coyote Creek. Bring along plenty of water and snacks for the 10-mile round-trip, which has many sunny, exposed sections. Follow Corral Trail as outlined, but after crossing Manzanita Point Road, take Forest Trail east, which rejoins Manzanita Point Road shortly before the group campground. Walk through the campground to site 7 and pick up China Hole Trail, which drops 1,200 feet on its way down to the creek. Enjoy the delightful scenery at China Hole, then get ready to climb back uphill. You have a few choices for looping back if you don't want to retrace your steps. Take along a park map.
From U.S. 101 in Morgan Hill, take the East Dunne Avenue exit and drive east for 13 miles to Henry W. Coe State Park headquarters.
Information and Contact
An $8 day-use fee is charged per vehicle. Dogs are not allowed. Bikes are allowed on some park trails. Park maps are available at park headquarters or by free download at www.coepark.org. For more information, contact Henry W. Coe State Park, 9000 East Dunne Avenue, Morgan Hill, CA 95037, 408/779-2728, www.coepark.org or www.parks.ca.gov.
From the book Moon 101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area by Ann Marie Brown. Excerpted by arrangement with Avalon Travel, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2011. For more information, visit http://www.moon.com.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication