Henry Coe Park, California, southeast of San Jose
April 6-8 2012
Henry Coe State Park is the largest state park in northern California and one of the few multi-day backpacking areas in the SF Bay area. It is a winter and spring backpacking area, perfect for times when the High Sierra is blanketed in snow. The park is on the state “chopping block” list of park closures due to budget shortages and was scheduled to be shut down in July. Fortunately enough private funding has been procured to keep it open, at least for the short term.
I did this short trip over Easter holiday with an old friend, who is in his 70’s. We may go slower than the younger folk, but we can go all day! First day we ambled along slowly to Coit Lake, spent the second day on a leisurely day-hike and returned the third day. We parked at Hunting Hollow trailhead, originally planning a clockwise loop returning via Hunting Hollow Creek. At 9AM when we started frost was on the grass. We quickly walked the road to the second trailhead, Coyote Entrance where we then followed the Coit Road to Grapevine Trail. Halfway up Grapevine Trail and behind schedule, we decided to instead veer from the plan and head east directly to Kelly Lake via Cattle Duster trail/Domino Pond Trail/Wasno Road/Kelly Lake trail. Planning on camping at Kelley Lake, we found three other groups camped there. Although tired, we continued to Coit Lake and camped at the empty campsite at the dam. We arrived after 6PM and set up at a flat spot just below the dam. It has been a dry winter at Henry Coe Park so obtaining drinkable water was a challenge. Coit Lake is reed-choked and we had to walk nearly half way around the lake to find access to the water. By the time we gathered water, set up and cooked dinner it was getting dark. Soon a full moon rose and beamed brightly all night. We traveled 10 miles with 2120 feet elevation gain and 1,080 elevation loss. We had spotted several deer and heard many wild turkeys gobbling in the bushes. Coit Lake was alive with bird song and ducks swam up and down the pond. It frosted during the night.
Mossy Oak Tree
Domino Pond Trail
Flowers on Wasno Road
Reed choked Coit Lake
Second day we slept in and opted for a shorter day hike to Pacheco Falls. We did a counter-clockwise loop around Coit Lake to the inlet, up Coit Road, north on Live Oak Springs Trail, down to the falls and back to Coit Road and back to our campsite via Coit Ridge trail. Pacheco Falls was a bit anemic from lack of rainfall and the small pond at the base of the falls was choked with poison oak. Back in camp we decided to move up to a bench on the east shore for a better view. It was quite hot this afternoon so we just sat in the shade and jabbered on, “what have you been doing the last five years?” Another group now set up a bright orange tent across the lake. A few day hikers from Kelly Lake came by our camp. They told us that there were now ten groups camped at Kelly Lake. Our day-hike was 6.6 miles with 1730 feet up and down. The second night was much warmer with no frost. The full moon again lighted the night sky and was still on the western horizon at dawn the third day.
Pond along Coit Road
Wood Duck Pond on the Pacheco Falls Trail
Oak Trees on Coit Ridge Trail
Coit Lake from Coit Ridge
I had originally planned on returning via one of the eastern ridge routes down to Hunting Hollow Creek. It was much warmer than predicted so we decided instead to zig zag west then east and stay in the creek canyons where there was more shade. We were up early and left at 8AM, and headed west using our originally planned in-bound route via Kelly Cabin Creek. Wildflowers were abundant as we dropped the 700 feet into the creek. The creek was flowing but not as full as I had seen it in previous years. The water was clear and someday I would like to camp down here. The trail continues down the creek about a mile and half then climbs back up to Coit Ridge. By the time we climbed back up the ridge it was getting hot. We crossed the road and descended westward on the upper part of the Grapevine trail. Then we repeated a mile of our in-bound route following Cattle Duster and Domino Pond Trails until we hit the Rock Tower Trail. Ascending the trail I accidently got onto the Elderberry Trail going east which added a mile to get back to the Rock Tower Trail. The descent south on Rock Tower Trail to Grizzly Gulch trail was through a splendid Oak and grassland slope filled with wildflowers and past two little ponds. By the time we reached the trail junction our knees were worn out! We rested as several mountain bikers rode by. It was getting late so we had to continue to descend another 700 feet to the Coyote Creek trailhead. Now we had wished we had parked here! We trudged 2 miles down the paved road back to the car. Thank goodness it was shady and a good cool breeze was now blowing. We reached the car at 6PM after traveling 11.5 miles with 1820 feet elevation gain and 3200 feet descent. Although Henry Coe Park is notorious for ticks, we only found one. Our knees were a bit worn and we were a bit tired and sun soaked, but managed the first of the year hike without any major problems. Henry Coe Park is one of my favorite “conditioning” hike area. We had a great time and the weather could not have been better.
Morning Moon at Coit Lake
Kelly Cabin Creek
More mossy oaks on the Cross Canyon Trail
Oak Tree on the Rock Tower Trail
Rock Tower Trail from the junction with Grizzly Gulch Trail
Mountain bikers on the Grizzly Gulch Trail
Grizzly Gulch Creek