A guest post BY WESLEY MCDONALD
Wesley McDonald is a proud San Franciscan who enjoys blogging about travel, culture, the hospitality industry and everything the Bay Area has to offer. He is an online publisher for sanfranciscohotelguides.com.
Thanks to businessman, hiker and philanthropist Dan McCranie’s staggering donation earlier this year, California’s second biggest state park was given a second chance. In an interview with NPR’s “All Things Considered,” McCranie stated, “I’m crazy about this place… I think everybody who comes here is crazy about it.” That just about sums it up.
Henry W. Coe Park isn’t just a great place for tourists; it’s also a good entry point into the world of California state parks for young people who are new to Northern California and the Bay Area. With the wealth of interesting plant and wildlife, the huge variety in scenery and the abundance of outdoor activities it offers, Coe Park is great for newcomers and diehards alike. This article will cover a few of the recreational possibilities available at Coe Park and give some suggestions for both first time visitors and park veterans.
Photo © Tom Burke
Though Henry W. Coe State Park has a fearsome reputation for steep alternating inclines, there is some good hiking to be had for beginners and urbanites. There are a ton of trails to choose from, some of which are extremely strenuous and daunting. Fortunately, there are also some trails that remain extremely pleasant while presenting only a small challenge. Hikers are likely to encounter canyons lined with creeks, rolling hills and the aforementioned steep inclines. In the spring, wildflowers are abundant and there are small lakes everywhere. Beginners should be advised to pack in sunscreen, proper clothing and plenty of water. The Henry W. Coe monument, which reads, “May these quiet hills bring peace to the souls of those who are seeking,” is a must-see for first time visitors. Bay Area Hiker has a great trail suggestion for beginning hikers here.
For more experienced hikers, the China Hole Trail is recommended. It’s best described as “tough but doable” for all but the most avid hikers. This hike is just about ten miles long, so it’s perfect for a day’s outing in the park. This hike is extremely steep toward the end and is not a good option for novices. It should also be noted that this hike is best ventured during the spring and early summer. There’s a good chance you’ll get your feet wet on this trail, so plan accordingly. Every Trail has a great guide to China Hole, including various maps, here.
Backpacking is one activity that’s best left to the experts where Coe is concerned. If you have the skill to venture in with a pack on your back and adventure in your heart, however, be prepared to see amazing natural wonders with nary another human being in sight. As mentioned previously, be prepared for some steep climbs and challenging terrain with will take its toll on your legs and knees. Coe allows backpackers to camp wherever they want to within reason, and the prices per night are more than fair. Always pack plenty of water and check in with park officials for information on the state of lakes, springs and creeks. Some great trip suggestions and photos can be found here and here.
Photo © Tom Burke
While Coe does not rent horses and there are no commercial stables with rental possibilities close by, the park is a great place for equestrian activity. For first timers or beginners, a simple day trip is recommended for a pleasant experience. The Hunting Hollow Trail is mostly free of steep inclines and treacherous terrain, and it clocks in at less than 7 miles—perfect for the uninitiated. Double check your routes with park officials before you depart in order to avoid any unforeseen hardships.
There are a ton of possibilities for more experienced equestrians, but be advised that both you and your horse need to be in excellent shape in order to tackle some of these trails. There are many camping destinations available, but most require horse and rider to secure permission before they stay the night. Park officials should be happy to tell you about the state of springs and other bodies of water (your horse will get thirsty too, after all) and help you obtain permission to camp. There are also some places that offer easy access to horse trailers.
Though it contains some of the Bay Area’s most intense steep climbs, Coe also includes some great downhill singletrack for intermediate riders. Those who are not experts should consider trying a ride they feel is a little below their skill level and go in the spring or early summer before it gets too hot. As with more inexperienced equestrians, bikers on the novice end of the scale should try the Hunting Hollow entrance. There are some spots that the water makes nearly impassable while mounted on a bike, so you’ll need to be prepared to carry your ride at certain points on your journey. Make sure to watch out for poison oak and motor vehicles. As always, park officials will be happy to speak to you about your chosen route—and remember to start slow and easy.
For veterans, there are few better tests of strength, endurance and skill than Henry W. Coe State Park. There are around 200 miles to explore on a multitude of open trails, so your skill level, your navigation skills and your resolve are the limit. Make sure you pack bike tools and plenty of water, as some trails are not commonly traveled by park officials on a regular basis. Some good suggestions for bike routes can be found here.
Nature Study and Photography
No matter your hiking, backpacking, equestrian or biking skill level one thing remains true—if you can get there, you can photograph it. Coe offers an amazingly diverse landscape full of hills, canyons, water, trees, wildflowers and a vast array of wildlife. It might seem like common sense, but it bears repeating: don’t engage in reckless behavior around potentially dangerous wildlife. Always ask park officials what you might expect to encounter on your journey and the best way to avoid conflict. Once prepared for your inevitable encounters with amazing wildlife, come in with an open mind and a camera or sketchbook at the ready. Intrepid travelers might encounter tarantulas, jackrabbits, wild pigs, mule deer, bobcats, mountain lions, red tailed hawks, wild turkey, long-eared owls, acorn woodpeckers, western pond turtles, California mountain kingsnakes and coast horned lizards—just to name a few! There’s also a handy guide to wildflowers available right here.
Devout city dwellers and recent transplants to the Bay Area are doing themselves a disservice by not visiting Henry W. Coe State Park. It offers a variety of activities for people of all skill levels and gives visitors the chance to witness breathtaking wildlife and landscapes. Veteran nature lovers will also find a lot to love about Coe, and it should be fairly easy for them to find camp sites and trails that are fairly secluded. Whether you’re a hardened backpacker or a first time visitor to any state park, please plan your trip in advance, pack plenty of water and seek the advice of park officials.