Poking its rocky cone-shaped head up 3,169 feet above sea level, with a flagpole and historical plaque on top, Fremont Peak is one of the most recognizable landscape features in San Benito County. Easily visible from almost anywhere in the region, the mountain’s microwave repeater stations can be seen for miles in every direction. As the star of California’s Fremont Peak State Park, the relatively short and very accessible hiking trail to the summit makes Fremont Peak one of the state’s easiest prizes for both peak baggers and weekend campers alike.
Frequent Saturday night star parties at the Fremont Peak Observatory draw astronomy buffs from far and wide. The park’s informative brochure describes current camping opportunities and the history of the mountain, plus it provides a map of the hiking trails that circle the campgrounds and lead to the summit.
So what about the walking? You have several choices, depending on your conditioning and abilities. The trail to the peak starts by the John C. Fremont Historical Monument near the upper day use parking lot. It circles around the mountain for about a half mile to a saddle with great views toward Salinas and the Santa Lucia Mountains. A paved access road for the cell towers would allow wheelchair users to reach this point from the parking lot. It’s fairly steep, so use appropriate caution. To climb the peak, head for the rocky stairs and scramble up the worn path to the top. Just take your time, aim for the flagpole, and watch where you put your hands and feet. The view from the top is exhilarating! Go back the same way you came and respect the signs that tell you to avoid restricted areas.
Heading back to the parking lot, take a look at the marble and dolomite outcrops next to the trail. This metamorphosed limestone was once deposited on an ancient sea floor, altered by heat and pressure, uplifted on top of the Santa Lucia granite, and transported northwest to its current spot by movement on the mighty San Andreas Fault. Earth in action!
In the southwest corner of the parking lot you will see a trailhead for the Valley View Trail. It leads you about 0.6 miles past the Valley View campground to a fire road intersection. From there, you can either continue on the Cold Springs Trail which takes you about 0.75 miles to the park entrance or you can loop back up through the Oak Point campground on park roads to the start. The Cold Springs Trail has a few interesting switchbacks and connects near the park entrance to Tony’s Trail. That short path soon connects with Carmen’s Trail which takes you about 0.6 miles back to your car.
Under normal circumstances, the loop hike around Fremont State Park is a fun, easy walk. Currently, though, there are a few concerns. The above average rainfall this year produced some major growth along the trails. In places, high grasses nearly obliterate the tread from view. I highly recommend wearing long pants and using bug spray to protect against ticks. Make sure you watch where you place your feet and hands. Poison oak is abundant along the trail, so use caution to avoid exposure, especially if you are sensitive to it. There are also some blown down trees to climb around, so be ready for that. I hope to talk to park officials about getting a volunteer trail crew up there soon so the loop hike is as pleasant as it usually is.
Do you like to do trail work? Are you a Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop leader? Do you sponsor a church youth group? Grooming these trails would be a great public service project and learning experience for both adult leaders and young folks. Having such easy access to a mountain on public land with drinking water and toilets and shady campsites is a real treasure for San Benito County residents. Every other peak I can think of is on private land requiring landowner permission to climb or hike. Fremont Peak is truly everybody’s mountain. Let’s take care of our mountain and learn as much as we can from it.
Fremont Peak State Park is open from dawn to dusk for day use ($6 fee) and for overnight camping ($25 per night). A winding, 11-mile scenic drive up San Juan Canyon Road from Highway 156 and The Alameda in San Juan Bautista will take you up to the park entrance (watch carefully for hardy San Benito bicyclists!). Turning off your car engine, you will immediately notice the beautiful mountain quiet of the natural world. Let that sink in and feel the stress of city life leave your body. It’s good for you.
And please my friends, do not litter.
For a Fremont Peak State Park location map, click here.