GETTING OUT: China Hole, a ‘Coe Park classic’

China Hole is walled in by steep slopes on all sides and feels a

Spend any time in the visitor center at Henry Coe State Park and
you will hear discussions about China Hole. It is one of the most
popular destinations in the park for day hikes as well as
backpacking.
Spend any time in the visitor center at Henry Coe State Park and you will hear discussions about China Hole. It is one of the most popular destinations in the park for day hikes as well as backpacking.

But before we leave, a quick Coe Park geography lesson.

Rest your index finger on a nearby countertop; that’s Pine Ridge. Headquarters and visitor parking are near the second knuckle up from your finger tip, and Manzanita Point, where the group campgrounds are located, is at the end of your finger three miles away. China Hole sits in a ravine beyond your finger tip and a thousand feet below it.

There are several trails along the length of Pine Ridge that will take you to Manzanita Point. The access road rides the spine of the ridge, but two trails drop off the crest and edge along its flanks, each with a different personality.

A half mile down the Corral Trail, I reached the trail hub where I chose the Springs Trail as my route down the ridge. The south-facing Springs Trail is generally open grassland dotted with oaks. I would avoid this trail on a hot afternoon, but it was a good choice on this early and still cool morning.

Back on the road, I soon reached the first campsites at Manzanita Point. Just ahead, another decision. There are a couple ways to China Hole, and I chose to descend the Madrone Soda Springs Trail. If you include this trail on your loop, descend it and do not climb it. An experienced trail builder would be aghast at its steep pitch. It’s no picnic going down, but it would be a bear to climb.

After a mile, I reached a still briskly running creek at the old site of Madrone Soda Springs. Buildings are gone and nature has largely reclaimed the area, but Madrone Soda Springs was a popular resort from the late 1800s to the 1920s. A rock cooler built into the hillside and a masonry staircase are about all that is left. From here, I walked the Mile Trail along the creek through a narrow ravine that ends at China Hole.

China Hole was as fresh as I have ever seen it this late in the season. Here the Middle Fork of Coyote Creek joins the East Fork and a now fully merged Coyote Creek tumbles toward Coyote Reservoir, then Anderson Reservoir and finally along Highway 101 to San Francisco Bay.

I have frankly always been surprised by the popularity of this location as a backpacking site. While it does have reliable water, including excellent pools for bathing, anyplace with “hole” in its name generally means that the only views are up. Indeed, China Hole is walled in by steep slopes on all sides and feels a little like the bottom of a well to me. It is also a main byway to points beyond and sees a great deal of traffic. A mile up the Narrows at Los Cruzeros is a better site.

One of those walls above China Hole is the way home. Unlike the Madrone Soda Springs Trail, the China Hole Trail is gently graded and, except for a constant pounding from the sun, my walk out was great. Back at on top of Pine Ridge at Manzanita Point, I returned via the Forest Trail enjoying the shade of the north side.

This loop is 10 miles in all with a 1,400-foot elevation gain/loss – an ambitious day for a fit hiker. But Coe Park never fails to satisfy. On this hike, I watched a coyote bounce across an open field; I walked through a variety of landscapes, and a wide variety of spring wildflowers are hanging on. It’s a Coe classic.

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