County offers options for hikers, campers, motorists & retreat seekers.
Pinnacles National Park
To start off, San Benito County is home to one of just nine national parks in California and 58 in the entire nation. Pinnacles National Park, and its 26,000 acres of nature in the Gabilan Mountains, is the premiere outdoor attraction in the region.
Pinnacles is also one of the most environmentally diverse places on the planet, and features such must-see attractions as a wide variety of rock formations formed by volcanoes some 23 million years ago and the chance to peruse some of the most diverse plant wildlife around. The mountainous, rocky terrain combined with a mild, dry climate create perfect living conditions for many species of both plants and animals.
One of the most famous creatures to grace the skies and cling to the rocks of Pinnacles—along with golden eagles and peregrine falcons—is the California condor. Pinnacles National Park has been home to a condor recovery program since 2003 and it has resulted in a reintroduction for many of the endangered species into nature, with the park and Ventana Wildlife Society co-managing a program now overseeing the monitoring of 86 of the great American birds in Central California, according to Pinnacles. That’s a big deal when considering the species’ history.
Condors long faced extinction. For decades, environmentalists cautioned over the species’ decimated numbers. In 1967, the California condor was placed on the first Endangered Species list in the U.S., according to the National Park Service. The population had dropped to just 22 known birds in the 1980s, when all of the remaining condors were trapped for captive breeding to prevent extinction.
Condors, however, make up just one chapter of the Pinnacles story and experience. Aside from recreational opportunities such as hiking and rock climbing, the park offers nature exhibits, guided tours and special events throughout the year.
Pinnacles provides one of several camping opportunities in San Benito County, along with places like Casa de Fruta, Bolado Park, Lake McAlpine, Fremont Peak, Mission Farm RV Park, San Benito County Historical Park and Thousand Trails—a popular RV and camping resort near Hollister.
Peeking over San Juan
Fremont Peak State Park and nearby Juan Bautista De Anza National Historic Trail give recreationalists a bevy of worthwhile opportunities in their own right, making the San Juan Valley a go-to destination for shoppers, history buffs and outdoors enthusiasts.
Fremont Peak is known for a fun, challenging hike with incredible views along the way. From San Juan Canyon Road, hiking to the summit takes visitors along an easy half-mile trail ascending 300 feet. Views from the summit are stunning. From the top of the trail, visitors can see the Monterey Peninsula and Monterey Bay, the South Bay mountains, the Diablo range from Pacheco Peak southward, and the San Benito Valley.
The top of Fremont Peak is about 10 miles from the section of another signature draw for nature lovers. The De Anza trail, which is within walking distance from San Juan Bautista and the iconic Mission church downtown, actually encompasses 1,200 miles and runs from Mexico to San Francisco. The trail portion in San Benito County overlooks the beautiful San Juan Valley, and plays a role in commemorating the route traveled in 1775 and 1776 by Spanish Lt. Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza and a group of colonists from Sonora, Mexico.
Never Over the Hill
If hobbyists want to get off the beaten path, Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area provides an array of thrilling opportunities for motorcyclists, 4-wheelers, picnickers and campers, according to the state park. Hollister Hills remains one of the most popular spots in the entire state for off-road vehicle recreation.
Hollister Hills includes 800 acres of recreational opportunities, a fenced motorcross track and 24 miles of trails used for 4-wheel drive activities, motorcycling and special events.
Road to Enjoyment
The outdoors experience in San Benito County just begins with the Big 3—Pinnacles, Fremont Peak and Hollister Hills—but there’s much more from there. Being such a vast, open county totaling about 1,400 square miles, many of that comprised of country roads, the area is optimal for cycling enthusiasts. Off the Chain Bikes in Hollister—a full-service, hometown bicycle shop—offers weekly, 15-mile group bike rides on Saturdays and 50- to 70-mile rides on Sundays for the more experienced cyclists.
On a similar note, if sightseers aren’t so keen on working up a sweat, the county is the perfect place for a relaxing day drive on one of the many winding roads through the countryside or rolling, mountainous landscapes.
It’s well worth it to venture over to places like Paicines, gateway to the Pinnacles and home to historic stopping grounds such as the Paicines Ranch (legendary actress Judy Garland married her third husband there). It’s a working, historic ranch and event center that also hosts the annual Kinship Center Fundraiser, where many of the best wineries and eateries sample their products in order to give back to the foster organization.
Along the way, places such as Bolado Park schedule a variety of entertainment throughout the year. Aside from being home to one of the most traditional, longest-running county fairs in California, Bolado Park hosts the annual San Benito County Saddle Horse Show & Rodeo, a hometown affair and one of the most tradition-rich sporting events in all of California. The event takes place each June, with festivities running several weeks and culminating on rodeo weekend, and includes a Saddle Horse Show Parade in downtown Hollister. Additionally, on rodeo weekend, Guerra Cellars offers one of its shows in the Hollister Concerts series that runs throughout the summer at the delightfully scenic Pepper Tree Ranch.
The fun doesn’t end with those events, though, as visitors will be hard-pressed to forego a trip to Mercy Hot Springs, a tranquil retreat getaway where visitors can check their stress at the door, or take in one of many opportunities for hunting, camping, fishing or night gazing in the beautiful San Benito County countryside.