Oak Trees at Fort Ord National Monument.
Fort Ord Public Lands Mountain Bike Event San Benito Mountain Conifer detail Prescribed Fire and a Valley Oak Blunt Nosed Leopard Lizard detail California Poppies
BLM>California>Central Coast>Recreation>Panoche Hills
Print Page
Central Coast Field Office

Panoche Hills

Sunset (BLM Photo)
Sunset (BLM Photo)

The Panoche and Tumey Hills are under Fire Season Vehicle Restrictions from Mid-April to Mid-October.  No motorized access is allowed during this period.

 What would you like to do...

 Hunting     Hiking     Horse Riding     Camping   Nature Study     Target Shooting     Bicycle

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:

  1. Vehicles must remain on existing routes - no cross-country vehicle travel is allowed.
  2. Vehicles must park within 15 feet of any existing roadway.
  3. Do not litter.  Pack out what you pack in including any target-shooting related material.
  4. No shooting allowed upon or from roadways.
  5. No motorcycle or ATV use allowed; closed to all vehicle use during fire season.
  6. Hunters must comply with all California Department of Fish and Game regulations.
  7. No camping is allowed within 200 yards of any developed wildlife water source.
  8. 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

  1. No vehicular access.
  2. 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.


Picnic Shelter


Parking Area



 Panoche Day Use Site, BLM photo
Panoche Hills
Day Use Site

Directions: From Interstate-5, take the Mercy Hot Springs exit County Road J-1/Little Panoche Road.  Continue west past the Little Panoche detention dam.  In 8 miles, you will see a BLM sign on the left indicating the entrance to the Panoche Hills.* 

From State Highway 25, take Tres Pinos Road at the town of Paicines and head east; this becomes Panoche Road.  Travel 28 miles then turn left onto Little Panoche Road near the Panoche Inn and continue for approximately 8 miles.  A good landmark is the Mercy Hot Springs Resort almost directly opposite the access point.*

*Please be aware that the first 3 miles of Panoche Access Road is simply a public easement for access across private property.  Do not stop to access the lands until past the "Now Entering Public Lands" sign near the top of the grade.

 Wildflowers in the Moreno Shale Soil of the Panoche Hills, BLM photo
Wildflowers grow in the Moreno Shale
soil of the Panoche Hills

Bureau of Land Management
Central Coast Field Office
940 2nd Avenue
Marina, CA 93933
Phone: (831) 582-2200
Fax: (831) 582-2266
Office Hours: 7:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., M-F
Contact us by Email