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
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
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
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
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.
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
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 www.parkhere.org, or call 408-355-2200.