Is bigger better?
Henry W. Coe State Park
For several months our
exploring articles have featured small Santa Cruz County
parks. Now for the more adventuresome, here is a bigger,
higher, more distant state park—Henry W. Coe. Big—it covers
87,000 acres, more than all the Santa Cruz county parks, Big
Basin, and its “sound-alike,” Henry Cowell put together.
High—it rises to 3500 feet above Anderson Reservoir on the
southeastern flank of Santa Clara County. Distant—the drive
one way from our mountains is about fifty miles, and it
takes more than a half hour to wind through the last ten
miles from Highway 101. Is it too big, too high, and too
distant? The short answer is no.
A few days before writing
this article, I flew over the park. And it did look
foreboding. The ridges appeared inaccessible, the canyons
deep, and the trails long
and steep. It didn’t seem like a walk in the park, more like
a brave explorer’s trek where no one had gone
When you get closer,
however, you’ll find many short trails, some without steep
climbs, offering a pleasant walk for families and novice
hikers. Most of these shorter, less strenuous walks are near
the main entrance. These trails will take you through shady
forests of ponderosa pine, oak, and madrone, over giant
sunny meadows, and along gurgling streams to reach
monuments, ponds, scenic view sites, and other interesting
Many loops are available,
eliminating the need to retrace your steps. Even on these
shorter trails, however, some precautions are necessary.
Although trails are generally well marked at trail
crossings, getting lost is always a possibility. Every
person in your party should have a map and water. They
should know where they are going. And in the event that they
don’t pay attention, remind them that if lost, they
should stop and wait for help. A little prehike orientation
could save a lot of worry.
My hike began on a cool,
foggy Saturday morning in April. The parking lot was crowded
with groups of backpackers, dayhiking
couples, and several large
families. I found the last space, next to a group of young
Scouts. I knew they weren’t experienced
hikers. They were loading
cans of food, folding chairs, and an assortment of sugar
snacks into huge packs. I also saw several
couples walking out to the
trailhead in light shoes and flip-flops.
I stopped at the visitors’
center to pay for parking ($3 for seniors, $5 for adults),
buy maps and guides, visit the little museum, and
ask a few questions of the
friendly docents. I was ready to walk.
Monument/ Ponderosa Loop
(under three miles)
This seems to be a favorite
first hike. Tom Mangan, writer/photographer for the
San Jose Mercury
and author of his own Bay
a short article on this hike in the March 6 issue of the
It was his promise of a
relatively easy hike that encouraged me to give this big
park a try.
To reach the trailhead, I
walked back out of the parking area, past the first stop
sign, then turned right to find the trailhead sign
for Monument Trail. The f
rst half mile was relatively steep and broad, not my
favorite kind of trail, and I found it useful to take
pictures while I caught my
breath. I turned left at the junction with Ponderosa Trail.
I was soon on top of Pine Ridge in a large meadow sprinkled
with oaks and ponderosa pines.
At 2/10 of a mile, I found
Eric’s Bench, where I ate an apple while waiting for the fog
to lift. The wait was worthwhile. I enjoyed views to the
west and south of mountains and southern Santa Clara Valley.
Behind the bench, I continued on the trail, which took
me on a relatively short
and level loop around the top of the ridge through meadows
and forest back to the bench. I retraced my steps
back down the trail,
crossing the road to the Henry Coe Monument, where a nearby
picnic table provided another excuse to snack
Hobbs Road/ Frog Lake/Flat
Trail Loop (4.5 miles)
I was encouraged by the
ease of my first experience, so I decided to extend my trip.
A few steps from the monument took me back
to Hobbs Road. I don’t
usually like roads but this route was the shortest distance
to Frog Lake, only 1.1 miles. It was almost all
downhill, but the gravel
was slippery, and I was glad that I used a walking stick to
keep me upright. I stopped to see many spring
wildflowers on the way.
I didn’t see any frogs in
Frog Lake, but a spring Saturday encouraged many visitors,
including several couples and a few fishermen.
The lake was small but it
was a pleasant place to picnic and talk to other hikers.
Avoiding the steep road
back, I took the single-track Flat Frog Trail. The trail was
flat, not the frog. It was a lovely, shady trail,
meandering along the Little
Fork of Coyote Creek and through the lower valley.
Wildflowers decorated the trail throughout the walk back to
Corral Trail and the visitors’ center.
Springs Trail/Forest Trail
Loop (3.7 miles)
On my next trip to Coe, I
plan to take this loop. It combines the open grasslands of
the Springs Trail with the mixed forest of the Forest
Trail. Both trails offer
some nice views. As an added bonus, you can pick up an
interpretive guide that covers the natural history of the
Forest Trail. Copies are
available at both ends of the Forest Trail and at the
visitor’s center. This is especially useful because the
guide and associated markers help you identify a wide range
of trees and plants, including valley oak, blue oak,
mistletoe, gray pine, California bay, California buckeye,
manzanita, California scrub oak, blue elderberry, cream
bush, lichen, moss, madrone, coastal wood fern, maidenhair
fern, toyon, ponderosa pine, California black oak,
sagebrush, coyote brush, hollyleaf redberry, and many
species of grass. And you can see them all within one mile.
A handout at the visitor’s
center listed more than 65 wildflowers in bloom during early
April. I couldn’t hope to identify them all,
but I saw many California
poppies, shooting stars, lupine, and patches of miner’s
lettuce. I discovered one of my favorite flowers, the
ground iris, hiding in tall
grass. It was a good time to visit Coe, but I think you’ll
find the trip worthwhile anytime.
Coe has something for day
hikers, backpackers, equestrians, and mountain cyclists.
Over 250 miles of trails and old ranch roads provide easy
loops of a mile or so, and backpacking loops of 50 miles or
The park has space for over
sixty backpacking parties. Twenty drive-in sites are
available for car campers.
Equestrians can use eight
horse camps. Each has pipe corrals that hold two horses or
more. Remember that the terrain is rugged
with steep ups and downs.
You and your horse should be in good shape.
This goes for cyclists,
too. Over a hundred miles of roads and trails are open to
mountain bikes, but there are no easy trails
for beginners. Park docents
say the fishing is good, but getting to the lakes requires a
long walk. The easiest to reach are Bass Pond and Frog Lake;
the others have elevation gains and losses measured in
thousands of feet.
To enter the park’s main
entrance, take Highway 85 south to Highway 101, and then
turn left to East Dunne Avenue in
Morgan Hill. Drive through
residential areas and around lovely Anderson Reservoir to
the headquarters entrance. Park in the designated parking
areas, pay your parking fee, pick up maps and information at
the visitors’ center, and enjoy.