Sunday, February 22, 2009

Henry Coe State Park - 17 Mile Hunting Hollow Loop

Date: 2/21/2009
Distance: 17 miles
Elevation: 5,000' total gain
Weather: 50s, overcast

Yesterday Gina and I went back to Henry Coe State Park. Occupying 86,000 acres inside a rugged stretch of the Diablo Mountains just south of San Jose, Coe is the second largest state park in California, the largest in the northern half of the state. Most of the park is old ranch lands that gradually got taken over by the state park system. Because of its ranching history, trails were built for horses, jeeps and fire trucks - not recreational hikers. There are few gradual switchbacks in Coe, just a never ended series of mini assaults up steep canyon walls to the ridges and back down again. Rinse, repeat. Nothing in Coe is higher than a few thousand feet, but the relentless steep ups and downs are enough to make the uninitiated hiker's head spin.

Winter through spring is the time to go to Coe, with cooler temperatures, bright green hills and top-notch wildflower displays. By summer the hills brown out and temperatures become downright deadly.

Our hike started with a long, steep climb up Steer Ridge Road. I've been racking my brain to think of another trailhead in the bay area that starts with a more immediate, severe uphill. I can't.

Gina pauses to take in the view and catch her breath on the Steer Ridge climb.

Those clumps up in the trees are mistletoe. It's actually a parasite that feeds off of the oak trees.

Looking east into the Grizzly Gulch Zone.

After conquering the big ridge we continued clockwise on Steer Ridge Road around the rim to Wilson Camp. From the camp we decided to take the 1.8 mile out and back trip to Vasquez Peak. We couldn't find a turnoff for the peak, and ended up several miles out in the backcountry, near Dowdy Ranch. We turned around retraced our steps back to Wilson Camp. We never found Vasquez, but the attempt took us into a neat remote area on the southern border of the park that was worth the out and back.

Fallen timber along the Vasquez Road.

Looking south into the private ranch lands adjacent to the park.

We made our way back to Wilson Camp, where we got on Wagon Road heading south to Phlegley Ridge for the final leg of the hike. There is no trail sign for Phlegley Ridge from Wagon Road, but it's the first right turn after starting the climb up from Coon Hunter's Gulch on Wagon Road. A half mile into the climb over the ridge the trail forks off to the left for Red Fern pond. Red Fern Pond Trail takes you over the ridge and back into Hunting Hollow as well, but its a longer route and looked more rugged. We stayed right on main trail, since our adventure was already running long and we had dinner plans with friends.

We had a blast flying down the steep hillsides of Phlegley Ridge into Hunting Hollow.

Gina coming down Phlegley Ridge. Can you spot her?

Once off the ridge it was a nice, flat 1.8 mile walk through the canyon back to our car. Heavy rains the past few weeks made for several tricky creek crossings along the way, but we managed them well.

Coe saved the best for last, and rewarded us with our ever first bobcat encounter along the final stretch of trail. We stood a few yards away checking each other out for several minutes. He didn't seem too concerned about us and let us snap a few pictures before we moved on. Must have known we're cat people.

Our new friend. We call him Bob.

I really enjoyed this quirky loop through some of the lesser traveled sections of the park between Hunting Hollow and Dowdy Ranch. We saw some early wildflower displays, but I imagine in a month or so the hillside and canyons will be ablaze with color. A great spring hiking destination in the Bay Area.


  1. Did you shoot photos of Mt lion? What time of the day did you see it? Jim and Mag would like to hike with you and Gina.Sometimes there are so many people and cannot see or hear wild life.

    jim and Mag

  2. This is a pretty huge bobcat! Right on!
    I hope I can also spot one next time there.

  3. Yeah, we're often with a big group too, and don't see much wildlife so this was pretty special. We didn't take any photos of the lion, I saw a flash from the white patch on his belly and looked back a few seconds later to see Gina staring into the trees at him. She made out the tan swoop of his tail and his jawline before deciding it best to move along ;-) It was early afternoon at that point.