Henry Coe (Middle Ridge Loop)
66% SINGLETRACK32% FIRE ROAD2% ROAD
Henry Coe is by far the largest park listed on this website and one of the remotest. While not all of it is open to mountain biking, its more than 130 square miles of total land area easily dwarfs any individual city around the Bay Area (like San Francisco, at 49 square miles) with the notable exception of San Jose. It features plenty of excellent bike-legal singletrack, though it'll frequently make you work hard to get to it: its fire roads are notorious for steepness.
One other thing Henry Coe is known for is the (seasonal) prevalence of ticks. So, before you ride here during tick season, you might want to educate yourself a little bit on the kinds of places where ticks may be found, what time of year they're most active, what's their behavior once they get on you, etc. Also, frequent stops during your ride to look for ticks on your body is highly recommended, and it couldn't hurt to wear bug repellent (though I wouldn't rely solely on that).
The trails I've tried at Henry Coe have always been well marked. That's a good thing, given the remoteness of its location, since you can't exactly say "if I get lost, I'll just keep going until I hit one of the surrounding neighborhoods". Still, I wouldn't rely solely on trail signs for navigation at Coe (or anywhere, for that matter). If you are making a crucial navigation decision for your ride, be sure to have some backup verification of it (map, GPS, etc.).
In order to save yourself some embarrasment if not trouble, you should keep in mind that all singletrack trails are automatically considered closed to bikes for 48 hours any time there is at least half an inch of rainfall at the park's headquarters.
Finally, due to its inland location, the weather at Coe during summer months can get much hotter and drier than many other riding locations around the Bay Area. When you also consider its remoteness, the importance of coming prepared with extra reserves of water goes without saying, and planning your riding range carefully during the hotter months would be wise.
The route you see on this page is aimed mainly at doing the full length of Middle Ridge Trail, as the ride title suggests, as well as visiting China Hole which is a popular and (when the water level cooperates) quite pretty reference point at Coe. Middle Ridge is roughly a 3.5-mile trail that starts flat and continues as an unbroken descent, though it's not like it never forces you to pedal. It's one of the more technical singletrack trails at Coe that I'm familiar with, which should make this ride appealing to more experienced riders.
This is a loop with a high proportion of singletrack mileage and it has possibly the most merciful climbs of any ride I've tried at Coe. Therefore, despite the fact that the ride follows a pattern that's not my favorite, where the majority of its climbing is in its last part, it's actually a very favorable route that does its biggest climb on the very reasonable China Hole Trail singletrack. I should probably also add that the ride is a bit adventurous in its routing, in that it relies on using Creekside Trail to get to China Hole, which is marked on the park's map in the "obscure trail" category. That's not for nothing. This trail will require plenty of hike-a-bike, rock scrambling, bike carrying, and combinations thereof, as well as the potential necessity of getting a little wet to be able to progress when water levels are high, though you will have a bail-out option for the worst possible scenarios. More on this below.
The ride starts from the park's headquarters. You'll find multiple small pockets of parking scattered around the visitor center here. Keep in mind that, despite the fact that each individual parking lot does not have its own payment station, all the parking around this spot is subject to a day-use fee. You're supposed to pay for parking at the visitor center in person, before leaving your car and heading out for your ride. The fee here is eight dollars at the time I write this.
If you start from the parking lot I've marked on the Suggested Parking link, the very first thing you do will be a seriously steep paved climb on Manzanita Point Road to a gate where the fire-road portion of the road begins. This early climb might seem to make a liar out of me given what I've just explained about the ride having merciful climbs, but it's only a few hundred feet long. There are a few more short and punchy climbs like this one over the course of the rest of the ride, but none of these are too troublesome. You're not likely to be questioning the wisdom of attempting the ride due to any steep climb, which is a real possibility for many other ride routes at Coe.
Your first stretches on Manzanita Point Road will be presenting some nice views toward the neighboring ridges on the south and southeast. But your initial stint on this wide and smooth fire road will be brief, since you'll quickly be picking up Flat Frog Trail at a junction on this fire road where multiple singletrack trails meet. Flat Frog Trail is the easiest singletrack on this ride. (Though China Hole Trail is just as non-technical, it's only "harder" because you'll be climbing it in the course of this ride.) As its name seems to hint, it's a trail that sees hardly any elevation change. It's a narrow singletrack that has a very smooth surface. It has barely enough "technical" spots to convince you that it's not a beginner level recreational path in a neighborhood park. In fact, it has two trail features that have their own "caution – walk bike" signs; one of these is a moderate rock step that experienced riders won't think twice about, and the other is a short series of low wooden steps that are just as ridable as that rock step. Overall, though, this is still a beginner-level singletrack. But, that's not to say that it's not enjoyable. It twists sweetly through a sparse covering of oak trees on picturesquely varied terrain.
This first singletrack segment of the ride ends when you find yourself on Hobbs Road. You'll be gaining just enough elevation on this fire road to make it to the next singletrack segment of the ride. Since these are the highest elevations of the ride route and the tree cover is patchy and scattered here, you'll be catching more nice views in various directions in this part of the ride, though nothing really gorgeous enough to tempt you to stop for a picnic.
Next comes Middle Ridge Trail, which would qualify as the main highlight of this ride. For many riders, this will be when adrenaline makes its first appearance on this ride. The trail starts out modestly, following flatly along the top of this initially broad ridge. There are a couple of extra steep dips and climbs as you go further, but their traversal will be measured in seconds rather than in minutes. As you continue on Middle Ridge Trail, it starts getting more closed-in by the bushes on either side and more twisty. Techy steep (downhill) trail features also start multiplying. As the trail diverts away from the spine of the ridge and starts heading down its northern slope, this becomes doubly so. A few spots in this segment are also badly off-camber. And at least one of these coincides with an extra-narrow stretch of the trail, too. Be cautious.
Middle Ridge Trail reaches the creek bed in the end and has you negotiating what looks like a major creek crossing. I can't be too sure of how much water you may find here, because when I did this ride in late November in a year of record-breaking drought, this creek was bone dry. The trail also crosses the same creek a second time only seconds after the first. This is when Middle Ridge Trail ends by connecting to Poverty Flat Road. The first thing that this fire road then has you doing, almost mockingly, is to cross the same creek a third time immediately. This should give you plenty of opportunity to end up with wet shoes if you do the ride at a time when there's water in the creek.
Follow this fire road for a few seconds while looking out for a signed trail junction on your right. Though it doesn't point out Creekside Trail by name, the one pointing you to China Hole will be the one you should take to continue your ride and it comes up very quickly. Creekside Trail (after, yes, crossing the creek yet again) starts out with a very short segment that's flat and easy. You'll notice things starting to deteriorate quickly after this though, and the trail will disappear into the rocky creek bed before you know it. This is the part of the ride where navigation will involve plenty of improvization. From here to China Hole, you'll be on Creekside Trail, which follows the creek bed. The continuity of the trail is only nominal, though. In practice, what you'll find is a brief chain of short goat paths that bypass certain spots of the creek bed only a few feet higher up on the right-hand hillside, intermixed with a barely traceable path along the side of the creek bed that squeezes through large sets of boulders in a couple of spots. These are essentially all hike-a-bike segments, if not enough to require you to shoulder your bike completely. There was no running water in the creek when I did this ride, which was my only time on this trail. If you happen to have similar conditions, you can simply hoof it over the round boulders on the creek bed rather than using any of the hillside bypasses, some of which are downright dangerous (and of varying condition from one season to the next, I'm sure).
I'm not certain how high the creek's water can come up in this section, but if you find that some of those boulder scrambles are too wet to be passable, you can use Cougar Trail as a bail-out option. This trail is not well marked. To get to it, you can either take a right turn off Poverty Flat Road shortly before the Creekside Trail turn off represented on this page (it's mere steps after encountering a portable toilet as you're heading back) and head directly west to diagonally cross the creek and pick up the trail on the other side, or backtrack all the way to your creek crossing on Poverty Flat Road and get to the wide clearing that was immediately before you first made that crossing, head across that clearing toward the hillside on the south (your right, when you had originally encountered this spot), and soon pick up an "initially acrobatic" shortcut to Cougar Trail. This will be a steep climb and you might need to walk most of the way up, but at least it should be dry and passable. This will bypass much of the climb on China Hole Trail, though you'll still get to enjoy the more moderate grade of the latter trail in the last mile of the climb before the Manzanita Point Campgrounds. Another way of completing the ride if you find Creekside Trail impassable is to take Poverty Flat Road all the way up to Manzanita Point Road. This will be more straightforward to follow, but it will also mean that you don't get to ride the last mile of singletrack on China Hole Trail.
If you do make it to China Hole, after killing however much time you feel like killing there, you can keep heading in the same direction and will soon (at what was a largish pebble beach at the time of my ride) see the signed junction on the right where your climb on China Hole Trail will begin. As soon as you get started on this trail, you may feel like you made a "return to civilization". Not only is this singletrack infinitely more ridable than your recent slog over the creek bed, but its grade is consistently reasonable. For two miles, it averages no more than 10% grade. There are brief stretches that reach 13% or so, but those are never long enough to truly exhaust you. Then, for another mile or so, the grade stays even lower. On its way up, the trail will start out as a narrow hillside singletrack through a sprinkling of oak trees. Later, it leaves these trees behind and, after a brief open segment, enters a large patch of chaparral through which it continues as a smooth but wider trail (which seems to have been recently redone as of the time of my ride).
China Hole Trail terminates by connecting to Manzanita Point Road in the major campground area of the same name. From here, your ride will consist of following this wide and smooth fire road over the spine of this ridge all the way back to your starting point. Along the way, there will be at least a couple of short but steep stretches. However, most of the ride back is nothing to complain about, though the need for pedaling will not end almost until you make it back to your car. Meanwhile, this open road presents some more nice views along the way, and if you (brave the ticks and) happen to be doing your ride in the green season, the setting should be simply gorgeous.
© Ergin Guney
blog comments powered by Disqus