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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Hiking Henry W. Coe State Park, California

California's second largest park has an impressive trail system.

by: Richard Graybill

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Contact Information:

Henry W. Coe State Park Box 846 Morgan Hill, CA 95038 408/779-2728

Note: Henry W. Coe State Park is often confused with Henry Cowell State Park, which has no trail camping.

Location: In northern California, Henry W. Coe State Park is off US Route 101, 20 miles southeast of San Jose and 60 miles northeast of Monterey.

Getting There: Take the East Dunne Avenue exit off of US 101 at Morgan Hill and go east. Follow the Henry W. Coe signs for 13 miles (about 40 minutes) to park headquarters.

Seasonal Information: The park has seasonable weather year-round, with wildflowers bursting into bloom in the late spring. April is a great month to visit -- when the temperatures are balmy and the wildflower display reaches its peak. The park's traffic increases after Memorial Day and into the summer months when the temperatures can soar into the 80s and 90s and seasonal creeks disappear under the relentless sun. Fall is also pleasant, but drier and browner.

Wildlife: Wildlife is abundant and varied, but big-name species like mountain lions are rare. Birds are especially plentiful, including nonnative wild turkeys. Frogs make their presence known.

Insects: Contact the park office for information.

Plant Life: In spring, wild pansies, California poppies, and lupines scatter among the grasses. One long stretch of the trail passes through an impressive stand of manzanita, some standing 15 to 20 feet tall. Sinister-looking poison oak grows thick among the dark red trunks. Sycamores, maples, and willows grow by the water, and patches of shooting stars bloom in the grass.

Facilities: There are a number of camping areas, operating on a first come, first served basis. There are usually sites still available on Friday, but by Saturday night the grounds are often full.

Parking: Park at the trailhead parking lot.


  • Register and get a permit upon arrival.
  • Drive-in campsites are $8 per vehicle per night; $5 for each additional vehicle.
  • The permit cost is $3 per person per night. There is a $5 parking fee for day visitors.
  • There is a $1 fee for each dog, although dogs are not allowed in the backcountry.


  • Backpacking is limited to 60 parties a day, but that limit is seldom reached.
  • No diving within the state park system.
  • No firearms or dogs in the backcountry.
  • Campfires are prohibited.


  • The park may be closed in times of high fire danger.
  • Water isn't abundant anywhere in the park, so pack in what you'll need even in wet months (March through early June).

Leave No Trace:

All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps: Maps are available at park headquarters or by sending $2 to the park's above address. For an additional dollar, the park will enclose a fishing booklet. You can also request information on bringing horses to the park. USGS Mt. Sizer and Mississippi Creek topo quads cover most of the park.

Other Trip Options: In many areas in Henry W. Coe, the ridges and canyons continue on for many miles past weekend destinations. Folks with more time on their hands can explore the farthest reaches of the park, including a 22,000-acre designated wilderness area.

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Oct 28, 2011

I would not consider Pumas rare in Henry Coe, especially if you have an eye for track and sign. There are plenty of fresh ghost cat prints in the most remote places of the park, especially during mating season.

Jul 05, 2009

Just discovered this place yesterday. Seen the no diving sign too. Great place lots of Poison oak though. Nice place for Biking, camping, backpacking or just hiking


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