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Hiking Henry W. Coe State Park, California

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

Little Known Fact: Did you know you can see shooting stars on the ground? Look for the flowers blooming in the grass at Henry W. Coe State Park.

Sprawling across northern California’s Diablo Range, Henry W. Coe State Park is an impressive swatch of land. Its 89,000 acres perch above the Santa Clara Valley at elevations up to 3,600 feet, offering splendid views of the surrounding peaks and valleys.

But what’s really special about California’s second largest state park is its 200 miles of well-kept trails, most of which are lightly used (all begin at park headquarters near the only public entrance). One particularly hiker-friendly feature here is that the trails have extensive interconnections, making it easy to put together a trip that suits your needs. Henry W. Coe can accommodate everybody from out-of-shape weekend warriors to outdoor hardbodies looking for weeklong excursions.

Falling somewhere between those two extremes, I set out across gentle, grassy ridgetops dotted with big black oaks on a 4.5-mile trail to my first campsite. Just past the trailhead I noticed a small sign planted in a patch of miner’s lettuce, bearing one of the most sweeping prohibitions I’d ever seen: No Diving Within The State Park System. I decided I’d keep it in mind if I chanced across some water.

I left the open ridges and began a steep descent through mixed oak forests. Many of the trails start high and descend rapidly. The one I chose was no exception, dropping about 1,500 feet the first day. The gently rounded hilltops were separated by deep, rugged canyons, which always seemed to be at right angles to my chosen route.

I reached the canyon floor and found a number of good tent sites on the grassy flats along a small stream.

China Hole in Coyote Creek is the only good natural swimming hole within the area I had chosen to hike. I was tempted to dive in, but recalled the “no diving” edict and restrained myself. Nearby, the steep, rocky walls of The Narrows left just enough room for the stream and the surefooted. I decided to make camp and do some exploring in the morning mist.

One warning: If you don’t like frog music, don’t visit Henry W. Coe in the spring because the amphibians sing out all night long. Think of them as a positive link to the bustling city you left behind ~ kind of a backcountry street-corner serenade.

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