Ask any volunteer at Henry W. Coe State Park who has spent time in the visitor center what most visitors are looking for, and the answer will be the same: “We’d like to go on a short hike, maybe a couple hours, nothing arduous.” Ask those same volunteers for the “right” response, and the answer will also be unanimous: the Forest/Springs Trail loop.
You may have heard that Coe Park does not do flat very well. It’s true. Any excursion beyond Pine Ridge means elevation gain and loss that is beyond the appetite of many casual day hikers. Not only does the Forest/Springs Trail loop stay on Pine Ridge and meet the “nothing arduous” constraint, but it has plenty of spectator value and visits two distinctly different habitats.
I call hikes that look like the Forest/Springs Trail loop on a trail map balloon-on-a-string hikes; up the string, around the balloon and back down the string. This 3.6-mile loop is an ideal half-day outing even during our warm summers. The string and half the balloon are nicely shaded, and there is very little elevation change. The Corral Trail, the string on this loop, is a half-mile path that descends gently across the south slope of Pine Ridge to Manzanita Point Road and the threshold of the loop’s namesake trails.
On a recent visit, I stepped across the road onto the Forest Trail. The brittle rustle of dry grass replaced the long-gone flowers and freshness of spring, but in any season, the natural world is busy. As the trail’s name implies, this north-facing 1.2-mile trail rolls beneath a canopy of oaks, gray pines, ponderosa pines, and madrones—lovely shaded walking. I passed manzanita bushes, shrubs that grow so big at Coe that you could build a small house beneath some of them. The berries on the toyon bushes are preparing to redden as many of the poison oak bushes already have. Between the tree branches, the view is over Middle Ridge to Blue Ridge, distant destinations for a cooler time.
Across Manzanita Point Road and onto the Springs Trail, homeward bound on the far side of the balloon. This south facing slope is a lesson in how the aspect of a mountain changes its habitat. Under steady direct sunlight, the solid forest cover gives way to open grassy hills dotted sparingly with valley oaks. Beneath you, the slope drops steeply into Soda Springs Canyon, then back up Cordoza Ridge beyond. Slowly, the trail edges up and across the slope finally rejoining the Corral Trail beneath an impressive valley oak snag that can only be described as an acorn woodpecker condo project. Take a look at the acorn granary and nesting holes that pepper this busy real estate.
Yes, it is still warm out, but the Forest/Springs Trail is terrific even in midsummer, especially at the edges of the day. Four out of five visitor center volunteers recommend it for a reason.