Henry W. Coe State Park

Monument, Middle Ridge, Fish Trails

6.2 mile loop, 9.5 mile loop

This part of the Diablo Range is heavenly for hikers.

Henry W. Coe State Park, perched high above the Santa Clara Valley, preserves a cross-section of classic California Coast Range: ragged, rolling hills dotted with antiquarian oaks and strewn with wildflowers.

Geologists say the Diablo Range, which stretches from the Carniquez Strait to the Antelope Valley, and is bordered by the San Joaquin Valley on the east and, in part by the Santa Clara Valley to the west, has undergone a tumultuous history of uplift, folding and faulting. A part of the range—particularly the drier part—is a devilish landscape.
 
Henry W. Coe State Park, however, welcomes visitors with a diverse ecology: grasslands, conifer forests, oak woodlands. The park features some unusual flora, including magnificent manzanita, growing more than fifteen-feet high on Middle Ridge and on well-named Manzanita Point. Despite the area’s long pre-park use as grazing land, assorted native grasses, including purple needle grass and Western rye, survive.

Henry Willard Coe, Jr. pioneered hereabouts in 1880, and over the years increased his holdings. His daughter, Sada Coe Robinson, gave 12,230 acres of the family ranch for a park in 1953. Subsequent additions have increased the park to 81,000 acres making Henry W. Coe California’s second-largest state park.

Best times to visit the park are in spring when wildflowers—Mariposa lilies, poppies, fiddlenecks, buttercups, shooting starts and more—pop out all over, and in autumn when the black oaks glow golden and the temperature is just right for hiking.
 
Stop at the park visitor center, located next to an old ranch house, and view the natural and cultural history exhibits. Pick up a map and inquire about trail conditions here.

Old ranch roads, open to hikers, cyclists and equestrians, comprise most of the park’s extensive trail system. Day hikers departing from the visitor center can fashion a trip from the more than 40 miles of trail emanating from the headquarters’ area through the original nucleus of the park.

The park visitor center, at about 2,600 feet in elevation, is one of the highest parts of the park. In other words, most trails lead downhill, meaning return trips are an uphill climb.

I have two favorite loops through the main part of the park. One is a 6.2 mile jaunt to Middle Ridge, around Frog Lake, with a return on Fish Trail. A longer 9.5 mile loop takes off from the junction with Fish Trail and continues 2.5 miles to Poverty Flat; its oak- and sycamore-shaded trail camps are ideal sites for a midday picnic or taking a rest.

Directions to trailhead: From Highway 101 in Morgan Hill (south of San Jose, north of Gilroy), exit on East Dunne Avenue. Drive 13 miles east on the narrow winding road to the park visitor center and hiker parking lot.

The hike:
From the visitor center, walk a hundred yards back up the park entrance road
and join Manzanita Point Road on your right. After a 0.1 mile climb on the paved road, you’ll join signed Monument Trail, a footpath.

Monument Trail ascends fairly steeply over oak-dotted grasslands and soon reaches a signed junction. At this point, one may take a short spur trail to the west for a great view of the Santa Clara Valley, before returning to the main trail which leads leads a few hundred yards east to a monument to park namesake Henry W. Coe.

Here you are on the crest of Pine Ridge. Ponderosa pine—unusual in the Diablo Range—give the ridge its name.

Your path joins a major dirt road, known as Hobbs Road, and begins a descent down the back side of Pine Ridge into a black oak forest. The road crosses the Little Fork of Coyote Creek and you pass a side trail on your right leading to Frog Lake. There’s fine picnicking on the shores of this little green reservoir.

Continue up the road to Middle Ridge or join Frog Lake Trail for the climb to the ridgetop and a meeting with Middle Ridge Trail.

Middle Ridge Trail descends, then ascends before entering a stand of truly gargantuan manzanita. A few pine trees grow up through the manzanita—a weird sight.

At the signed junction with Fish Trail, those ambitious hikers following the longer loop will continue descending on Middle Ridge Trail, cross the Middle Fork of Coyote Creek twice to Poverty Flat Road, following the road a short distance down to the Poverty Flat trail camps. Your return to the trailhead will be via Poverty Flat Road, the madrone- and laurel-shaded Forest Trail and the Corral Trail.

Those hikers on the shorter loop will descend through the woods to recross the Little Fork of Coyote Creek, then head across an inspiring valley oak-studded meadow. The trail meets, then crosses Manzanita Point Road. You link up very briefly with Springs Trail, then join Corral Trail for a westward walk over a buckwheat-covered slope and through an oak woodland back to the trailhead.

© 2012 The Trailmaster, Inc.
From John McKinney’s
Day Hiker’s Guide to California’s State Parks
Trail descriptions and maps have been reproduced with the permission of the author.  To learn more about The Trailmaster and other related publications please visit their website at www.thetrailmaster.com.