Wildflowers and single track, it doesn’t get any better than this! After a wet El Niño winter, Henry Coe State Park is green all over – and purple, gold and pink with blooms. Go now because if you wait too late – like I do almost every year – the temperatures get too hot for riding (although you’ll have to tolerate steep terrain, ticks and abundant poison oak year-round).
The park’s visitor center publishes a very pretty wildflower brochure for $3. This trip in mid-March, I spotted almost all the early spring flowers listed. We rode through fields of gold painted in poppies, violets, fiddlenecks, and California goldfields (Lasthenias). Under the oaks, there were purple irises, pink shooting stars, and tiny white flowers of all sorts, from phlox to saxifrage.
One flower deserves special mention. Several times when I got off my bike to dodge poison oak, I spotted checker lilies (Fritillaria affinis). The bellshaped, thimble sized flowers are speckled gold and brown. They usually blend in perfectly with the undergrowth but up close, the flower is breathtaking. Look for it growing in luxuriant patches of poison oak, as well as on the cover of the park’s wildflower brochure.
If you’re not into wildflowers, how about amphibians! Camping overnight at Willow Ridge, tree frogs chirped all evening below in the oaks. The next morning, with a heavy dew on the grass, there were about two dozen California newts on the 50 yards of trail leading back to Willow Spring. We really had to pick our way through them (and the poison oak). That afternoon, we also came upon a toad sunning on the porch of its burrow, which was dug right in the middle of the singletrack trail.
If you want to go on a wild ride with Mr. Toad, check out my route description after the photos.
- Middle Ridge Trail, a very nice, non-technical downhill except you’ll have to dodge poison oak,
- Lost Spring Trail, a well graded ascent connecting to China Hole Trail
- China Hole Trail, a completely awesome 4 miles of singletrack. It climbs in and out of Coyote Creek and there’s a sunny swim hole at the bottom.
Transit: The park is not served by public transit and it’s a big climb uphill about 28 miles from the nearest Caltrain Station. This is doable, but check your time schedules carefully, as the Caltrain runs to Morgan Hill only on weekdays and not on weekends. Carpooling is a very good option.
Camping: Backcountry camping passes are available on a first-come basis at the visitor’s center. You can also reserve sites at the park campground online.