The list of local parks that I haven’t had a chance to explore is shrinking. One of its final members was Pacheco State Park, a nearly 7000 acre park west of San Luis Reservoir on the south side of highway 152. It is the southernmost parkland on the Diablo Range before Pinnacles National Park, and shares its land with grazing cattle and a windmill farm.
On Saturday morning I set out with two goals in mind: 1) explore Pacheco State Park and 2) get in a nice long hike. The trails in Pacheco are numerous and one can put together hikes from easy to difficult. Our chosen route would take us around the perimeter of the park and over Spikes Peak, an estimated 15.5 miles and ~3400 ft of elevation gain.
Hiking Pacheco State Park
When we arrived at the trailhead at 8 am on Saturday, the parking lot was empty and quiet. Though the sun was shining brightly, the light breeze was enough to chill us so we started down the trail in the hopes of warming up with activity.
In terms of terrain, the hiking in this park is quite pleasant. The trail wiggles up and down hills and ridges, with no sustained steep grades. Over our 15.5 miles we managed to climb over 3300 feet but it was never more than a few hundred feet at a time, except for one stretch on the ridge of Spikes Peak. It made the hike more of a pleasant walk instead of a workout, and although my feet were aware of the 15 miles by the time we were done I woke up the next morning with fresh enough legs for a short run.
The park is used as grazing land and during the first few miles we had several close cattle encounters, including a little guy who tried to bluff charge me – more cute than terrifying. Other wildlife was minimal, except for the trio of coyotes spotted in the first mile, a few circling hawks, and curious ground squirrels. Wildflowers were blooming, and I was especially happy to see some beautiful hillsides covered in poppies.
Since I hadn’t been to this park I really appreciated some of the new views, including a different perspective on the appealing peaks to the south (but unfortunately on private land), San Luis Reservoir to the east, and the beautiful green ranch land around Pacheco Peak to the west. During the second part of the loop we hiked close to the windmill farm and could hear them whirring away with a gentle buzzing that provided a white-noise backdrop for the remainder of the hike.
At one point we spied a group of four people hiking up a distant ridge, and back at the trailhead there were picnickers and equestrians, but during our 6 hours at Pacheco State Park we did not pass a single other hiker on the trail. It was a quiet and pleasant day where I felt like the entire park was our own private land.
If You Go
I’d recommend visiting in the spring months before it gets too hot and when the wildflowers are in bloom. The park is mostly grassland with scattered oaks, so shade is rare. Bring all the water you’ll need – there are lakes but they are murky and muddy. Check out the park map and hours at the Pacheco State Park Website. When we visited the gates opened at 8 am and there was a $5 parking fee.
Signage is poor and in many cases the sign posts have been dug up and left on the ground next to intersections. I found it helpful to have our intended route preloaded to my GPS with intersections marked. It would have been very easy to take a wrong turn without this information. You could easily cut a long hike short or make a short hike much longer by taking a wrong turn.