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  • Writer's pictureRuth Ann Angus

Road Trip to Pinnacles & Beyond

The historic peaks in Pinnacles National Monument
Pinnacles Peaks at Pinnacles National Monument

This is a lovely drive in the country on back roads and is best in springtime when the hills are green. Turn off the 101 Freeway 42 miles north of Paso Robles onto Route 198. This road takes you up hill and down dale through ranch land and past ancient oak trees draped with moss. In 14 miles take a left turn onto Route 25 and continue north. You will be traveling through a valley between the Coast Range of mountains on the left and the Diablo Range on the right. Ranches and farms are prevalent here and you will see cattle and horses in the fields. In a good rain year there are carpets of poppies and other wildflowers. Just beyond the turnoff to the town of San Benito you will find the entrance to Pinnacles National Monument.

One of the scenic views on Route 25 near Pinnacles National Monument
A field of poppies on route 25 near Pinnacles National Monument

The monument is a geological marvel that came into existence from a volcanic eruption 23 million years ago about 195 miles south in the Lancaster area of Southern California. Lying on the San Andreas Fault, plate tectonics split the rocks and moved the massive mountain that was historically 8000 feet in height and five miles wide, north to where it rests now. Some of it sank down and erosion worked on the exposed ramparts leaving lonely pillars and massive walls that are now the crowning glory of Pinnacles.

The craggy cliffs at Pinnacles National Monument

The Monument has two entrances, one on the west off Highway 101 at Soledad and on the east from Route 25. A visitor center is at the east entrance and is open from 8 am to 5 pm and contains information on various trails and their degree of difficulty. Several trails will bring you closer to viewing the huge rocks that have over time tumbled against one another. The trails also take you into caves and past sheer cliffs.

Back on Route 25 continue 31 miles north. A jog through the earthquake town of Hollister eventually will bring you to route 156. Head west and you will soon arrive at the historic town of San Juan Bautista.

An eatery and art gallery at San Juan Bautista

This small town named after Saint John the Baptist is packed with history. The town was founded in the late 1700s along with one of the grandest of the California missions. Now there is a state park adjacent to the mission that has restorations of structures that were built in the 1800s. The buildings that are open to the public include the Plaza Hotel, hall and stables, a blacksmith shop, a livery stable with antique carriages, a granary, jail, and the Castro-Breen Adobe. Rooms are furnished with antiques and period furniture and artifacts.

The historic Plaza Hotel at old San Juan Bautista

The mission originally had a nine-bell tower, but the church met with misfortune in the earthquakes of 1800 and 1906. It was restored first in 1884 and again in 1949 and now has three bells. The mission is the only one that has a three-aisle entrance to the altar

Bell Tower of Mission San Juan Bautista

The historic walking tour of the town will take you to 48 sites within the five downtown blocks. Highlights are the Glad Tidings Church built in Greek Revival style, the Crane house that reflects a Cape Cod influence, the Masonic Hall, Honeymoon House, and the John Anderson House, a real Victorian structure.

A hearse in front of an ice cream parlor in downtown San Juan Bautista

From here you can either return via Route 156 to the 101 Freeway or retrace your route back on Route 156 north through Hollister to Route 152 and drive over the Pacheco Pass to see the outstanding view from the visitor center at the San Luis Reservoir. Here too you can drive into the State Recreation Area at the O’Neill Forebay where camping is available as well as boating and fishing. During winter months large flocks of waterfowl can be seen on the water here.

A return trip takes you back the way you came or for an alternate route back you can take Route G13, Bitterwater Road, from Route 25 through the hills and into King City, then south on the 101 Freeway or for those traveling north continue on Route 152 to the 101 Freeway north.

Horses, ponies and sheep on Route 25 near Pinnacles National Monument

Travel Information:

Mileage: (estimate) 125 miles one way

Duration: Full Day, possible overnight

Seasons: All seasons, best in late winter and spring for wildflowers

Route: Hwy 198 exit off the 101 Freeway approximately 35 miles north of Bradley. Rt. 198, 14 miles to Rt. 25, left turn and 33 miles from the junction of these roads to the Pinnacles entrance on Rt 146., 31 miles to Hollister, approximately 6 miles to San Juan Bautista. From Hollister 8 miles to Rt. 152 and about 25 miles to Reservoir.

Poppies at Pinnacles

Trail to the Peaks at Pinnacles National Monument

Sign describing Mission San Juan Bautista

Mission San Juan Bautista

Candles in Mission San Juan Bautista

Fowl run free in San Juan Bautista

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