Trip Summary

What: winter loop hike in the Bay Area’s largest and wildest park.
Where: Henry Coe State Park; southeast of San Jose, California.
When: November 26-29 (3.3 days).
Distance: about 53 miles.
Highlights: perfect weather; Black Oaks in full autumn color; full moon; great hiking; solitude.


See our article Overview: Coe State Park for a list of resources and a description of the park.

Why we went

Every year around Thanksgiving, we try to take a short backpacking trip in a local park. Coe has long been a favorite backpacking destination close to home, so we chose it this time. Winter is a perfect time to hike there because the daytime temperatures are usually a pleasant 60 degrees.

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Amy’s Assessment

I continue to love this park, and winter is a great time of year there. We’ve had a slow start to our rainy season, so the grass is not yet green, but the Black Oaks were in particularly fine color, and that was a bonus.

James’ Assessment

It was time for another local backpacking trip and I had two new ones in my planning queue. For various reasons, neither one was quite right for this time frame. It then occurred to me that we had not been to Coe for a while so why not go there. The long term weather report was favorable and planning the route was easy. We decided that starting the trip at the end of the four day Thanksgiving holiday period would likely mean the park would be essentially empty of other users.

This trip was wonderful: very easy and low-stress trip preparation, fine weather, a full moon, lovely autumnal colors in the turning Black Oaks, Big-Leaf Maples, and Sycamores, and a chance to walk some very satisfying trails we had not done for a long time. Coe is an amazingly underutilized resource an easy hour’s drive from home.

Notes for Potential Hikers

We provide general information about Coe in our overview post. Based on this trip, here are a few additional notes.

We started our hike on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and met three parties on bicycles and just two hikers on our first day. We didn’t see anybody on our next three days. Spring is the popular hiking season, and in the winter it is common to meet no other trail users on weekdays. In our area, weather forecasts are quite reliable and it is easy to find multi-day periods with perfect hiking conditions, even in the winter.

While California does not have the brilliant autumn colors found in eastern deciduous forests, there was still a wonderful autumnal feeling, with recently dropped leaves on the forest trails and the Black Oaks painting the woodlands with vast swaths of orange.

While the maximum altitudes in the park are low, the mountains are fairly steep, and daily altitude gain can easily be 4000-5000 feet. On this trip, our route included long stretches along ridge tops or valley floors, and that tempered the total gain. Our total gain was 11,200 feet, and our altitude ranged from 1100′ to 3000′.

We camped as high as was practicable each night; valley temperatures reported by a local weather station were in the mid 20’s at night. The ridge tops were about 10 degrees warmer. The two weather stations in the park are at Orestimba Creek and Cordoza Ridge.

Wild pig populations are growing again as park eradication projects have slowed down. We saw three on this walk, the first in the last several years of park visits.