A complete guide to visiting Pinnacles National Park
One of the most offbeat national parks that doesn’t come across everyone’s radar in California is Pinnacles National Park located in the central California plains area that’s less than 42 square miles (the smallest national park in California). But that 42 square miles is packed with amazing rock formations, gorgeous vistas and scenic landscapes and amazing trails that you need to explore now. You’ll love exploring Pinnacles National Park and spring time is the best time to visit with all the wildflower blooms and minimal crowds visiting especially during the weekdays when you can practically have the park to yourself.
Where is Pinnacles National Park located?
Surprisingly Pinnacles National Park is located among the rolling hills and pasture lands in central California and less than an hour drive south from San Jose and about 45 minutes to the ocean at Monterey. The closest town is Hollister on the east side and Soledad on the western side of the park.
The park is unusual in that there are two entrances that do not connect to each other and you have to decide which one to enter from. If you’re coming from the ocean area then the west side makes sense and if you are coming from San Jose and the Bay Area then the east side entrance the best entrance to get to.
History of Pinnacles National Park
What makes this park so special is that it was formed over 23 million years ago from an ancient Volcanic field that erupted about 200 miles south of the park. With the movement of the Pacific plate and various earthquakes in the area, Pinnacles developed into what it is today. With erosion from rain, earthquakes, wind and ice millions of years in changes to the landscape have created this unique landscape of canyons, rocky outcrops and monolithic boulders and unusual formations that make up the gorgeous scenery here.
Things to do at Pinnacles National Park
It’s all about being outdoors and exploring the park with over 30 miles of fantastic hiking trails that suit a variety of age levels and abilities. The first stop is to visit the visitors center to get acquainted with the area, grab a map and talk story about which trails offer you the best bang for your time spent in the park. Here are a few of the highlights that you may want to consider in your visit to the park.
Outside of hiking, you can go rock climbing, camping and just enjoy being outdoors, exploring caves, watching for wild condors and enjoying the fantastic park grounds and scenery around the park.
Old Pinnacles trail to Balconies cave trail – a fantastic introductory hike that shows the varied topography, landscape, forest area and a cool cave to explore in the park that you can actually walk through and climb out to a fantastic reservoir above the trail.
Bear Gulch area and Spring Rim Trail – another fantastic loop trail that takes you through different parts of the park to see the rocky outcrops, the Bear Gulch cave and the large reservoir in the park area
High Peaks Trail – The High Peaks Trail is accessible from the Rim Trail to the Bench Trail with ladders you can climb to enjoy those stunning views of the park and surrounding area. This if definitely the right place to go for views but you have to hike and climb to get to it.
Condor Gulch trail and overlook – you take the Condor Gulch Trail and the overlook area is about 1 mile from the Gulch day use area and gives impressive views of the Bear Gulch and Highlands area. There is limited shade on this hike so it is best done early morning or late afternoon time frame.
Rock climbing fun at Pinnacles National Park
Rock climbing is allowed around the park that ranges from easy top rotes to more challenging multi-pitch climbs around the park. Check the parks visitor center for rock climbing information and their safety advisory and general climbing FAQ information here for more details on the climbing areas before you take on any rock climbing challenges
Is camping allowed at Pinnacles National Park?
Yes, you can camp at the east side entrance of the park which offers tent, group sites and RV parking at the camp ground areas and dogs are allowed at the campsites. There are community tables and barbeque pits on the site and water is available with coin operated showers. Check out more details to camping at the Pinnacles camp ground here for more details
Tips for visiting Pinnacles National Park
There are no services like hotels, gasoline or grocery in the park area, closest places to stay and look for services are in Hollister to the north and Soledad and Monterey to the east
Make sure first go to the visitor’s center in the park to find out the latest information, guided tours, events or what trails you should do to fit your skill levels
During summer to fall season, the area is extremely hot and exposed in many areas
Spring is the best season to visit for pleasant temperatures and all the California native wildflowers that bloom from spring to summer timeframe
Entry to the park is $30 or $80 for an annual national park pass. Pay inside the visitor’s center to pay for your entry
There is no cell service in the park so plan accordingly and being without phone or internet service while you visit
Bring plenty of water for your hikes, you’ll be surprised at how much you can easily consume on those hot days exploring in the park
There are rattle snakes around the park, keep your eyes and ears open and stay specifically on the trail and away from shrubs and grassy areas around the park
There is a weekend and holiday shuttle offered on the East side from the Visitors center and Bear Gulch
There are not busses that takes you to the park, you have to drive on your own unfortunately
Dogs are not allowed on the trail grounds but they are allowed at the camp site.
Learn more about visiting Pinnacles National Park
How to get to Pinnacles National Park
From San Jose area – it takes about 1.5 hours to get to the park, take US 101 to CA 25 to the east entrance
From San Francisco – it takes about 2.5 hours to get to the east side entrance, Take US 101 to CA 25 to the east side entrance
From Monterey area – it takes about 1.20 hours taking CA 25 east to get to the west side entrance
Enjoyed this post – Pin it for later!
Have you been to Pinnacles National Park?
Please share your thoughts or additional things to do and see there in the comment section below, we would love to hear your suggestions.
Thanks for visiting and checking out this post on visiting Pinnacles National Park. Bookmark this post for future reference when you are looking for some road trip inspiration to the national parks now.
Please do share this post with any of the social media icons right below and thanks for visiting today!