Bikepacking at Henry W. Coe State Park, the largest in northern California, has been on my list for a while. I last visited the park over ten years ago when I went mountain biking with a work friend. I vaguely remembered it to be dry and dusty and brutally steep terrain.
A series of winter storms called “atmospheric rivers” brought unusually high precipitation to California in January and February 2023. Hoping to take advantage of the situation and enjoy lush green hills, wildflowers, and flowing creeks and streams, I took the ninety-minute drive down south for an overnighter trip, tracing a previously mapped route.
I approached the area from the East Bay, and as soon as I turned off Hwy 101, it seemed I was an eternity away from the dense population centers of Silicon Valley proper. The area had an immediate rural feel, with a mix of modest one-story houses on reasonably sized lots with front and back yards and horse farms and ranches.
I reached the Hunting Hollow entrance on narrow, winding Gilroy Hot Springs Road, in parts barely wide enough for two vehicles. Coyote Creek flowed next to the road, and I saw cows grazing across the other side. Only a handful of other cars in the sizable parking lot on a weekday bore witness to me getting my bike ready and heading out around 9am, gradually inching up the switchbacks on Jim Donnelly Trail to Steer Ridge. The conditions were close to perfect: sunny with patches of clouds and brisk temperatures in the mid-40s.
The positive effects of the rain-heavy winter were on display early on. Patches of wildflowers were visible next to the trail and grew more extensive and prominent the higher I went. I cruised along the undulating road along the ridge, taking a couple of breaks to soak in the views and the springtime flora around me. A couple on mountain bikes, out for a day ride in the park, caught up to me. “I hope you got some tequila or bourbon to celebrate at the end,” the man asked me after I mentioned my trip plans to them.
After a brief chat and taking pictures, I continued towards Wilson Camp, turning left on Wagon Road and mostly going uphill until my lunch break point at Wasno Pond. The only sounds I could hear while replenishing some calories were the occasional bird song and the knocking of a nearby woodpecker. At the same time, the occasional gusts of wind had calmed down, and the overall silence enhanced the feeling of calm and remoteness.
What followed was a stint on Center Flats Road (the “flats” part here is definitely misleading), which had some of the notorious steep climbs in store, a couple of which I had to hike-a-bike.
After more than five hours of riding, I reached Kaiser-Aetna Road in the eastern part of the park. The wide, dirt road felt more monotonous than the trails and narrower fire roads thus far in the park. Some initial signs of fatigue also started to set in. A small stream beside the road served as a water source and an excuse to take a break in the now blazing spring afternoon sun. Suddenly a car approached me in the opposite direction, with two women in their sixties in the front seats. They were trail workers, I learned, who reminded me that “you got quite a bit more to go [to Pacheco camp].”
I dragged myself along Kaiser Aetna Road, pushing the bike several times, before eventually turning onto County Line Road, rising sharply towards another ridge. Black charred tree barks were reminders of wildfires that raged in this area in August and September 2020.
I turned left onto Coit Road from the ridge, with another downhill/uphill sequence and expansive views toward the park’s west side. Shortly after, I reached Pacheco Camp, my overnight spot. With picnic tables, flat areas perfect for pitching a tent, a water spigot, public restrooms, creek access, and a trash can, it had everything a bikepacker could ask of a place to camp for the night.
I was glad I had planned ahead and packed the warmer sleeping bag and a set of thermal underwear. The night got chili, and the slightly frozen water I left on the picnic table overnight was evidence of that. It took me a while to get going the following morning, but after breakfast and packing things up, I continued on Coit Road for not too long before reaching the turnoff towards Pacheco Falls on Live Oaks Spring Road.
“Going to regret having to come back up this trail later,” I thought as I descended down 500 feet to get a view of the falls. I dropped my bike a few switchbacks before the bottom of the falls and hiked the rest of the way down. The water of the falls was free-flowing, settling into a crystal clear pond before continuing its journey down North Fork Pacheco Creek. I spent about forty-five minutes by the falls, soaking in my surroundings and listening to the whooshing sounds of the water rushing down. The return hike and pushing the bike to the trail junction were strenuous, but the side trip was worth it. In these moments, I was glad I didn’t attempt this in the height of summer when temperatures can reach ninety and above.
I reconnected with Coit Road and continued west. I passed Coit Lake and, shortly after, Kelly Lake, from which point on, I had one last steady climb up to the final ridge at 2,500 feet before embarking on the final downhill. I sped down Coit Road for three miles, letting gravity work until I reached the valley floor. For the last bit, I puttered along next to Coyote Creek, spotting the structures of Gilroy Hot Springs on the hillside on the other side of the creek, surrounded by forest. At the Coyote Creek Park Entrance, I took a left and, now on pavement, I cruised more or less gently the last two miles back to the car.
My route is more or less a copy of the “Trial By Fire” overnighter route listed on BIKEPACKING.COM. However, I cut out any singletrack sections and corrected the locations of some of the points of interest.
Henry W. Coe State Park is located in the southeastern part of the San Francisco Bay Area. Under ideal traffic conditions, Hunting Hollow Entrance is about a 90-minute drive from Oakland or San Francisco, and about a 45-minute drive from San Jose.
A public transit option is taking BART to Berryessa / North San Jose Station. However, from there it is still about 40 miles to the park entrance, most of it along Coyote Creek Trail.
All food need to be brought in, there are no services at the Hunting Hollow entrance. The larger population centers nearby will provide plenty of options, including several REI store locations.
Water can be tricky, especially after periods of not much rain, however it seems that the various lakes and ponds seem to be somewhat reliable as a water source. Water treatment (boiling, filtering) is a prerequisite before drinking.
Given the rugged terrain in parts, I used my Salsa Timberjack hard tail. Since I avoided any technical singletrack, the trip might be doable on a gravel bike with wider tires, but I enjoyed the comfort of the front suspension.
This is the same setup I used on the White Rim Trail and the San Francisco Peninsula Traverse.
Trip Reports & Other Route Options
- “Trial By Fire” overnighter route on BIKEPACKING.COM this trip was based on
- Extension of the original route to Jackrabbit Lake (52 miles, ±8360 feet)
- Coyote Lake and Henry Coe Mixed Terrain Loop (Bay Area Bikepacking)
- Hunting Hollow to Jackrabbit Lake Figure 8 Loop | Henry Coe State Park (Bay Area Bikepacking), based on Julia E.’s route
- Official Henry W. Coe State Park page (CA Parks). Some good general information about the park, activities and fees.
- The Pine Ridge Association at Henry W. Coe State Park
- General info on bikepacking at Henry Coe
- Official visitor brochure with trail map (PDF, 2009)
Current Trail and Water/Springs conditions
- Hard COEre 100. Unofficial 100 mile mountain bike challenge through the park.