Magazine article Sunset

Henry Coe's Softer Side: Enjoy Uncrowded Wildflower Walks in This Rugged South Bay Park. (Travel - Northern California Day Trip)

Magazine article Sunset

Henry Coe's Softer Side: Enjoy Uncrowded Wildflower Walks in This Rugged South Bay Park. (Travel - Northern California Day Trip)

Article excerpt

You'd think we were going to Latvia. Without exception, everyone who heard that my family was going camping at Henry W. Coe State Park asked, "Where's that?"

How an 87,000-acre preserve, the largest state park in Northern California, could elicit such universal shrugs is astonishing, especially when Henry Coe is just a half hour southeast of San Jose.

Yet the park, often labeled too rugged and too hot, is downright lovely in spring. Daytime highs barely brush the 70s, with 3,000-foot ridgelines catching cool ocean breezes. Runoff fills a filigree of creeks, and meadows are speckled with more than 100 species of wildflowers. Though many trails (open to hikers, mountain bikers, and horses) are decidedly steep, there are moderate options for family outings like ours.

When we arrived, we checked in at park headquarters, housed in turn-of-the-century barns that hint at the area's cattle ranch past. Rancher's daughter Sada Coe Robinson donated her inheritance--roughly 12,000 acres--to the public in 1953. Today the park comprises a sprawling wilderness of native grasslands and oak and pine forests.

Our campsite sat on the crown of a gentle hill, surrounded by flowering orange fiddlenecks. Tent pitched and water bottles filled (the park's only potable water is at headquarters), we asked ranger Barry Breckling about family-friendly hikes. He suggested Flat Frog Trail (named not in memory of amphibious roadkill but for the flattest route to modest Frog Lake) and the Springs Trail--Forest Trail loop. …

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