Another secret treasure
Coyote Lake – Harvey Bear Ranch
Neil Wiley

Although I didn’t see this Santa Clara County Park in any guide book, Coyote Lake – Harvey Bear Ranch has much to offer. Nestled in the Diablo Range east of Gilroy, the lake, ridges, and rolling hills of this 4,595-acre park provide a beautiful environment for outdoor activities. The three-mile-long lake shore has a large campground with 74 reservable sites, each complete with paved slip, picnic table, barbecue/campfire pit, and food locker. But you don’t have to camp to enjoy park facilities. Seventy-five family-picnic sites are located along the lake. (You and your family could picnic here after shopping at Gilroy’s giant factory outlet mall.)

Although the 635-acre lake is relatively small, it’s big enough for power boating, jet skiing, waterskiing, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. The power-boat launch ramp has two docks, a three-lane concrete ramp, paved parking, and a restroom. Small human-powered boats can also launch at the dam. Power boats are restricted to five miles per hour at each end of the lake to give paddlers and fishermen greater safety and more quiet. The lake is home to bluegill, black crappie, channel catfish, carp, and black bass. Each spring, the lake is stocked with rainbow trout. You should see several species of waterfowl, too.

The park visitor center displays exhibits on local wildlife. Interpretative programs are available, and in the summer, rangers show movies and conduct campfire programs on weekends.

The park has over 15 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding that take you up through oak-studded canyons to grassy ridgelines and green foothills with views of the lake and south Santa Clara County. Dogs are permitted on-leash on all trails.

You can enter the trail network from any of the three park entrances, but for access to major park facilities and convenient access to both ends of the trails, I recommend the main Coyote Lake entrance. Then, you can enter the trails across from the main Lakeview Campground or from the Coyote Dam. Also, even if you plan only to hike, you can enjoy the drive along the lake and park facilities, including visitor center, parking, picnic tables, public telephones, and restrooms.

Fourteen miles of trail were dedicated in May 2005, including a 4.5-mile section of Coyote Ridge Trail for the Bay Area Ridge Trail network, a trail system that one day may encircle the entire San Francisco Bay Area.

Elevations in the hiking area are from 700 to 1100 feet. All hikes require about a 400-foot climb up from a trailhead to the main trail—Coyote Ridge Trail—but the inclines are relatively gradual.

Several routes are available. From the dam trailhead, you can hike up Harvey Bear Trail to Coyote Ridge Trail, right on Willow Springs Trail, and right on Harvey Bear Trail. The entire loop is approximately 6.7 miles in length. A cutoff over Town Springs Trail that shortens the loop by a mile should be open in the spring 2007. After climbing to the ridge, the loop features long views over sloping grassland.

A second shorter loop starts across from the Lakeview Campground. A short Campground Trail takes you to the Coyote Ridge Trail where you can turn left or right to reach the looping Mendoza Trail. Total loop is about 3.9 miles long.

If you would like to walk the entire Coyote Ridge Trail from end to end, you could arrange a shuttle with one car at the Mendoza Ranch entrance, and another car at the Coyote Dam trailhead. Total length with connectors is about 5.3 miles.

Any of these options will give you a good walk or ride with good views of open grassland and foothills. These are perfect trails for cool, sunny days in winter, spring, and fall, but they may be too exposed for hot summer afternoons. Also, if you, your family, or your horses are afraid of cattle, be warned that these trails pass through pasture land with many small herds of cows, calves, and young steers. Cattle are generally docile, but avoid getting between mother cows and their calves. It’s also a good idea not to surprise them.

My hike

It was an easy drive of less than an hour to Gilroy via Highways 85 and 101 south. I turned east off 101 on Leavesley Road. (This is the road you take to Gilroy’s factory-direct mall.) I traveled east for two miles, and then turned left on New Avenue. At the half-mile mark, I turned right on Roop, proceeding east past the Mendoza Ranch entrance to the Coyote Lake entrance.

As I drove in, a giant flock of wild turkeys slowly sauntered across the road. The entrance station was closed, so I paid my $5 parking fee with a credit card, and then drove north along the lake shore. I stopped at several points along the lake to check out campgrounds, picnic areas, and scenic views. Although I took photographs at several sites, I didn’t stay outside for long in the cold December morning. By the time I reached the dam, however, the winter sun was strong enough for me to discard my jacket. As I began my hike up from the dam trailhead, I warmed up, especially after the gravel road changed to dirt. Mud caked my boots, forming giant round hooves of sticky, clumpy mud.

As I reached the ridge, my luck took a happier turn. The view opened to green foothills and a wide valley. The trail was drier, the sun was brighter, and I got that wonderful "wow!" feeling that comes from turning an emotional corner from drudgery to elation. The view was not spectacular but simply beautiful, and I walked through that view of rolling hills for the rest of the day. I kept smiling as I enjoyed the sensuous curves and subtle winter greenness of hill after hill. After a week of cold, windy, wet weather, I gloried in the feel of a warming sun on my back. This was winter hiking at its best.

As I walked along the Coyote Ridge Trail, I enjoyed warmth, scenery, and solitude. I didn’t see another person. My companions were small herds of curious but wary cows, a few deer, and above, a pair of hawks and an occasional falcon. A turn at Willow Springs Trail and another on Harvey Bear Trail took me back to the dam trailhead. As I left the park, I managed to drive through the wild turkey flock again, but when I neared Highway 101, I was captured by an In-N-Out Burger drive-in, so I indulged in a well-deserved burger banquet after a fine winter hike.

To learn more about Coyote Lake-Harvey Bear Ranch County Park, visit, or call 408-355-2200.

Hike on!


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