It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been back to Pacheco Falls. My last visit was when my wife and I did a hike there only months after the Lick fire, which swept through the area along Live Oak Spring Trail close to the falls. During that hike we were encouraged by the extent of recovery that we saw, but were also bummed out by the sight of numerous burned out skeletons of trees that would take years to rot out and fall. Even the trees that were showing signs of recovery bore the ugly scars, which looked likely to remain noticeable for decades. Another discomforting sight was the amount of silt and soil present in the darkened, turbid, waters of the falls, indicative of the extent of erosion damage resulting from the effects of the blaze. I was curious to find out how much difference a couple of years would make. Pacheco Falls is very seasonal, so the best time for this hike is late winter or early spring when the flows are the best. But hiking in this season also means that the trails will be wet, a little muddy, and in some places, downright swampy. The ticks are out in force right now too. I remember doing this very hike one year when there were many down trees along Live Oak Spring Trail, and getting around them, or through them, gave the little buggers perfect opportunity to hitch a ride on pack and clothing. I must have picked at least 6 of them off of myself during that hike, prompting me to strip down on the trail to thoroughly check out my clothes for any remaining blood sucking insects. It would have been better to have a companion for that, but when you’re alone, you have to make do however you can. Fine outdoor fun that was!
You can skip this paragraph if you’d rather not read a lengthy trail route description, as I was not using GPS. My route for this hike begins at the Coyote Creek entrance at the end of Gilroy Hot Springs Road. The road is narrow, and there’s very little parking down there, so being early is recommended. You cannot park on the road, but that is really just common sense. In past years, they would let you slide without paying day use fees for this entrance, but that has changed. In order to hike in from there, you first must stop in at Hunting Hollow along the way and use the pre-pay envelope system to deposit your exact change of $6, an increase of only a buck. You have to begin on Coit Road, but my preference is to find the junctions to bring me to Grizzly Gulch Trail, all the way to the Dexter Trail, to Wasno Road. This way it’s about 3.1 miles to the Kelly Lake Trail junction @ about 2400 feet, but there are some really steep sections, especially the Dexter Trail. This is the shortest, roughest, and steepest route. A good alternative route from Coyote to the same junction would be to hike an extra 0.9 miles down Coit Road to the Anza Trail, and use Jackson Road to take you all the way to Wasno Road. This route is easier, but will be about 4.9 miles to the junction. From there you descend all the way to Kelly Lake @ about 1600 feet and choose which way to climb back up to Wagon Road at about 2250 feet. You can use Kelly Lake Trail or Coit Road. Live Oak Spring Trail will take you down to the falls trail finally descending to about 1250 feet at the base of the falls. Round trip distance is about 16.4 miles by the short route, with somewhere over 4000 feet of total elevation gain for the round trip. This is not a casual hike, but not quite into the “butt kicker” category.
The weather alternated from slightly cloudy and cool, to brief periods of sunshine and subtle warmth beaming through the parting clouds. The sprinkling of sunshine brought out some fledgling early displays of a few wild flower species, but the best is still to come. The most interesting displays were some Giant Trilliums near Coyote Creek; first ones I’ve seen this year, and two of the four different species of Goosberry known to bloom at Coe (Credit to Lee Dittmann for posting the link to the Bay Area Hiker discussion forum). The views along Live Oak Spring Trail were as expected. There was much regeneration, but still quite a bit of fire-scarred, standing, dead wood, with new growth rising up around. The far away views were as brilliant green as any views you may have ever seen of the British Isles. In all of my previous visits to this interesting little series of falls, I (we) have been completely alone to ponder the remoteness of this place, and hear the unhindered sounds of the breeze and cascading water. But on this hike I was surprised to encounter people. There was a group of people camped out at Kelly Lake, who later hiked to the falls and arrived just as I was about to leave. I had seen two other smaller groups in the area too. Look for the stone duck to lead you over to the jagged cliff overlook area to get the only safe views of the upper sections of the fall. You would have to be a bird to get a better view. North Fork Pacheco Creel cascades down into a series of rock pools like some kind of secret grotto inside the rocky chasm below, and the waters are flowing clear and clean. At the lower viewpoint further down the trail, the lower cascade plunges into a fairly large pool that would be great to swim in if it were warm enough. It’s a really unique area, secluded and usually sparsely visited. Perfect for a moderately challenging early spring ramble.
Click here to see my pictures
Click the play button for a breif video of the upper falls
Video of lower fall