Henry W. Coe State Park (California) 20-Apr-2017

Henry W. Coe State Park California

After saying good-bye to Ken and Julie, we stayed one more night in Calistoga and then spent the next day driving further south to Gilroy, California, visiting bookstores along the way.  From Gilroy (“The Garlic Capital of the World”), we would explore – for the fourth hike in our week of wandering the Golden State – the southwest side of Henry W. Coe State Park.  At 87,000 acres (35,000 hectares), Coe is the largest state park in northern California and the second-largest in the state after Anza-Borrego Desert State Park east of San Diego. Yet, despite all the years we lived and hiked in California, including time spent in San Francisco, we never once visted Coe.  So sad.

Our plan was to park at the park’s Coyote Creek Entrance, hike up Grizzly Gulch, then over Willson Peak (Wilson Peak on the USGS map), then return via Steer Ridge Road and the Spike Jones Trail. When we got to Coyote Creek, there were other cars parked there, so we parked too and went on up the trail. There were no signs at Coyote Creek about parking or fees. Only after the hike did we discover, to our chagrin, that there’s: (a) no parking at Coyote Creek (your supposed to park at the Hunting Hollow Entrance and walk two miles up the road to Coyote Creek) and (b) a $6 day use fee for Hunting Hollow. OK, our bad for skipping an a priori read of the park’s website. But, by not knowing we were breaking some rules, we were able to start up the road toward Grizzly Gulch unburdened by guilt (actually this ignorance enabled us to do the whole hike guilt-free).

Henry W. Coe State Park California

Starting up the road from Coyote Creek

The road soon gives way to the Grizzly Gulch Trail and we followed that trail as it started climbing up the canyon. By now it was obvious we were going to have a full bluebird hiking day, with sunny skies, picturesque clouds, cooling breezes, and NO RAIN.

Henry W. Coe State Park California

Starting up the Grizzly Peak Trail

The wet winter that California had suffered through had nonetheless done wonders for the plant life – grasses and shrubs and wildflowers were bursting out all over. So was the poison oak, so we stayed on the trail. If there’s an optimal time to visit this park, it’s on a nice Spring day after a wet winter!

Henry W. Coe State Park California

The trail was a narrow strip through a sea of grass

All the hillsides were covered with a soft, green blanket of fresh grasses and wildflowers.

Henry W. Coe State Park California

Verdant hillsides in all directions

Henry W. Coe State Park California

Verdant, sun dappled, hillsides too

We’d gone far enough south that our usual flower guides were not necessarily relevant and we were too cheap to buy new ones. So we identified what flowers we could and just appreciated the rest.

Henry W. Coe State Park California

Mountain dandelion (Agoseris heterophllya) with beetle

Henry W. Coe State Park California

Brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans) with tiny fly

Henry W. Coe State Park California

California poppy with bugs

The butterflies were numerous and not their usual skittish selves, so they actually seemed to be posing,

Henry W. Coe State Park California

Mountain dandelion with checkerspot butterfly 

or staring back at you.

Henry W. Coe State Park California

What!?!?

After climbing up to about 1,800 feet, the Grizzly Gulch Trail starts contouring, which made for easy hiking through a beautiful green landscape.

Henry W. Coe State Park California

Along the Grizzly Gulch Trail

We crossed a small intermittent creek which, again thanks to the wet winter, actually looked and sounded like a real creek. Too bad it won’t last into summer.

Henry W. Coe State Park California

An intermittent creek along the Grizzly Gulch Trail

We continued along the almost level trail,

Henry W. Coe State Park California

Along the Grizzly Gulch Trail

past a former stock pond now hosting redwinged blackbirds and frogs,

Henry W. Coe State Park California

A former stock pond along the Grizzly Gulch Trail

through some of the great old oaks shading the trail,

Henry W. Coe State Park California

An old oak over the Grizzly Gulch Trail

and across Grizzly Creek,

Henry W. Coe State Park California

The Grizzly Gulch Trail crosses upper Grizzly Creek

to a junction with the Willson Peak Trail.  Here we turned on to the Willson, which didn’t waste any time gaining altitude, thus putting some strain on legs that had been lulled by the easy contouring along the Grizzly Peak Trail. The LovedOne, being younger and spryer, took off up the hill, leaving me to lumber on up as best I could.

Henry W. Coe State Park California

The LovedOne surges up the Willson Peak Trail

Fortunately for my dignity, the steep part didn’t last and the trail eased off into a somewhat more pleasant uphill stroll through oaks,

Henry W. Coe State Park California

Along the Willson Peak Trail

past meadows bright with wildflowers,

Henry W. Coe State Park California

Flowery meadows along the Willson Peak Trail

and on to the summit ridge, with its expansive view to the south (actually in all directions).

Henry W. Coe State Park California

The view south from near the summit of Willson Peak

The actual high point was about 100 yards to the west,

Henry W. Coe State Park California

Looking across the poppies to the summit of Willson Peak

so we made our way over there to officially claim the summit – all 2,651 awesome feet of it.

Henry W. Coe State Park California

The USGS benchmark atop Willson Peak

After a snack near the summit, we started our loop back by going west on Steer Ridge Road,

Henry W. Coe State Park California

Starting our return along Steer Ridge Road

past yet more magnificent oak trees,

Henry W. Coe State Park California

An oak along Steer Ridge Road

and then further along, with views, to a junction with the Spike Jones Trail.

Henry W. Coe State Park California

The view from Steer Ridge Road

Then it was down the Spike Jones Trail,

Henry W. Coe State Park California

Along the Spike Jones Trail

past yet more great oaks,

Henry W. Coe State Park California

An oak along the Spike Jones Trail

to a junction with the road leading out to the Coyote Creek Entrance. A wonderful loop (8.3 miles total; 2,400 feet of elevation gain) in great weather and at the lushest time of the year. We’re not sure how hiking (or life) gets any better than this. Now we’re really sorry we passed this park by all these years. But, if we’re ever fortunate enough to make it back to Coe, we promise to read and follow all the rules (signs or no).  Promise.

Henry W. Coe State Park California

Our loop hike over Willson Peak

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2 thoughts on “Henry W. Coe State Park (California) 20-Apr-2017

  1. Diane

    I’m thinking the violet flowers are Brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans) and the yellow flowers are mountain dandelion (Agoseris heterophllya). The butterfly is a checkerspot. We’ve been seeing lots of checkerspots around here this spring.

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