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Hike of the Month: Henry W. Coe State Park

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The Trail Companion

October/November 1996

Hike of the Month: Henry W. Coe State Park

     by Rich Allsop

Henry W. Coe State Park is the second-largest state park in California, with almost 80,000 acres of wild country southeast of San Jose. Deep canyons with seasonal creeks and pools divide long ridges covered with grasslands, mixed woods and chaparral. Artificial lakes and stock ponds provide habitat for waterfowl and red-winged blackbirds, as well as fishing for bass and panfish. Wildlife in the park includes deer, turkeys, feral pigs, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions, and a spectacular wildflower display blossoms every spring. Views from the ridgetops include the Santa Clara Valley, the surrounding Hamilton Range, and, on very clear days, the Sierras.
      A network of trails and dirt roads allows travelers to plan trips ranging from an easy afternoon stroll to a week-long backpack. The Fish Trail-Middle Ridge Trail-Northern Heights Route Loop covers about six-and-a-half miles without too much climbing, covers a lot of interesting country, and gives excellent views of the further reaches of the park, and only has a few short, moderately steep climbs. To get to Henry Coe State Park, head to the East Dunne Avenue exit on Highway 101 in Morgan Hill. Turn left on East Dunne Avenue, and drive thirteen miles east to Coe Park Headquarters at the end of the paved road. Headquarters is usually staffed by volunteers from the Pine Ridge Association. They will collect your park fee and answer any questions you may have about the park. The volunteers are good folks and deserve our thanks. The PRA also sells books, T-shirts, and maps, including a trail map that names the trails and routes in the park and is a real bargain at a dollar. (While the Fish Trail is hiker use only, most of the trails and dirt roads in Coe are open to mountain bikes and horses. Call (408)779-2728 for more information.)
      Before you leave headquarters, make sure that, in addition to the usual lunch and equipment you take on a hike, you carry several quarts of water. The park can be uncomfortably warm during the spring and fall and dangerously hot during the summer. Also, some of the hills in the park are relentless, with long, steep climbs. Pace yourself and keep your first hikes in Coe fairly short until you learn what to expect. Also, be aware of the usual backcountry hazards, including ticks, poison oak, and rattlesnakes (I hiked for over ten years in Coe without seeing a rattle snake, and then I saw three in one weekend).
      Leave headquarters on the Corral Trail, which contours around the head of a steep, thickly wooded side canyon and continue along the southeast side of Pine Ridge for about half a mile to a major junction. Here, the road intersects the Spring Trail and the Fish Trail. Go north on the Fish Trail across the dirt road and continue on past the junction with the Flat Frog Trail and the Forest Trail.
      The Fish Trail drops to the northeast along a small intermittent creek, crosses a grassy saddle, and drops down to the Little Fork of Coyote Creek. Be careful on the one steep section of trail where it crosses another intermittent creek. The Little Fork was dry in the summers and falls of the drought years, but the crossing is beautiful when there's water in the creek, with a pool surrounded by moss-covered rocks and shaded by sycamore trees. The Fish Trail then climbs Middle Ridge, tunneling through patches of manzanita and joins the Middle Ridge Trail at the top. Middle Ridge Trail runs northeast and southeast along the top of Middle Ridge.
      Turn left heading northwest along the top of Middle Ridge through open woods with oaks and gray pines and spectacular views of Blue Ridge and Mt. Sizer through the trees. This mile or so of trail will give you an idea of what some of the more extreme sections of Coe are like. Where the ridgeline goes up, the trail goes up, and where the ridgeline goes down, the trail goes down. (Turning right would take you southeast to Poverty Flat. Poverty Flat is beautiful, but it's 1,400 feet lower in elevation than headquarters, and there is no easy way to make the climb out).
      The Middle Ridge Trail ends at the Northern Heights Route which is a maintained dirt road. Turn left, and the path will lead you south and east past large ponderosa pines and some excellent views of Mt. Hamilton to the north. Turning north on the Northern Heights Route would take you down to the Middle Fork of Coyote Creek and then up to Blue Ridge. The route passes an outhouse at Frog Lake Camp. You might detour to Frog Lake itself, a small, weedy stock pond.
      The Northern Heights Route continues to cross the Little Fork of Coyote Creek again and meets the Flat Frog Trail just beyond. The Flat Frog Trail was built by volunteers to provide a level path to Frog Pond. Level trails are unusual in Coe, and the Flat Frog Trail will take you back to the Corral Trail and headquarters with almost no climbing. If you continue south along the Northern Heights Route, you'll be rewarded with some excellent views of Coe Park and the surrounding hills. Nearing the top of Pine Ridge, you come to a junction with the Monument Trail, which takes off to the right and leads directly to headquarters. However, the Monument Trail does not go by the Henry Coe monument. To get there, you have to continue straight ahead on the Northern Heights Route for a few hundred feet to the monument on your left. Henry Coe was one of the original homesteaders in the area. His daughter, Sada Coe, donated the twelve thousand acres of ranchland and woods that provided the nucleus of Coe State Park in 1953.
     Continuing south and downhill on the Northern Heights Route will take you to the Pacheco Route, another maintained dirt road, where you turn right to get back to headquarters. However, a small cutoff trail takes off from the Northern Heights Route directly across from the monument and runs west through the Monument Trail. At the junction you can turn left to go back to headquarters or you can cross the Monument Trail and continue straight ahead on a small spur trail that leads west to Eric's Bench. I don't know who Eric David May was, but his family and friends must have thought highly of him; they picked a wonderful spot to put a bench, under ponderosa pines and huge oaks with a view of the Santa Clara Valley in between the Diablo Range and the Santa Cruz Mountains. Relax there for a while, then turn around and go back to the Monument Trail. Turn right on the Monument Trail and follow it downhill, south to headquarters and start making plans to return and explore the rest of Coe State Park.


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