Fort Ord National Monument; spectacular reuse of the old World War I and II Army base!

Oaks adorned with California lace lichen are found throughout the national monument.

If you are a hiker, bicyclist, mountain biker or camper, one of your best destinations within two hours of San Joaquin County is the Fort Ord National Monument, located between Salinas and Monterey, CA. And with those two nearby towns – you have a host of additional options to make your trip an overnighter, or longer!

The Fort Ord National Monument offers world-class recreation for residents and visitors to the Central California Coast. Lands of the former Fort Ord offer 86 miles of trail on approximately 7,200 acres – open every day from dawn to dusk for hikers, cyclists, mountain bikers, horseback riders, wildlife/wildflower photographers and nature enthusiasts. Visitors can choose to walk or ride the narrow single track trails atop the grassland hills or the shady winding trails through oak woodlands and maritime chaparral.

Cyclist descends on Ft. Ord singletrack through shady oaks and manzanita.

The national monument’s spectacular backcountry is noted for its beauty and rich biodiversity – offering one of the largest remaining expanses of maritime chaparral with wild lilac, manzanitas and chamise supporting diverse plant and animal species.

Your visit might coincide with those of black-tailed deer, turkeys, bobcats, golden eagles, coyotes, red-tailed hawks, California quail and mountain lions.  Watch out for rattlesnakes and poison oak, as well!

The Fort dates back to 1917 when the U.S. Army purchased land near Monterey Bay as a training base for field artillery and cavalry troops (the old horsebarn for Army horses is now an equestrian center for the local community). Named Camp Ord it was re-designated in 1940  Fort Ord and made home for the 7th Infantry Division.

Wildflowers of many hues recently blanketed the hills of the Fort Ord National Monument.

For the following 50 years it served as a primary facility for basic training in the US Army and, at one time, was home to 50,000 troops. During the Vietnam War it served as a major training center and deployment staging ground – as many as 1.5 million American troops trained at the old fort. It was slated for closure in 1990, and decommissioned in 1994.

On a recent outing, we camped in the Monterey County campgrounds that surround Laguna Seca Raceway (bordering the monument); from there, we could bike out the back of Laguna Seca, on nicely paved Barloy Canyon Road for miles into the Ft. Ord Monument’s backcountry.

Within the monument, we had a choice of both paved cycling routes and miles of scenic singletrack that wound through stately oaks covered with California lace lichen; and onto hills layered with carpets of lupine and many other wildflowers. Be forewarned, you better like hills, for the monument offers scores of hills, valleys and ridges with spectacular views!

Two road bikers ascend the paved, car-free Barloy Canyon Road in Fort Ord National Monument.

Another option for a cycling or hiking day-trip, make for the Badger Hills trailhead, right off Hwy. 68; from there, follow Guidotti Road up to Skyline Road for a wide variety of trails and stunning scenery with views of the entire monument and the mighty Pacific just to the west.

Old army roads are now fire roads, and interspersed with scenic singletrack trails leading into wonderous forests of oak and lichen, manzanita and with wildflowers carpeting the hills.  Occasionally you’ll find evidence of the former war-time use with sandy fire trails named Machine Gun Flat, or Engineer’s Canyon – elsewhere the fort’s old history is hard to spot.

On the west side of the monument, a portion of the 1200 mile Juan Baustista De Anza National Historic Trail roughly parallels Hwy. 68. In 1775-76, Bautista de Anza set off from Nogales, Mexico with 240 friars and soldiers, 695 horses and mules and 385 Longhorn cattle, ending in San Francisco and starting the horse and cattle business in California.

The photos were taken in the last week, as I was performing course marshal and first-aid service at the Sea Otter Classic as part of a 50+ member National Ski Patrol first-aid contingent.  I also attempted the 22 mile Mountain Tour at the Sea Otter Classic, proving to myself that my skills and conditioning were a bit sub-par; but, I garnered about 12 miles of riding in beautiful country before opting to cut my adventure short.

Seeking a hill workout? Here mountain bikers labor up steep, scenic Skyline Road.

If you are a cyclist and want to immerse yourself in the USA’s largest bicycling event, the huge and very cool Sea Otter Bike Classic takes over Laguna Seca Raceway, utilizing adjoining Ft. Ord backcountry trails (April 13-16, 2017; see: seaotterclassic.com).

Ft. Ord offers some of the best scenery for hiking, cycling and sight-seeing in California; plan a day trip or longer. It’s easy to extend your stay by exploring Salinas and the Steinbeck Center, or the stunning coast along Monterey and Pacific Grove. If you arrive early or mid-day, across Hwy. 68 from the Badger Hills trailhead is a fine breakfast or lunch option, the Toro Place Café. At the end of the day, a cocktail and fish and chips tastes ever so good on the Monterey Pier!

What’s nearby: Salinas is just north of the monument, featuring the National John Steinbeck Center (the Steinbeck Festival is May 6-8, for detail: Steinbeck.com) as well as a host of nice motels and restaurants (cheaper than options in Monterey).  Monterey is just a few miles west of Fort Ord, with Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, restaurants on the water and wonderful biking/walking trails right along the Pacific, extending north to the new Fort Ord Dunes State Park with spectacular views along the Pacific.

Camping: Campers can find nice campgrounds (with free showers!) surrounding Laguna Seca Raceway; contact Monterey County Parks, (888) 588-2267; at Fort Ord Dunes State Park, a campground is in the works for future campers, http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=28340. Pinnacles National Park, 30 miles south of Hollister, CA, is another fine camping and exploration option, about an hour from Fort Ord.

How to get there: Go south on Interstate 5 to Santa Nella, take Hwy 33 south, then go west on Hwy 152, then Hwy 156 to connect with Hwy 101.  Go south on Hwy 101 to Salinas, then take Hwy 68 to the Ft. Ord National Monument (the Badger Hills trailhead is on the highway; continue on Hwy. 68 for a few more miles if you are bound for Laguna Seca.  It’s about 2.4 hours and 140 miles from Stockton.

For more insight: Ft. Ord National Monument: http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/prog/nlcs/Fort_Ord_NM/recreation.html. For a cycling/hiking trails map: Ft. Ord 2014 Map 508

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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