Coyote Lake-Harvey Bear Ranch
Back in November, I hiked Mount Tam and Coyote Hills Regional Park in Fremont and made the bold resolution that I would do at least one hike a week and work my way through the Bay Area’s many trails. Yeah, that fell by the wayside. But here it is March and I’m ready to re-boot, as it were. I’ve actually been trying to get my hiking mojo in order for a few weeks now. Especially since I’m in San Jose a few days a week where there are a surprisingly large number of hiking options. But, if you have as bad a sense of direction as I do, it’s hard to find a trail you feel comfortable hiking alone. I once got myself so hopelessly lost in a well-traveled area of Mount Tam that I thought I’d never leave that mountain alive. So I got myself on a great site called Meetup.com to try to find a sympatico hiking group. I had two criteria — I wanted to hike the Bay Area (preferably the South Bay) and I was only available mid-week. A search on “South Bay”,”hiking” and “mid-week” only got me two groups. The first was called “Early Morning Hiking — Steep and Fast” which I rejected because of three deal-breakers: Early Morning, Steep and Fast. (The hiking I was okay with.)
The only other choice was called San Jose Mid-Week Hikers’ Group. I chose them and it was a good choice. Before we got too far past the trailhead, I knew these were my peeps. It was an interesting group, fairly International, a mix of retirees and people with flexible schedules. Some people diss Coyote Lake/Harvey Bear, one of Santa Clara County’s newest parks, but it was a perfect place to get to know people — for the same reasons this would be a good hike for families or a friendly group with varying hiking abilities. The rolling, fairly gentle hills allowed for conversation, yet the open space let the more fit charge ahead and not lose the group. Basically, you are hiking through cattle country — cattle pastures actually — on one of the original Ranchos in the area, which eventually passed to the hands of one of the South Bay’s earliest Anglo settlers. (My favorite club once claiming Mark Twain as a member, The Clampers, have an on-site plaque outlining the history of the area.) It was a good thing we didn’t read that plaque before the hike as it would have robbed us of much speculation on who or what Harvey Bear was. Some thought it might be a rancher’s name, but others thought it might have been a shortening of Harvey’s “Bear Ranch” — which got us speculating on how one would ranch bears. A third theory posited that it might have been a nudist colony whose name was changed for modesty reasons.
In short, the hike was a good Monday morning week starter. We did a fairly brisk 6 mile loop which didn’t even touch on the many charms of the park, including Coyote Lake which is apparently a habitat for the endangered Western Pond Turtle. (Anyone who’s followed the saga of the Two Terrier Vineyard Clan of Pond Turtles can guess how that would warm my heart.) We saw wildflowers, birds and a huge herd of wild pigs who were no closer than we wanted them to be. In short, Harvey Bear is an excellent park for a group hike, training for mountain biking, or trailrunning, or just getting your “sea legs” for longer hikes. And, if you are looking for a hiking group, I urge you to check out Meetup.com.
The Trails: Willow Springs Trail, Rancho San Ysidro Trail and Savannah Trail
Best: Rolling open hills, a taste of what old ranching San Jose looked like
Worst: No cover, so it’ll be hot in summer
Facilities: I saw porta-potties at the Harvey Bear entrance. Nothing on the trail and it’s wide open. So not much cover if you are caught short.
Why I’ll Go Back: Open and safe for a solo hiker