Henry Coe State Park: big, beautiful and close by

The size of Henry W. Coe State Park  is surpassed only by its loveliness. At 89,164 acres, it’s the largest state park in Northern California and the second largest in the state, and has another 22,000 acres within its boundaries belonging to the Henry Coe State Wilderness. I realized just how large it was after driving for a good half hour up a windy road from Hwy 101 east of Morgan Hill, and finding the ‘you are here’ dot on a map at the ranger station. We were barely within the western border of a very large stretch of park land. We were also 3,000 feet up, with amazing views looking west to Santa Clara Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains beyond, as well as Anderson Lake far below (which looked like a puddle from our height).

It’s a wonderfully varied landscape, with peaks and valleys, high ridges and steep canyons, mountains up to 3,560 feet, three major wathersheds – Coyote Creek, Orestimba Creek and Pacheco Creek – and several small lakes and ponds. Areas of heavy forest give way to open grasslands. Ponderosa Pines top grassy ridgetops as red-tailed hawks, golden and bald eagles, circle overhead. Blue Oak is also common throughout, as well as dozens of other native trees. Sightings of mule deer and tule elk are not uncommon, and the park is also home to wild boar, coyote, bobcat and mountain lion.

One of the rarest sightings in the park is other people. With 200 miles of trails and dirt roads, and only 40,000 visitors per year, you can go days without seeing another person (outside the vicinity of the ranger station). You can plan a two-week hiking/camping trip through the park and never see the same trail twice. So naturally hiking is popular, and the park is mountain bike friendly, with a wide variety of trail types and degrees of difficulty. There are 19 drive-in campsites located near the visitor’s center, and numerous hike-in campsites found throughout the park.

Because the park gets so few visitors, it was slated as one of 70 to close in the great state park closure in July, 2012. But with private resources, the park received a three-year reprieve. If you want to volunteer at other parks to help keep them running, such as Portola Redwoods State Park, check out the park champions program.

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