St. Francis Retreat Grounds
St. Francis Retreat features 73 acres of varied, California wooded mountainside terrain, featuring a native plant central courtyard and two miles of wooded hiking trails. Views from the property include the patchwork quilt of the San Juan Bautista Valley and the Diablo Mountain Range in the distance.
Native wildlife includes turkeys, deer, multiple species of birds, a family of small bobcats and the occasional skunk. Coyotes can often be heard at night, sharing the audible landscape with the cry of hawks and screech of owls.
The California Native Plant Courtyard was designed by John Greenlee, one of the premier native California landscape designers available today. It features multiple bunch grasses, flowering plants including yarrow and salvia, and the native grape stock that saved the French vineyards from ruin.
Two miles of maintained hiking trails crisscross the hillside above the retreat center. Oak and buckeye trees shade much of the trail system. Native ferns share space with spring wild flowers and air moss in some of the trees. Yes, there is poison oak in the area, but we try to keep the trails clear of such hazards.
The walk around the seasonally dry lakebed features 14 Stations of the Cross created by Fr. Luigi Sciocchetti in the style of the Della Robbias. The paved walkway connects with the path to the Gazebo at Serenity Point, overlooking the San Juan Bautista Valley. You will also pass by the Friary which is home the Franciscans residing at the retreat.
150 to 175 Year Old Heritage Oaks
There are two, windblown Valley Oak Trees on the southern property line of the retreat. We are not sure of their age, but estimate they have been there for 150 to 175 years at this point. Some of the branches need to be supported because of the weight of the limb itself. The prevailing westerly winds have shaped these trees in unusual fashion.
Walking Trails and Native Landscapes
St. Francis Retreat offers a variety of walking environments for our guests. The easiest walkway is paved and takes you on a stroll around the lakebed, stopping at Serenity Point overlooking San Juan Bautista Valley. Della Robbia style Stations of the Cross are spaced along this walkway.
The hills behind the facilities have two miles of dirt roads and maintained paths through the oak and buckeye forest native to this part of the Gabilan mountain range. Some areas support ferns and spring flowers. There is also a large meadow half way up the hillside where deer and turkeys can often be seen. Sections of the trails offer spectacular views of the valley below and the Diablo mountain range in the distance. Some of these trails can be challenging. Maps are located near the Gift Shop and on the “Maps and Graphics Tab” of this Website.
The Courtyard in the midst of the facilities features a California Native Landscape designed by John Greenlee, one of California’s premier natural landscape architects. Bunch grasses, yarrow, salvia and assorted native flowering plants are featured.