Oh Henry Coe, how I love thee. Ornery turkeys, feral pigs, ever present blood sucking ticks, and endless hills that mock, inspire, and finally have their way with your legs. Honestly though, Coe park is a pretty unique gem and one of the few places that we have in the bay area in which one can escape into the vastness devoid of even the slightest hint of the sprawl beyond all those hills. As one of the largest state parks in California it’s easy to set out in search of new destinations and adventures in which you can pretty much hike all day without having to turn around. On this hike I set out to visit Pacheco Falls with a couple of friends. Although the hike is challenging the destination is worth it, and it shows yet another side of Coe that not everyone takes time to check out.
Destination: Pacheco Falls, Henry Coe State Park
Trail Head: Steer Ridge (from Hunting Hollow entrance)
Distance: 28 miles round trip, ~7,600 ft gained & lost (~535 ft/mi avg delta)
Remoteness: Possibly a few passing day hikers and mountain bikers
Motivation: Conquer the hills to find the mysterious water fall
Notes: The lakes/ponds may be your only water sources, carry a map, closest camping to the falls is at Wood Duck Pond
Elevation Profile (one direction only)
The Report from Our Trip :: Mar 8-9, 2014
My friend Adam and I had been talking about trying to sneak in another short trip or two before his PCT thru-hike which he’d depart for in about a month. With the recent rain and nice weather we decided this would be a good time to check out Pacheco Falls and invited another friend, David, to join us which he did. Adam drives from Davis to San Rafael, we BART down to Fremont where David picks us up at the train station, and presto – an hour later we’re in the muddy parking lot strapping the packs on.
After getting across a few small streams while keeping our shoes dry (triple river fording! no safety crew!! much wow 😉 Henry Coe didn’t waste any time in reminding us where we were. The climb up Steer Ridge just gets right into it. Steep and very linear! Ahh… good to be back. I’d been running hills lately in preparation for my upcoming Zion Traverse run, so I welcomed the burn and settled into a good cardio zone. Just as a reminder, hiking here when the temperatures are in the 80’s or above is ill advised unless you’re a sadist, and even then you better be a well prepared sadist or otherwise end up like some of the unfortunate newts along the trail – jerky.
We wandered along, up, then down, rinsing and repeating while checking the map often. There are a lot of trail junctions and roads out there and in fact there are more than a few possible ways to reach the falls from Hunting Hollow (or even from Park HQ for a longer hike). Other humans were scarce, but we spotted a few deer, hawks, newts, and a herd of turtles that simultaneously dove into a pond as we passed by. Lick Observatory is just visible if you know where to look for the white domes, and off in the distance the snow capped Sierra Nevada is visible. After about 5 hours of hiking ridges with those sweeping views we reached Wood Duck Pond. The falls are not far down the trail from there. The path steepens again and heads downwards into a den of poison oak and ticks that eventually opens to the falls, and a pretty spectacular falls I would add. They snake down a large rock formation that looks like it should be anywhere but Henry Coe. Good stuff.
We headed back up and made camp there just as we lost the light. The frogs started in with their chorus, ducks were doing that grumbling thing, and bats were zipping around just over head… then I felt the bite. Luckily it wasn’t a bat, or a zombie, or anything that would have required Adam or David to stick a wooded stake in me. It turned out to be the familiar bite of a tick. Unfortunately, they really like my flavor; any time I go where ticks are I seem to get them on me, and usually one gets fully embedded which this little guy was… right by the groin. They’re after me lucky charms! Guess it’s time to Permethrine my clothes again.
After that I found one crawling up my arm, and a couple on my socks. Adam and David got a little paranoid and started checking themselves with their headlamps. Adam found a couple on him too, so we sat in the road for dinner with all our clothes tucked in and started drinking heavily to melt away the anxiety. Situation normal after a bit. The bullfrogs in the pond converged on our beer stash meanwhile. I got the spotlight on one of them in the photo above. Now I know where Budweiser got the idea.
We made a grand Thai feast for dinner, and ate and drank our fill to replenish those calories burned earlier. The hike out the next day was not quite as tough, lots of steep downhill. We stopped at Wilson Peak for lunch with a nice view. All in all another memorable trip to Coe. My love-hate relationship with the place continues. I don’t really hate it of course; it’s one of those places that, despite it’s challenges, keeps me coming back for more. -JD