On this 24-mile, two-day trek through the 86,000-acre Henry W. Coe State Park, you’ll cruise through spectacular, arid hill country en route to the cool waters of Mississippi Lake. The park’s western entrance is just an hour outside of San Jose, but frontcountry campsites are available at the park’s entrance if you want to spend two nights in the park. From the visitors center, head east on the Corral Trail to get started.
The hike’s first 3.5 miles descend from rolling ridgelines to low-lying valleys, with scenery punctuated by golden, overgrown meadows, scrubby vegetation and tough trees. After traversing through some of the lowest terrain of the hike between miles 3.5 and 5.5, you’ll hit a one-mile climb along the Willow Ridge Trail. The relatively straight-shot upward features nearly 1,400 feet of elevation before culminating at a Y-junction along Willow Ridge Road. From here, you’ll push through another four miles of brush-blasted, big-sky hill country before reaching Mississippi Lake. Camping is available anywhere around the lake, and a well-maintained bathroom (no running water) is situated near the lake’s southeastern corner. The trip back to the trailhead traces much of the same route, but deviates with trips on the Pacheco Creek Trail and the Forest Trail.
Finding water on extended backpacking trips through the park is tricky: Make sure to start with at least 3 liters. Overnight parking costs $8 and backcountry permits cost $5 per person. For more information on backpacking in the park, visit Henry W. Coe’s Web site.
-Mapped by Luke Lempark