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The Ultimate Guide to Henry W. Coe State Park: FAQs + Activities

Quiet and tranquil, Henry W. Coe State Park is the perfect place to escape city crowds. Find out what the park offers for outdoor enthusiasts.
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Henry W. Coe State Park is the largest state park in northern California. With 87,000 acres and only a handful of visitors, there is enough space for everyone. This guide to Henry W. Coe State Park will answer the most common questions and highlight activities you can enjoy here.

Many of the national parks in the country became very popular and attract millions of visitors every year. Finding peace and getting away from crowds there became difficult. 

However, Henry W. Coe State Park is different. It is huge but not a prominent place. It is perfect if you want to escape from the crowds and the hustle and bustle of the city. 

The infrastructure here is not as developed as some of the more popular parks too. But fees and permits don’t cost an arm and a leg. And the park attracts true outdoors people rather than drive-by tourists.

Is Henry W. Coe State Park Open?

Henry W. Coe State Park is open 24/7, 365 days a year. However, the park may be closed because of emergencies like wildfires. For current status, see this page.

Where is Henry W. Coe State Park?

Henry W. Coe State Park is located in Northern California, 30 miles southeast of San Jose. The park occupies a large part of the Diablo Range. The nearest city is Morgan Hill on Route 101.

The main entrance and visitor center address is: 9000 E Dunne Ave, Morgan Hill, CA 95037

How to Access Henry W. Coe State Park?

There are three entrances to the park:

1) Coe Ranch Entrance (Main)

9000 E Dunne Ave, Morgan Hill, CA 95037

This entrance is accessed from Route 101. You need to turn off at Morgan Hill junction and take E Dunne Avenue past Anderson Lake. E Dunne Avenue is a 13-mile paved mountain route that is suitable for most vehicles.

2) Hunting Hollow Entrance

4826 Gilroy Hot Springs Road, Gilroy CA 95020

Hunting Hollow is also accessed from Route 101. It is an 11-miles drive from Gilroy city downtown on paved roads and without uphills.

This entrance is not staffed, so you have to self-register by depositing envelopes with fees. Bring the exact change.

3) Dowdy Ranch Entrance (restricted hours)

Kaiser Aetna Rd, Hollister, CA 95023

You can access the Dowdy Ranch entrance from State Route 152. At Bell Market, turn off and take the 7-miles gravel track – Kaiser Aetna Road – to the end. 

Note: This entrance is open during summer weekends only. For the current information, see here

Related: 7 Fun Lakes near Modesto, CA

Entrance Fees and Permits at Henry W. Coe State Park

Fees

All visitors to the park have to pay a daily Entrance/Parking fee.

  1. Coe Ranch Entrance – $8/day
  2. Hunting Hollow Entrance – $6/day
  3. Dowdy Ranch Entrance – $8/day

Permits

Day visitors don’t require permits to enjoy and explore the park. However, if you are planning an overnight trip, a backpacking permit is required

You can’t reserve a backpacking permit as they are provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Nevertheless, such permits are usually available, even in spring – the park’s busiest time. 

If you plan a visit during a weekend or a public holiday, consider arriving early to secure the permit and have a better selection of campsites.

The backpacking permit in Henry W. Coe State Park costs $5 per person per night.

Which is the Nearest Airport to Henry W. Coe State Park?

The nearest airport to Henry W. Coe State Park is Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport. It is 40 miles (1 hour) away from the Coe Ranch entrance.

What is the Weather in Henry W. Coe State Park?

The general Californian climate governs the weather in Henry W. Coe Park. It is blazing hot and dry in summer and early fall, which is one of the main complaints with hikers. Bring plenty of water.

Late fall is pleasant and mild, with some rain and a little snow at the peaks.

Winter is prone to windy storms, which produce low wind-chill temperatures. So if you are hiking in the exposed areas, dress for 0 degrees. Otherwise, winters are mild compared to the high country. There are usually just a few snowfalls a year, and temperatures stay above 35F.

In spring, the temperature warms up gradually. It can still rain in March, but it becomes dry and gets hotter with each day from April.

What is the Best Time to Visit Henry W. Coe State Park?

The best time to visit Henry W. Coe State Park is in April. The rains have already stopped, but it is still not as scorching as the summer months. 

Also, April is when the park wakes up from winter slumber. Wildlife becomes active as the mating season begins. And trees and flowers start to bloom, making for colorful scenery. If you have to pick one month to visit the park, it is undoubtedly April.

Related: 7 Fun Lakes near Modesto, CA

What is the Elevation of Henry W. Coe State Park?

The elevation of Henry W. Coe State Park is relatively low and ranges from 1,000 to 3,200 feet. The most prominent peak in the park is Mt. Sizer (3,216 f), a popular hike. Many people come to the park just to ascent this peak.

Are Dogs Allowed in Henry W. Coe State Park?

Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed anywhere in Henry W. Coe State Park except for the Coe Ranch Campground near the main entrance.

Can You Swim in Henry W. Coe State Park?

Yes. Swimming is allowed at Henry W. Coe State Park. There are many lakes, ponds, and creeks in the park that are suitable for swimming. Popular choices are Mississippi Lake, Coit Lake, Kelly Lake, and China Hole.

Wildlife in Henry W. Coe State Park

Henry W. Coe State Park is famous for its diverse and abundant wildlife. You can spot elk, deer, wild turkeys, jackrabbits, and numerous more species. If you are stealthy enough, you might even encounter a bobcat

Also, the park is home to over 170 species of birds, including Steller’s jay, great horned owl, and bald eagle. So don’t forget your binoculars.

Are There Bears in Henry W. Coe State Park?

There are no bears in Henry W. Coe State Park. Californian Grizzly bear was once common but is now extinct in the area.

Are There Mountain Lions in Henry W. Coe State Park?

Yes. There are Mountain Lions in Henry W. Coe State Park. You are unlikely to see one because these cats usually see you first and keep away. However, if you encounter one, make noise, make yourself look big, pick up kids, and don’t run.

Are There Rattlesnakes in Henry W. Coe State Park?

Yes. There are rattlesnakes in Henry W. Coe State Park. Look where you step and listen for the snake’s rattling; chances are, it will see you before you will see it, and keep away.

Are There Ticks in Henry W. Coe State Park?

Yes. Henry W. Coe State Park is known for ticks. It is recommended to use tick repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers, and conduct frequent body scans.

Can You Fish in Henry W. Coe State Park?

Yes. Fishing is allowed all year round in Henry W. Coe State Park. There are many ponds, creeks, and streams to try your luck. You can catch sunfish, bass, and bluegill. If you are fortunate, you can even catch a rainbow trout that inhabits a few cold-water creeks in the northeastern corner of the park. 

State and National regulations apply. For more information on fishing in the park, see this page.

Is Hunting Allowed in Henry W. Coe State Park?

No. Hunting isn’t allowed anywhere inside Henry W. Coe State Park boundaries.

Can You Drive Through Henry W. Coe State Park?

There are no through roads in Henry W. Coe State Park except for a few fire roads closed to the public. 

Where to Park in Henry W. Coe State Park?

Parking is available at all three entrances to the park. If traveling during a busy period, consider arriving early as parking can be limited, especially at the Coe Ranch entrance.

Carpooling is greatly encouraged when getting to the park.

Are Drones Allowed in Henry W. Coe State Park?

No. Drones are not allowed anywhere inside Henry W. Coe State Park boundaries.

Where to Stay in Henry W. Coe State Park?

Henry W. Coe State Park doesn’t have any hotels or lodges on its grounds. But if camping isn’t your thing, there are plenty of options in the nearby cities of Morgan Hill and Gilroy.

Camping in Henry W. Coe State Park

There are plenty of campsites throughout the park, so you can easily plan a multi-day backpacking trip. Campsites are allocated on a first-come-first-served basis, and there is usually enough space for everyone, even during the peak season.

Backpacking fees are $5 per person per day and include the use of the campsites.

For the complete list of campsites, see here.

There are also two drive-in campgrounds:

1) Coe Ranch Campground is located at the Coe Ranch entrance and has 19 campsites. Amenities include potable water and vault toilets; no showers or RV hookups. You can find more information and reserve your stay here

The fee for this site is $20, which includes one vehicle.

2) Manzanita Point Group Camp is located 3 miles from the Coe Ranch entrance. It is a campground designated specifically for large groups. You can drive in here only once; ferrying passengers or equipment is not allowed, and your vehicle has to stay at the site for the duration of your stay. 

The campground is suitable for large groups, up to 50 people. The amenities are primitive: a picnic table and a vault toilet.

The fee for this site is $75, which includes two vehicles.

For more information and to reserve your stay, visit this page.

Top Things to Do in Henry W. Coe State Park

1. Mountain Biking

Mountain Biker

Henry W. Coe State Park is very popular with mountain bikers. Some even call it the mecca of this sport. With 200 miles of tracks for mountain bikes, it isn’t difficult to imagine why.

However, the park isn’t very beginner-friendly. There are practically no easy biking routes in the park. Most trails are described as moderate and difficult. 

Scorching summer heat is another issue for bikers. Walking at your own pace is one thing, but riding the bike up the mountain can break a man in these conditions. You’ve been warned! 

The good news is that Class 1 e-bikes are allowed in Henry W. Coe State Park. So if you want to give yourself a leg up, bring one of those and enjoy uphills too.

The Best Mountain Bike Trails in Henry W. Coe State Park:

1) Durch’s Trail

Dutch’s Trail is located in the southeastern corner of the park. It is best accessed from the Dowdy Ranch entrance. The track is a popular 3.5 miles downhill single track that is rated difficult.

2) Jim Donnelly Trail

Jim Donnelly Trail is a painful but popular uphill grind from the Hunting Hollow entrance to the ridge. You can take this 4.7-miles singletrack down to the car park as well.

3) JD East Connector Trail

JD East Connector Trail is a short off-shoot of Jim Donnelly Trail (see above) in the Hunting Hollow area. It’s only a mile long but has over ten switchbacks. Give it a go!

4) Spike Jones Trail

Spike Jones Trail is another single track in the Hunting Hollow area. If you climbed up the ridge using Jim Donnelly, this Trail is your best course of action. The downhill, 2.1 miles singletrack, is super popular with mountain bikers.

5) Cross Canyon Trail

Cross Canyon Trail is about halfway between Hunting Hollow and Coe Ranch areas, so it isn’t easily accessible. The Trail is down and up singletrack rated difficult, and it is 5 miles long. It will take you from Coit Road to Coit Spring Trail, where you can link to the Grapevine trail and continue the descent. 

Another option for mountain bikers is to go out there and explore the park. There are dozens of trails on offer; each has its own peculiarities and challenges. Enjoy the ride!

Henry W. Coe State Park may not be the mecca for mountain biking yet, but it is slowly getting there as more and more bikers discover the area. So come and enjoy the park while it is still uncrowded and cheap to visit.

2. Bikepacking

Bikepacking during the sunset

Bikepacking combines both backpacking and cycling. Load your bike with a tent and a sleeping bag, and you get yourself a home on the wheels. The rest is the details.  

Because of the size of the park – 87,000 acres – it is a perfect place for bikepacking. With dozens of trails and fire roads, you won’t have to take the same track twice.

You can probably spend a week riding here and still have unexplored sections.

If you live in the area, you can use the park to test your equipment and bike set up before more extensive trips. 

However, the terrain here is very hilly, so that bikepacking will suit more experienced riders. And once again, it’s hot here, including September, so plan your water supply.

3. Fishing

Fishing

Fishing in Henry W. Coe State Park is allowed all year round, subject to state and federal regulations. The park has many ponds, creeks, and lakes for you to enjoy. 

You can catch bass, crappie, sunfish, and bluegill, as well as the rainbow trout that can be found in a few cool creeks.

The difficulty with fishing in the park is that you can’t access fishing spots by car. You will have to transport your gear on foot, and the terrain is famously rugged with strenuous uphills and heat. So if you are used to bringing a trunk-load of equipment, forget it, fishing in Coe Park is a different kettle of fish.

The best fishing locations in Henry W. Coe State Park are Bass Pond, Coit Lake, Mississippi Lake, Frog Lake, and Kelly Lake.  

For the complete list of locations and details about fishing in the park, see this page.  

Related: 7 Fun Lakes near Modesto, CA

4. Day Hiking

Day Hiking

Day hiking is by far the most popular activity in the park. Many people come here to do just that. 

Henry W. Coe State Park has a variety of trails in all its sections. And unless you are camping overnight, there is no need for permits: park and hike.

The park rangers here are very knowledgeable and friendly. They can recommend the best hiking trail for your circumstances and equip you with an excellent map.

A thing to note is that some of the hiking options run along fire roads that can be dusty, steep, and more exposed than trails. So, if this is something you want to avoid, plan accordingly.

What are the Easiest Trails in Henry W. Coe State Park?

The easiest trails in Henry W. Coe State Park are Spring and Forest Loop (3.4 miles) and Ponderosa Loop Trail (2 miles). These two trails start from the Coe Ranch entrance and are perfect for beginners or as evening strolls.

What Is the Best Trail in Henry W. Coe State Park?

The best Trail in Henry W. Coe State Park is probably the Mount Sizer Loop. At least this is the most popular Trail and the reason why many people come to the park.

It is a challenging, 16-miles loop with 4,300 feet of elevation change. Experienced hikers do it in one day, but most should split it into two days.

Related: 13 Best Hiking Trails in SF and Bay Area

5. Backpacking

Backpacking is a bigger brother of hiking. Basically, hiking with overnight camping is backpacking. And there is a lot of that here at Henry W. Coe State Park.

With most trails and loops longer than 15 miles and 87,000 acres to explore, you can escape for weeks at a time. Just let somebody know you’ve gone wild; otherwise, people will search for you with the helicopter.

If you are planning a backpacking trip in the summer, you must research your water supply points. There are many creeks, lakes, and ponds in the park, but many of them dry up in late summer, so have a backup. For more information on water resources, see this page.

There are plenty of campsites throughout the park; most have a picnic table and a place for a tent, and that’s it. Good luck!

6. Horseback Riding

Horseback riding at Henry W. Coe State Park is actively encouraged. There are multiple campgrounds for horse camping here.

Long before Diablo Range became Henry W. Coe State Park, this area was used to drive wild Californian horses down south. Hence, the equestrian ways are deep-rooted here. 

For more information on horseback riding and camping, see this page.

7. Geocaching

Geocaching at Henry Coe Park

Geocaching is an emerging treasure-hunting activity for all ages. It involves navigating to a location and searching for a stashed item there (usually a box). 

Once found, there will be a logbook inside, as well as some goodies. You can take an item, place one of your own inside the box, and recorded it in the log. Later, you can share your experience with the geocaching community on the internet. See Geocaching.com for more details.

Unlike some parks, Henry W. Coe State Park is actively encouraging this fun activity, and they have over a hundred caches on their territory. All you have to do is find them.

8. Trail Running

Trail Running

Except for the hot summer months, e is perfect for Trail running. Over 200 miles of trails are at your disposal.

During the summer, it is blazing hot in the park, with temperatures sitting at 100F degrees. And unless you know what you are doing, running in such heat can be utterly dangerous.  

In Henry W. Coe State Park, you are rarely on flat terrain. So if you are looking for serious training with steep climbs and sharp descents, you will enjoy your stay.

Related: Top Trails in San Francisco and Bay Area

9. Visit Tarantula Fest

Tarantula fest Henry Coe Park

Tarantula fest is held once a year, usually in late September, at Coe Ranch campground. This time of the year is tarantula’s mating season, so they are very active and easy to find.

Despite a widespread belief, tarantulas are not dangerous to humans. They are just big and hairy, which scares a lot of people. Tarantula Fest is your chance to hold and pat these furry creatures and conquer your fears.

10. Visit Pacheco Falls

Courtesy of California State Parks, 2019. Photo by Brian Baer

Pacheco Falls is a series of waterfalls in the center of the park. The best time to visit the cascades is in spring, while there is still water flowing. You may be disappointed if you see the falls in late summer because instead of a spectacular torrent, you will find miserly drops. 

Pacheco Falls area is very remote, and you need at least two days to visit the cascades. Although the Dowdy Ranch entrance is the nearest, the hike is usually attempted from the Hunting Hollow entrance. From here, it is 25 miles return trip.

For more information about this route, see this page.

11. Climb Mount Sizer

Mt Sizer Henry Coe State Park
Courtesy of California State Parks, 2019. Photo by Brian Baer

As mentioned before, Mount Sizer is the most prominent peak in the park and its favorite destination. 

It is approached from the Coe Ranch entrance and is usually done as a 16-miles Mount Sizer Loop. 

Sixteen miles may not seem like a lot to experienced hikers, but the terrain is steep, and you are looking at 4,300 feet of elevation change. Hence, many people plan two days for this route.

Because a portion of the track follows the ridge, there is a lack of water sources along the way. Hence, bring lots with you.

Despite this, the loop is the top destination in the park. If you only have a weekend here, climbing Mount Sizer is your best option.

Jeff Hester published an excellent report of this route.

12. Stargazing

Stargazing

Henry W. Coe State Park is great for stargazing. Away from light pollution and with many exposed areas, the park is one of the best destinations in the region to watch the stars.

Whether you are a professional or an amateur, using a telescope or just looking up, the park will not disappoint.

Find out when the next meteor shower is, pack a warm drink, and head for the hills. The perfect night out.

Final Thoughts

Henry W. Coe State Park has many activities to offer its visitors. Over 200 miles of trails, countless peaks, ponds, and creeks are waiting to be explored. 

The best thing about the park is that it is quiet. You can hike all day and only meet a handful of people. This makes it a great destination if you want to escape a busy city and get some peace.

Need more inspiration? Check out this: Funny and Inspirational Hiking Quotes.

Also, if you are in Bay Area, you may want to learn about 13 Best Hikes In and Around San Francisco.

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