Backpacking (and Day Hiking) Diaries: Henry Coe State Park

Oh Henry Coe State Park. Very few people know about you, yet you are one of the biggest wilderness areas near the Bay Area.

On the way in: Evening hike on the Spring trail towards Manzanita Camp.

Henry Coe is a really…really huge park.  Apparently it takes about a few days get out to the actual “wilderness” area – called the Orestimba Wilderness, to be precise – from the start of the trailheads near the ranger station/parking lot. If you do choose to venture that far out, they say you should be prepared for a lot of bush-wacking because very few people actually make it all the way out there, and the trails are not maintained (especially these days with budget cuts threatening our ability to still have state parks in California). Definitely bring a map and a compass.

On the way out: Hiking towards the Poverty Flat Rd. / Manzanita Point Rd. junction.

If you are interested in a very even hike with little elevation change, Henry Coe has a few trails that fit that description (check out the Spring and Corral trails, and Manzanita Point Rd.). However, if you’re more interested backpacking or hiking up and down steep hills and valleys, then this is the perfect place for you (this supposedly describes a majority of the park). The park is also known for being incredibly hot in the summertime, so if you want to enjoy yourself, it’s highly recommended that you go there in either the spring or the fall. We did it in the springtime, which I think is the best because: 1) wildflowers are in bloom along the trails, and 2) there’s plenty of water in the streams.

Spring irises.

We did a really short backpacking trip to the Manzanita camp because, well, we didn’t have enough time to go on a longer trip (it also has car camping, but I highly un-recommend it. The sites are small, close together, and not very cute). Like most places near the Bay Area, you have to stay at designated camps if you’re going backpacking (unless you travel out to the Orestimba wilderness part of the park, of course). Our site was HUGE and was completely out of sight from the other camps – which didn’t matter, since none of the other camps were taken up. I’m telling ya, very few people know about this park! Our site came with a picnic table and a fire pit.

Our lonely little tent swallowed up by our gigantic campsite.

The next day we hiked down to Poverty Flat Rd., which was a pretty gorgeous sight. The sun was shining, the stream was gurgling, and the animals were jumping about. Oh yeah – springtime is also good for that.

Near Poverty Flat Rd.

While we were sitting quietly by the stream eating our salami, cheese and pita lunch, we started to hear a lot of yelling and commotion coming from the dirt road/trail to our left. One by one, about 15 mountain bikers appeared, screeching with excitement as they barreled down the hill and hurled themselves towards the stream. As they got closer however, they slowed down completely and attempted to make it slowly across the water. We only saw one person successfully make it to the other side. The rest became our lunchtime entertainment as most of them hit rocks and dips in the river that catapulted them into 2 or 3 feet of water. The cackling from the rest of their companions watching on the other side of the river also filled the air after each fail.

After lunch we continued our ascent up Poverty Flat Rd. Interestingly enough, as we climbed higher and higher, we started to see increasing amounts of large feathers all around the wide dirt trail. I thought that a large bird had just molted, until we reached the top of the hill and found a dead, smashed turkey vulture, which apparently had been killed by the truck that ran it over. The other “animal” we saw was a half-eaten skunk (you could still see the skull). Despite the dead animals, the hike was pretty nice. The trail is pretty exposed and sunny, so when we did find patches shade from some trees, we made sure to stop and rehydrate a bit.

On the way back we decided to go the Forest Trail route instead of the Spring trail that we took to get to our campsite on the way in. While the Forest trail was really pretty (and covered), it was also lined with poison oak (bring your Technu). The trail also came with “nature guides”, so if you’re interested in learning more about the plants on that trail, there’s pamphlets at the start of the trail (if there are any left when you get there).

For more information on Henry Coe State Park, check out Camping and Backpacking the San Francisco Bay Area by Matt Heid. It’s my Bay Area camping and backpacking bible.

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