Hunting Hollow Entrance to Kelly Lake
15.2 MILES / 4,066 FT ELEVATION
2 DAYS / 1 NIGHT WILDERNESS BACKPACKING
Henry W. Coe State Park is one of the few parks in the San Francisco Bay Area not completely overrun by visitors on the weekends. It is also one of the few parks where you can backpack and wilderness camp without needing advanced permits, which means it is also one of the most accessible parks for backpackers. This park offers an abundance of trails and lakes to backpack to and camp next to; you can camp anywhere along the lake shore in this park. During your visit you can expect to see rolling grass hills, oak trees, wildlife including turkeys and deer, and if you go in the spring, massive fields of wildflowers.
Henry W. Coe State Park is the largest state park in Northern California, spanning 87,000 acres. This park includes a large portion of the Diablo Mountain Range and encompasses a large number of lakes, rivers, valley and mountains. You can read all about the park here. We have fond memories of the park as it was our first backpacking trip. This park has the huge advantage of being much less crowded than the majority of San Francisco Bay Area parks, affording a much more personal wilderness experience. The ability to camp where you'd like in the park (instead of being limited to an established campground) is an additional plus. If you're looking for a different backpacking experience without having to reserve a campsite 6-12 months in advance, this park is for you.
This hike to Kelly Lake begins at the park back entrance at Hunting Hollow. This entrance is about 50 miles south of San Jose in Gilroy. You can get directions in the Directions section below.
The Hunting Hollow park entrance is unmanned. Once you park your car in the parking lot, you will want to fill out your permit form and pay your per-person backpacking fee and car fee at the permit station. After this, begin the hike by continuing to head up Coyote Creek Road. After about 2.0 miles, take Cork Road to Grizzly Gulch Trail to the right. You will remain on Grizzly Gulch Trail for about 2.5 miles, climbing 1,100 ft.
Once you hit the Dexter Trail split, take Dexter Trail to the left for another 0.6 miles, and then a left on Wasino Road, continuing for 0.2 miles. At this point you will hit the Kelly Lake Trail junction to the right, which will take you down to Kelly Lake.
You can camp anywhere you'd like along the lake, and there are a decent number of pre-used campsites for you to choose from. There are no fires allowed at the lake. You are safe to take water from the lake to cook with or drink from, but use a water filter prior to use. You can also fish in the lake if you get the required day fishing permit. As sun sets, you will get some create sunset views. We also had a large flock of turkeys roost in a tree right by our campsite!
The next day, continue on Kelly Lake Trail to make your way back out of the lake basin. Once you hit Crest Trail, take a right. Watch out for bees! We encountered a bee nest while walking through this section.
Crest Trail will take you to Wagon Road, where you make another right. Remain on Wagon Road for almost 2 miles, making the descent to Turtle Pond Trail. Take Turtle Pond Trail past Turtle Pond until you reach Serpentine Trail, where you make another right. Serpentine Trail will take you the 1 mile and ~600 ft up to Wilson's Peak where you can stop for a break. This section of the trail was foggy for us when we hiked it in the morning, it was like walking in a cloud.
Past Wilson's Peak take Middle Street Trail back down to the valley. This trail is steep and descents 1,746 miles over only 2.3 miles. Bring those poles and watch out for mountain bikers! Once you hit the valley, take Hunting Hollow Road 0.7 miles back to the car.
Maps & GPX
With the GPX route downloaded on your phone, you can follow your location against the trail, even in airplane mode or when you have no service. To learn more about GPX files and how to use them, see the GPX 101 page.
You can download the GPX file using the following link --> GPX FILE DOWNLOAD
Preparation & Pro Tips
- Fishing permit - Coe Park has great fishing for largemouth bass, green sunfish, crappie, and bluegill in its lakes and ponds. You can read more about fishing at Henry Coe here. You can get your fishing permit here.
- Water filter - Make sure to bring a water filter on this trek. You will be taking water out of the streams and lakes to drink and need a water filter to make sure it is clean. For our water filter recommendations, see the Gear Checklist.
- Car camping - If you don't want to backpack, you can also car camp in Henry Coe. To make car camping reservations, see the reservation website here.
- Wildflowers - Visit Henry Coe in the spring to see hills full of gorgeous wildflowers! You can see what's blooming now at Henry Coe here.
- Plan and pack your gear - See our Gear Checklist section for a comprehensive gear checklist and some tips and favorite items of ours.
The trailhead begins at the Hunting Hollow Park Entrance. Click on the directions icon to pull up custom directions in Google Maps.