General Description: Hilltops over 2,500 feet high offer scenic vistas of the lush San Joaquin Valley and spectacular Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Panoche Hills was once part of a vast inland sea. Fossils found include vertebrates such as mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, and marine turtles.
Visitor service improvements are now complete at the new day use facility, which features a parking area, a shade structure, picnic benches, a vault toilet, and a kiosk providing an interpretive panel, a map, and information about the area.
Panoche Hills User Map & Brochure:
Desert Hills of the San Joaquin Valley (17" x 17")
Special Area: Within the boundary of the Panoche Hills are two Wilderness Study Areas (WSA's) and an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). The main road through the Panoche Hills bisects the two WSA's. The BLM manages the WSA's to maintain their wilderness qualities - vehicle travel off of existing routes is not allowed. The ACEC was established in recognition of the rare species habitat for plants and animals, historic resources, and the significant fossil record. If you would like more information about these designations and how they might pertain to you please contact the Hollister Field Office at (831) 630-5000.
Restrictions: Know Before You Go - Safety and Regulations
Because of the presence of rare animals and fossils, and because of the special designations in effect for these areas, the BLM implements the following restrictions:
- Vehicles must remain on existing routes - no cross-country vehicle travel is allowed.
- Vehicles must park within 15 feet of any existing roadway.
- Do not litter. Pack out what you pack in including any target-shooting related material.
- No shooting allowed upon or from roadways.
- No motorcycle or ATV use allowed; closed to all vehicle use during fire season.
- Hunters must comply with all California Department of Fish and Game regulations.
- No camping is allowed within 200 yards of any developed wildlife water source.
- No target shooting is allowed inside the California Department of Fish and Game Panoche Hills Ecological Reserve.
Fire Restrictions: April 15 through beginning of upland game bird season
- No vehicular access.
- Open campfires are prohibited.
Rock Hounding: The marine shale contains significant fossil resources, both vertebrate and invertebrate. Collection of vertebrate fossils (anything with a backbone) is not permitted. Hobby collectors may take home specimens of petrified wood, clams, snails or other invertebrates for personal enjoyment. Shards and plates of gypsum, a translucent glass-like mineral that formed in the marine environment, can be found throughout the area.
Stargazing: Stargazers are drawn to this area because of the wide open spaces and unencumbered views of the night skies.
Wildlife/Wildflower Viewing: These hills are green and resplendent with wildflowers in the Spring, which is the best time of year to visit. The steep, grassy hills are home to endangered animal species such as the San Joaquin kit fox, the giant kangaroo rat, and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard.