Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch Park California

Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch California

There’s an Australian short story about dinosaurs lurking in the Canberra hills. I remember it vividly from my childhood, and I think it was in a collection of stories called Dreamtime.

A pre-teen boy suffers from insomnia. He roams the streets of his Canberran suburb at night, and discovers that the grassy hills surrounding Canberra aren’t quite what they appear to be. While Canberra slumbers at night, the grassy hills are revealed as dinosaurs waking from their slumber.

Whenever I see undulating hills covered in dry yellow grass and scratchy scrub like the Canberran hills, I’m reminded of this story. And I was incredibly surprised that most of Central California is covered in these dinosaur hills!

Prior to this road trip, North Nomad and I had only visited coastal and desert California. Whilst most of California is similar to Australia, Central California is strikingly similar to the rural areas south of Sydney in the Southern Highlands and Canberra.

Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch California

We camped at Coyote Lake in Santa Clara County for two weeks, surrounded by these dinosaur hills. Coyote Lake’s hikes are challenging because of these hills, but rewarding with their spectacular views and the bountiful wildlife.

Our first hike was a combination of the Coyote Ridge Trail, the Harvey Bear Trail and following the road back along the lake to Lakeview Campground. The hike is roughly 6-7 miles and winds up through the hills, then down around the lake.

We saw plenty of deer with their babies on this hike, and eight hawks – always an impressive sight, but when I see them circling above I wonder if we look ill and tired to them! The trail map tells you to walk back on the road, but if you have sturdy walking boots on, you can walk back along the lakeshore. It’s very low at the moment so there is plenty of space.

And be careful for squirrel holes. Squirrel holes, you ask? YES – this is a thing in Central California. In Canada, our squirrels live in trees. In Central California, these little rascals dig huge networks of holes in the ground and live in a squirrel commune. Cute when you’re watching them stick their heads out of their burrows like meerkats. Not so cute when you’re falling down a hole hidden by grass, and you twist your ankle.

Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch California1

Every night, I went down to the lake around 6.30-7pm and waited for a couple of families of deer to graze. North Nomad keeps telling me that of course animals are scared of me — I’m their natural predator, and no, they have no idea I don’t eat animals. He says I remind him of that Great White Shark in Finding Nemo who just wants to be friends with the fish, but keeps scaring them.

My nightly visits seemed to work. The deer weren’t scared of me after a week or so, and the babies would saunter across my path without fear. This felt like a huge success and made up for my total failure in photographing the wild boar. Every time we’d driven into the park just before dusk, we’d seen wild boar grazing at the sides of the road. And yet every time I went to take photos, they’d vanish into thin air.

Our second hike became a necessity, rather than an activity. The hills surrounding the lake blocked our wifi signal, even with an antenna! And the only place where we could get a few bars of reception was at the top of the hill. North Nomad had to push out some software releases for a client, so the search for wifi got a bit desperate, and we got a bit fitter as a result!

From the top of the hill, you could see sprawling hills and towns surrounding Coyote Lake. One evening we were up there, Spanish music wafted up from a nearby church called the Stables. A mountain bike rider would fly past, and deer would skit across our path occasionally.

Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch California3

Aside from hiking and animal/bird watching, Coyote Lake is really popular with boat owners. It would go from ghost-town quiet during the week, to pumping and full of campers with boats in tow on the weekends.

Surprisingly, there is no swimming Coyote Lake. I must admit I plotted to wake up early and go for a swim, to hell with their rules. But the lake was quite shallow with the Californian drought. And that combined with the early morning fog meant I had no desire to swim once we got there.

This “no swimming” business is a county by-law in Santa Clara, so you can’t swim at any lakes in the area. We weren’t quite sure the reasoning behind this, but assumed it’s because California is one of the more litigious parts of the world, and the councils can avoid liability this way.

Would you feel a bit ripped off not being able to swim when you were camping by a lake? Or would you be happy with hiking and boating?


Location: 10840 Coyote Reservoir Road, Gilroy California 95020

Getting There:  Take the 101 Highway and use the Leavesley Road exit. Go east for about 2 miles to New Avenue, and head north to Roop Road. Drive for 3.5 miles east on Roop Road, past the Mendoza Ranch entrance, then turn left into the park.

Open: The park is open for general use from 8am to sunset every day. No information available on whether it’s closed for Christmas or Thanksgiving, but it might be safe to assume it is or call ahead to check.

Contact Details: Reservations – 408 355 2201 

Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch California


You can connect with South Nomad, Jessica, over at Google+.

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