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Henry Coe State Park

If you want to put some miles on (both vertical and horizontal), Coe is the place to go. Coe is a large park containing over 81,000 acres in the hills to the south of San Jose. There is a lot of everything here, from climbs, nice singletrack, long steep descents to great wildflowers and a huge variety of animals. The park is so big that you never have a problem with crowded trails and it can even be a welcome break to meet someone else out on the trail. Be forewarned that most of the trails and fireroads are up or down and fairly extended.

Park: Henry Coe State Park
Date: Multiple
Distance: Various
Ride Time: Various
Total Ascent: 2,8000 to 5,300 feet
Map: Detailed HQ trail map
Detailed HH trail map
Overall Rating: 7

The park provides a set of bicycle guidelines that provide some useful park-specific guidelines. Be sure to bring water, especially in the summer, as there is no potable water in the park and it can get very hot out there. It is a good idea to stop at the ranger station at headquarters and get the free map (the well printed detailed map is even better) if you haven't been there before. The rangers are pretty friendly and will give you good advice for your ride. Rides can start at either park headquarters or the Hunting Hollow parking area (not staffed).

Headquarters

If you start at park headquarters, the ride starts out with an easy ride out on Hobbs Road (a fire road) followed by the first hill that climbs up a 13% grade for about a half mile. This is immediately followed by an equally steep downhill where you give up all the elevation gained and then some. This is followed by another climb where you have to earn the elevation back and then some more. Over time we have become smarter. We discovered that Flat Frog is a better way to get there, but the price of wisdom was riding Hobbs several times. The Flat Frog trail head is just behind one of the few directional signs after the left turn up the hill for Hobbs.

At the top of Hobbs turn onto Middle Ridge trail. This is a very nice downhill singletrack that traverses open grasslands, forests, and canyons. It is relatively gentle in some places, but steep in others. It is a lot of fun! Most of it was not too technical in terms of rocks and roots, but there was enough steep downhills and off camber portions to enough to keep the ride interesting. Keep your eyes open for poison oak and avoid the ticks that are prevalent at some times of the year.

The bottom of Middle Ridge connects to Poverty Flat Road. At this point, the trail crosses Coyote Creek...3 times in about 250 yards! I suppose this would be very refreshing in the summer, but it was not strictly necessary in January. Continue along Poverty Flat road up and over a hill to Los Cruzeros (a good spot for a break) and up Mahoney Meadows road. If you tire of riding the fire road, detour onto the rarely used Lost Spring singletrack (watch for poison oak on this trail). This is a very pleasant diversion that merged back onto Mahoney Meadows at the China Hole trail.

If you are tired at this point (and who could blame you), start heading back toward park headquarters on the China Hole trail. You may see evidence of wild pigs - mud holes, chewed up fields, and lots of footprints - but they are rarely seen. After some of the climbing, the long downhill to China Hole is great! This is a fun trail that goes all the way back down to Coyote Creek. The creek can be deep here (if there is water in the creek), so you may need to carry your bike across. After enjoying the view for a few minutes, it is time to head back.

The first time you do this ride you won't realize how large a hill you're going to have to climb. It is uphill all the way back to park headquarters...about 5 miles and 1800 feet of climbing! This does not sound so bad, but it feels much worse after all the riding you have already done to this point. This singletrack was an interesting change from forest near the creek, to chaparral on the hillside, and back into oak forest.

The top of the China Hole trail merges onto Manzanita. This takes you back to headquarters, but there is still a bit of distance involved. Use your energy wisely.

On another ride, we rode up Poverty Flat back to Manzanita. This was a big mistake. It was steep and covered in about 6 inches of dust. Between the steep grade and lots of dust in the air, there were several hike-a-bike sections. We have agreed that we won't do this again.

Hunting Hollow

Another popular point to enter the park is from the Hunting Hollow entrance. I think more mountain bikers start their rides here than at park headquarters. There is a large parking lot at Hunting Hollow with porta-potties available (there is a $6 self-serve parking fee). There are also some picnic tables under a covering available for after ride refreshment. This is a great place to meet other bikers and everyone I have met there has been very friendly. After parking at Hunting Hollow there are several routes to consider.

Gilroy Hot Springs Road Ascent

Ride up the Gilroy Hot Springs Road to the Coyote Creek entrance (the gate is on the right just before you get to the bridge). Coit Road takes you up the hill on a road (duh). A popular trail route to the top is Anza and Jackson trails. These trails involve quite a bit of climbing. There is a nice meadow at the top of Jackson which is a good point for a rest after the climb. After a quick recovery, you can explore up Elderberry and Rock Tower to Wasno Road and Kelly Lake Trail to Kelly Lake. Ride up Coit Road and Willow Ridge Road to Cross Canyon, a small singletrack on the left. This is a nice descent into the canyon and along (down the center of, actually) of the creek that runs through the bottom. This creek bed is very rocky but a bit of fun. Then it is time to pay the piper with the climb up and out of the canyon. The climb out is rewarded with a fast, fun descent on Grapevine. If you are tired, you can head back on Anza and Coit Road, but there are many more trails to be explored from the Hunting Hollow entrance.

If you want to get in some singletrack climbing, you can stay on Anza and climb up to the Cullen junction instead of going up Jackson. After a short downhill reward, it is steep climbing (300 feet in a quarter of a mile) up Cullen.  Be prepared! After the climb, you get some more downhill to the Grizzly Gulch junction. Don't get too relaxed, because the climb us Grizzly Gulch is also steep (an initial 700 foot climb in 1.15 miles) until you get to the top and have another short downhill to recover just a bit. The short route to the top of the hill is Willson Peak trail but (wait for it) it is very steep (760 foot climb in 0.55 miles). You'll have to do what it takes to get to the top!

Rather than head up Anza/Jackson and spend most of your energy on the first hill, you can stay on Coit Road to the top. This is a more gradual climb and is more popular with many of the riders. There are several roads and trails that connect into Coit Road, so there are lots of possibilities. I have connected to Wasno Road, a fire road that runs along the ridge line. From here, Tule Pond is a nice single track descent to the pond, which is a good place for a snack (look for turtles on the log in the pond). As an alternative, look for Dexter on the right side of Wasno. Dexter also has a nice downhill to Grizzley Gulch and then follows the creek closely to end up at Tule Pond. After a short ride up Grizzly Gulch, connect into Serpentine on the right, a steep singletrack heading up to the summit of Willson Peak. Serpentine will probably require a bit of hike-a-bike for all but the strongest riders. As an alternative to Serpentine, you can ride up Wagon Road and turn right onto Steer Ridge, but this adds mileage and the climbing does seem to be any less. A short ride on Steer Ridge from the end of Serpentine will get you to Middle Steer Ridge, a steep but fun single track that takes you all the way from the summit to the bottom very quickly (1600 feet in 2.5 miles). This is a good trail to drop your saddle and let it go. The trail is in good condition, but there are some very steep sections that have lots of gravel, making braking a challenge. Middle Steer drops you on Hunting Hollow Road and a short ride back to the parking lot. The trail crosses the creek several times here, so it is quite possible you will get wet. Don't worry about it and charge through the creek crossings!

Hunting Hollow Road Ascent

Instead of starting with a road ride or a climb, you can head out Hunting Hollow Road. This basically runs along (or across) a creek, so the elevation gain is quite mild. Combined with a road-width trail, this can be a good out-and-back ride for a new rider or a family. At the end of Hunting Hollow Road is the Wagon Road junction. Wagon has some serious climbing, so be prepared. This is a long road and I have only gone on it as far as Wasno Road, so I can't comment on its farther reaches.

Jim Donnelly Ascent

This is a reasonable way to climb up to Steer Road at the top. Most of Jim Donnelly is a moderate grade but it is pretty relentless. There aren't any super steep sections. There is a picnic table about halfway up that makes a reasonable break point if you need one.

Descents

Obviously, any of the listed ascents could be reversed to become a descent, so I won't describe them.

Middle Steer Ridge is a pretty steep and fast descent to Hunting Hollow Road. The top is a steep, straight-down chute that you just have to roll down, putting trust in your bike. Bowl Trail is a nice connector from the Wagon/Steer Ridge junction to Middle Steer Ridge that avoids some of the climb on Steer Ridge.

Jim Donnelly is a nice 3.1 mile descent from Steer Road to the Hunting Hollow parking lot. Rather than shooting down, it takes advantage of the geography to make a longer but more fun descent. There are some tight switchbacks and some off-camber curves, but this adds some interest to the ride and I suppose this helps maintain a more moderate speed for those that might be coming in the opposite direction since this is a popular climbing route.

Steer Ridge Trail is a steeper and more direct descent from the top of Jim Donnelly. It makes the same descent as Jim Donnelly in 1.4 miles rather than 3.1, ending right at the Hunting Hollow parking lot.  Take a look at the route in Google Earth! I wouldn't try riding up this way.

I haven't tried Phegley Ridge or Redfern (yet).

General

Coe is large, the trails are not crowded. It is big, so you can get in as long a ride as you want. It is steep, so there is lots of opportunity to burn calories on the climbs and hang on the grips on the descents. There are lots of animals to be seen in you keep your eyes open. The spring time wildflowers are very plentiful and definitely worth going to see in the spring while the fall rides are really nice.

For all of these benefits, Coe can also be a very tough ride. Here are some suggestions for riding a Coe:

  1. Start early. This gets you back in time in the winter and it is cooler in summer.
  2. Don't get out too far. Don't overestimate your endurance, don't "do it" because your buddies are doing it, and don't try to show off. It is a long way back to the starting point. You'll see what I mean when you do get out too far.
  3. Bring all the water you can carry. Its heavy, but it is better than not having it. You will use it all.
  4. Make sure you will have enough energy to make it. Bring something to eat. Bring more than enough.
  5. Pace yourself.  It will be a long ride. Most of the routes start with climbing. Don't shoot your wad on the first climb. The day is long and crying isn't allowed.
  6. Buy a map at headquarters. Bring it and use it.
  7. Be prepared for...whatever. You will have a crash, a flat, a mechanical, a bee sting. You'll be a long way from anything, so be prepared. Offer to help others in need of it...it could be you next time.
  8. Don't ride here by yourself the first time. It is a large and remote park. Besides, this will allow you to stop and blame it on the other guy.
  9. Stay on the trail unless you like ticks. There are lots of them in the grass. You will also want to keep your eyes open for poison oak (even on the trail).  Don't worry about bobcats, wild pigs or vultures as you are much more likely to succumb to ticks or poison oak. Clean up thoroughly when you finish.
  10. Bring something for afterwards. Like a huge barbeque lunch, liquid refreshment and a chair (it is really nice to be able to sit in a chair after a long ride). Relax after the ride and share the moment with your buddies. You don't have to rush home...take a few more minutes for yourself and savor your accomplishment.

The "consensus" rule-of-thumb is to multiply distance and climb by 2 at Coe. Works for me! Plan accordingly.

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