China Hole and Middle Ridge Loop
This strenuous hike takes you to the site of the historic Madrone Soda Springs resort and to China Hole, the park's most popular swimming hole. Beyond China Hole, you'll travel about a half mile along the rocky course of the Middle Fork of Coyote Creek, which is impassable after heavy winter storms, during spring, you may get your feet wet puddle jumping, rock-hoppable most of the year, and mostly dry (with isolated pools) in the summer.
At Poverty Flat, you'll follow a road that passes several shady backpack campsites. You'll leave the road at the west end of Poverty Flat and start the strenuous trek up the nose of Middle Ridge, traveling through shady woodlands most of the way up. When you reach the top, you'll emerge from the forest at the edge of a lovely sloping meadow with fine views of Pine Ridge (a natural place to rest for a while).
As you continue your hike along the crest of Middle Ridge, you'll wander through rolling grasslands with some moderately steep uphill and downhill sections and rewarding views in all directions. Fish Trail takes you down Middle Ridge and crosses the Little Fork of Coyote Creek in the canyon between the two ridges. You may want to linger a while at the crossing. It's a cool, cozy, friendly place where you can relax to the soothing sounds of trickling water that flows through the canyon during most of the year. If the day is warm, you may want to take off your shoes and refresh your feet in the cool water.
The hike back up to the top of Pine Ridge has some short steep sections, but the elevation gain is fairly spread out, and you'll probably have plenty of energy to enjoy the views as you hike back to park headquarters.
Starting at the trail head close to the stop sign, follow Corral Trail to the Springs Trail junction. Take the right fork and follow Springs Trail to its end at Manzanita Point Road. Go right on the road and keep going until you reach the Madrone Soda Springs trail head (across from Manzanita Point group campsite 7). Go right on the Madrone Soda Springs Trail, and watch your step as you hike down the trail. It's steep and slippery in places. When you reach the creek bed, you've reached the site of the old resort. You might want to stay a while, look around, and picture the resort in its heyday.
Continue along Madrone Soda Springs Creek on Mile Trail, which crosses the creek bed 12 times (something to consider during winter and early spring when the creek might be flowing.) Be on the lookout for poison oak, which flourishes along Mile Trail in all seasons. You'll pass junctions with China Hole Trail and arrive at China Hole, a natural place to stop for a while (especially if it's a warm day and you're in the mood for a swim).
Continue along the creek (avoiding the often dead-end paths that climb up the hillside) until you see a dirt road on the other side of the creek. Cross the creek, turn left on the road, follow it through Poverty Flat, cross the creek again and continue on the road until you reach Middle Ridge Trail on your right. Follow the trail, which crosses the creek, goes past Poverty Flat campsite 1, crosses the creek again, and heads steeply up the nose of Middle Ridge.
After you reach the ridge top, follow the trail along its crest until you reach Fish Trail, which will take you to the bottom of Middle Ridge and back up to the top of Pine Ridge and "grand junction." Cross the road and take Coral Trail back to park headquarters.
You can lengthen your trip by returning to Pine Ridge on Flat Frog Trail (rather than Fish Trail). If you do, you'll get to see more of the giant Manzanitas on Middle Ridge and you'll get to visit Frog Lake. If you choose this loop, you'll travel 13.6 miles and gain 2,070 feet in elevation.
Before you start out or after you return, you might want to ask someone in the Visitor Center to show you the binder with photographs taken at the Madrone Soda Springs resort during its heyday.