Is bigger better?
Henry W. Coe State Park
Neil Wiley
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 destinations.
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 experience
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 News and author of his own Bay
Area-hiking blog——wrote a short article on this hike in the March 6 issue of the Mercury.
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
and rest.
Hobbs Road/ Frog Lake/Flat Frog Trail/Corral
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.
Wildflowers galore
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.
Different strokes
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 more.
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.
Getting there
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.

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