Local backcountry

Introducing Coe Park...again

LARGE OAK Beginning in autumn, Coe Park begins to whisper its charms. The rains haven’t arrived yet, but temperatures are cool and the trails are quiet. Photo: Ron Erskine

“I have been meaning to get up there.”
“It’s been 10 years since I visited the park. I have to go back soon.”
When I talk to people in our community, many who have lived here for decades, I am surprised how often I hear remarks like this about Henry W. Coe State Park. There can only be one reason for this: People don’t realize what an amazing place Coe Park is. So, allow me to offer a fresh introduction with tidbits that might prompt you to visit, for to know Coe Park is to love it.

Who wouldn’t want to live 30 minutes away from a wild and natural place three times the size of San Francisco, a place where you can walk in a straight line for three days and never leave the park? It is only the slightest exaggeration to say that Coe Park stretches from Mount Hamilton to Pacheco Pass and from the Santa Clara Valley to the Central Valley. Such a resource is all the more amazing when you consider it is at the edge of the fifth largest metropolitan area in the nation, home to 8.8 million people. In all the wilderness travel I have done, I have never been more alone than in the backcountry of Henry Coe State Park.

In 1953, Sada Coe Robinson deeded the 12,000-acre Pine Ridge Ranch to Santa Clara County. Unable to properly manage the park, the county in 1958 sold the property to the state for $10. Over the years, as family ranches came up for sale, the park grew to 87,000 acres, California’s second largest state park.

There are two year-round entrances to Coe. Park headquarters are tucked on that pine-topped ridge you see above Morgan Hill, 14 miles up East Dunne Avenue. The Hunting Hollow entrance is out Gilroy Hot Springs Road east of Gilroy. Each entrance barely pierces the park boundary—there are no through roads—leaving the huge interior wild and untouched for hikers, bikers, and equestrians.

In autumn, Coe Park begins to whisper its charms. The rains haven’t arrived yet, but temperatures are cool and the trails are quiet. The lichen-draped sycamores in Hunting Hollow can’t rival the gaudy colors east of the Mississippi, but a fall walk there is a day well spent.

As the rains arrive through winter and spring, Coe Park becomes a magnificent Eden. Every crease in the hills fills with the sound of water gathering forces to build Coyote Creek. Countless species of wildflowers decorate the hills, sometimes in stunning displays.

If nature alone isn’t enough to draw you to the park, volunteers host a number of events throughout the year to transform your visit into a family party: Backcountry Weekend, Mother’s Day Breakfast, and Ranch Day, to name a few. A perfect opportunity to reacquaint yourself with the park, or meet it for the first time, is the upcoming Tarantula Fest and BBQ on Oct. 6. There will be food, nature walks, live music and close encounters with big furry spiders.

The highways are jam-packed, but beauty and solitude are on the edge of town.

Ron Erskine

Ron Erskine

Ron Erskine is a local outdoors columnist and avid hiker.
Ron Erskine

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About Ron Erskine
Ron Erskine is a local outdoors columnist and avid hiker.