This is Henry Coe the hard way: 15 miles with over 4,000 feet of ascent and a chance to test your legs on the "Short Cut" -- consensus pick as the San Francisco Bay Area's toughest trail.
Henry W. Coe State Park sprawls over more than 87,000 acres of high ridges and low valleys southeast of San Jose. It once belonged to a rancher named Henry Willard Coe; his heirs donated the ranch that would become the state park bearing his name.
The park has few amenities, but has abundant trails for hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers. The hike to Mount Sizer goes deep into the heart of the park, where the views from the heights seem to go on forever (occasionally the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra are visible on clear winter days).
To hike into this remote country is to see it as it stood for thousands of years before the first European settlers arrived. Some of the hills are scarred by wildfires of recent vintage, but the sight of green reclaiming the blackened landscape can't help but cheer you up.
Make no mistake: this is a very tough trek and you'll need all the cheer you can get.
Pay for parking at the park headquarters before you start out ($8 as of July 2010).
Mind your water supply -- you'll go through much more water than you might think in the course of several long, steep climbs.
Best time to go: March through April, when the hills are green and wildflowers are out in abundance.
Worst time to go: Late summer, when the searing sun makes the ascents unbearable and dries out the creeks, sharply limiting your water options.
Winter can be rainy and muddy, with precarious creek crossings. The vistas from the high ridges, however, are the best of the year.
Many hikers like to go in October, which is mating season for the large, hairy tarantulas that are unseen residents of the park most of the year.
Watch for poison oak along narrow trails.
Ticks will try to hop a ride, especially if you stop long in areas of tall grass (they're worst in winter and spring.) Always do a tick check after a Henry Coe hike.
What to bring:
Park map, available at the park HQ.
Clothing in layers: It can be breezy on the ridges, cool in the shade, hot in the sun.
Sunscreen: much of this hike is unshaded.
Snacks and enough water for eight to 10 hours of strenuous hiking.