Coit Lake Backpacking – Henry Coe

One of the closest areas to backpack when living in San Jose is Henry Coe State Park. This (relatively large) park is located on the east side of Morgan Hill and is absolutely loaded with great places to visit. The park is known for its steep climbs and exposed hills, so most people avoid it in the summer, but it’s quite popular in the winter and spring.

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Trail selfie. Photo credit: Lisette

Last weekend I decided to embark on a solo hike to enjoy the last weekend before it gets too hot to do any substantial distances out there. After reading a little bit on the park and lakes, I decided to hike to Coit Lake and see if I could snag a good campsite.  I parked at the Hunting Hollow entrance for this hike, paying a $5 day parking fee and a $6 overnight camping fee ($11 total). Bring exact change in cash for these fees and a pen, pay at the station and then put the receipt stub on the dashboard of your car. 

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The view from Middle Steer Ridge. Photo Credit: Lisette

I decided to take the Middle Steer Ridge Trail up over Willson’s Peak, to Grizzly Gulch, then Dexter, Wasno and Kelly Lake Trail to Coit Road. Not sure why I picked a route that goes up 2,800 feet in elevation on exposed hillside, but it was windy and cool and seemed like a good day to try it. Plus the views were fantastic (though hard to capture on camera).

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Kelley Lake. Photo credit: Lisette

After passing Kelley Lake, I went to the southern end of Coit lake (follow signs for the inlet), and found a great campsite on the south end of the lake with a bathroom and shelter. I shared the spot with some very entertaining Boy Scouts and their troop leader. You can easily filter water here from the edge of the lake a few steps from camp and enjoy the use of the restroom. There is also a trash can here, but then also a sign on the bathroom that there is not trash pickup … so don’t use it? Not sure why they’d have a trash bin if you can’t use it, but to be safe I carried out my trash.

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Lovely view at Coit Lake. Photo credit: Lisette

Since I got to camp early at 2:00 p.m., I decided that I needed to make the most of my day and check out Pacheco Falls. This little side trip is about 5 miles and an additional 1,000 feet drop and climb back out. Late May is apparently too late to see water in the falls (at least this year), so I was treated to a green, stagnant pool below a waterless waterfall. Still pretty, but not the paradise I’d been hoping to take a dip in.

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Waterless Pacheco Falls. Photo credit: Lisette

After getting back to camp, I enjoyed my meal and chatted with the scouts, heading out first thing in the morning via the quickest trail back. This meant hiking the last two miles out on the road from the Coyote Creek entrance, but it was well worth making it out quickly before the heat caught up with me.

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Poppies in full bloom. Photo credit: Lisette

All in all I managed close to 25 miles in 24 hours, so I think I did pretty well for a single, petite woman hiking alone! I definitely wouldn’t be quite so ambitious in warmer weather, but I’m excited to check out several other overnight hikes in the park!

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Morning mist on Coit Lake. Photo credit: Lisette

A few notes on the park:

  • THERE ARE SOOOO MANY TICKS. Deet doesn’t help as much as you hope. Wear pants, and long sleeves of made of lightweight/slippery fabric.
  • Coit and Kelley Lake are pretty popular, so plan to arrive early in the day in order to snag a decent camping spot. People who arrived as dusk were left with very limited options. Both lakes have restrooms nearby and several places to set up camp. 
  • There are quite a few snakes, many of them rattlesnakes, so keep an eye out when trekking through grass.
  • These lakes seem like popular fishing spots, not sure about the rules here, but if you like fishing you should definitely check it out!
  • Spring is the best time for these hikes since the park is exposed and can be very hot in the summer. Bring lots of water, and a filter as you go.

You can find a brochure and trail map here: https://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/561/files/HenryCoeWebBrochure2009.pdf However, I will note that many places were hard to find with the maps left at the park entrance and I’d highly recommend purchasing a larger, more detailed map if you are choosing to backpack overnight. 

Gear notes:

  • Good to Go Bibimbap – I LOVE these meals, and as a person with Celiac disease, it’s been hard to find dehydrated food that is both safe and delicious. This particular meal has a flavorful, slightly spicy taste that really hits the spot after a day of hiking.
  • Big Agnes Fly Creek MtnGLO 2-Man tent – this super lightweight tent was easy for me to haul and has more room than I need.
  • You will definitely want a solid water filter. My Sawyer Squeeze did the trick, but keep in mind there are few streams running in late spring and most of the lakes are pretty heavy with algae, so have a filter that can handle this.
  • Park map. The park map I picked up at Hunting Hollow didn’t even have Pacheco Falls, and my very helpful crew of boy scouts had to show me the way on their larger map, I picked one up for next time, and you might want to as well.
  • Keep with you all the typical packing gear – trekking poles, headlamp, sleeping pad and bag or quilt, stove, first aid kit and tick removal device.

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