Challenging the size of the many federal wilderness areas in the Sierras, 81,000 acre Henry W. Coe State park is within a stone's throw of San Jose. It is filled with a wide range of wildlife, from deer and wildcat to quail and coyote (I had two encounters with Trickster Coyote in less than 24 hours). The long, steep ridge lines are covered with a broad range of oaks, ponderosa pine, and madrone. Henry W. Coe State Park is an undiscovered jewel for many in the Bay area.
Steep terrain, high temperatures and intermittent water play a major role in defining Henry Coe. Because of this, hikes of short distances are recommended for a first visit to the park.
Recommended trip: Frog Lake to Poverty Flat. Return via China Hole and Pine Ridge.
Get an early start on your weekend. Frog Lake is less than 2 miles from park headquarters and makes for a fine Friday evening destination.
From the visitor center climb up road past the ranger's residence to the start of Hobbs Road. At the gate take Monument Trail north. The trail runs 0.4 miles over a high hump, then drops down to Hobbs Road again. Continue north (left) up Hobbs road for 0.9 miles to the intersection for Flat Frog and Frog Lake Trails. Turn up Frog Lake Trail and travel 0.2 mile to Frog Lake. Bring plenty of water for this first night. Potable (or filterable) water is scarce or non-existent, depending on season.
Day two: Climb north up Frog Lake Trail for close to a mile to the intersection with Middle Ridge Trail. Turn right (southeast). Middle Ridge is exceptionally steep. Watch your step.
Middle Ridge Trail runs down the long spine of Middle Ridge. It is spotted with pine, madrone and plenty of oak and provides beautiful views of Blue Ridge, aptly named for its likeness to the high country of the American Southeast.
After just over 3.5 miles, drop into Poverty Flat. Regardless of its namesake, Poverty Flat is rich in campsites and water. The park's most reliable water source, Coyote Creek, runs through this valley. Set up camp here.
Four and a half miles might sound pretty short for a day, but there is plenty of exploring to be done from here. Throw together a fanny pack and head southeast up Poverty Flat Road over Jackass Peak. Continue east until you hit Mahoney Trail. Take this down a long slope that drops you at Los Cruzeros campsite and the often dried out East Fork Coyote Creek. Weather permitting, turn right up the East Fork and hike the stretch of"The Narrows," ending at the Middle Fork of the Coyote. Turn right and follow the makeshift (and in some places, be warned, precarious) trail that leads back to Poverty Flat.
Day three: Take Cougar Trail up 0.7 miles of switchbacks to China Hole Trail. Head west on China Hole just over a mile to Manzanita Point Road. Turn right. You can follow Manzanita Point Road all the way back to park headquarters, but I suggest taking Springs or Forest Trail for a diversion. Corral Trail, towards the end, cuts off unnecessary road hiking and is more direct. Total mileage on day three: under 5 miles.
Getting there: From San Jose take U.S. 101 South to Morgan Hill. Take the East Dunne Ave. exit. Turn left onto East Dunne Ave. and follow this east into the hills. Park Headquarters is 13 miles from freeway, butroad is windy. Use caution.
Public Transit: None, really. Valley Transit Authority can get you within 10 miles, but not on weekends (408) 321-2300.
Recommended Map: Henry W. Coe State Park Trail & Camping Map, by BuddhaNature Maps & Books. Excellent topographical map of most-hiked westernsection and contour shading of entire park on reverse. Topo map also hastrail mileages. Contact the Pine Ridge Association, P.O. Box 846, Morgan Hill, CA 95038, (408) 779-2728.
Henry W. Coe State Park
California Dept. of Park and Recreation
P.O. Box 846
Morgan Hill, CA 95038
Thanks to Ranger Patrick Goodrich.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication