LOS BANOS -- The season for hiking the Path of the Padres draws near, and parks officials are taking reservations.
The California Department of Parks and Recreation staff at San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area are preparing Saturday and Sunday hikes for the public from March 2 to April 28.
Becky Heilman, a parks employee who once led the walkabouts, said people of all shapes, sizes and interests enjoy the trek along the path through the Diablo Range taken by padres as they came from Mission San Juan Bautista 35 miles along Los Banos Creek and into the Central Valley in the early 1800s.
"There's a lot of history out there and, of course, it's pretty," Heilman said, adding that fans of wildflowers should be pleased with the trail.
The path bears evidence of American Indian inhabitants. Later came Spanish missionaries, miners and ranchers. Along with wildflowers, hikers sometimes see wild pigs, deer, coyotes, pond turtles or bald eagles.
The hike begins at the Los Banos Creek Reservoir boat launch ramp at 8 a.m. and lasts about five hours. The trail is only accessible by boat, a fact that appeals to avid hikers, Heilman said.
This hike is moderately strenuous, she said, because of the occasional incline or rocky trail.
"It's really popular with the fourth-grade classes around the area," Heilman said. "So, a 9-year-old can do it."
Participants should be in good physical condition, according to a news release. Layered clothing and sturdy footgear should be a priority, as shoes may get wet crossing the Los Banos Creek.
Hikers should carry a lunch and a minimum of 2 quarts of water. A hat and sunscreen are recommended.
Trekkers can take a side trip to view Menjoulet Canyon, which is covered with 576 acres of old-growth Sycamore forest described by Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists as the largest and most intact natural community of its kind left in California.
Hikes are open to the public, ages 6 and older, on Saturdays and Sundays by advance reservation only. School group hikes may be arranged Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
Call (209) 826-1197 for reservations. A fee of $12 per person over 12, and $7 per child age 6 to 12 is required to confirm telephone reservations.