Over 23 million years ago the sky rained ash and lava in a massive explosion. As the scorching hot rivers of lava flowed, slid, and cooled, the landscape forever changed. What was created were talus caves rare in formation, towering pinnacles of what was left from the volcano, and deep canyon bottoms full of surprising life. In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt established this unique area as a national monument. Many, many years later in 2012 President Barack Obama redesignated it as a National Park.
The park’s namesakes and what it is famous for are the eroded pinnacles which are the leftover western half of an extinct volcano. These pinnacles in the blast actually moved 200 miles from their original location on the San Andreas Fault, to now being embedded in a portion of the California Pacific Coast Ranges. The wilderness is vast with hikes, caves, and gorgeous cliffs. Here is all you need to know before visiting Pinnacles National Park.
When To Go
Although Pinnacles National Park is located only an hour east of the beach city of Monterey it is vastly different in weather. During the summer months the daily highs within the park on average rise above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Most days range in the triple digits. Another downside of the summer season is that California is a severe drought state that struggles with massive wildfires. If you opt to come to Pinnacles National Park be prepared to not have campfires, and bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
Now that I have scared you away from that summer break trip, when is the ideal time to visit? Well, Pinnacles National Park is most popular in the cooler months that happen in Spring and Fall. When you visit during the spring, you will be treated to fields of green grasslands and vibrant wildflowers. Winter months are more mild than most of the country and promise less crowded trails.
Pinnacles National Park has some of the rarest rock formations in the country. There are more than 30 miles of trails that bring you up close to the famous talus caves as well as wildflower filled grasslands. With so many to choose from just about everyone in the entire family will enjoy the adventures.
- Condor Gulch Trail to High Peaks Trail: This is one of the most impressively beautiful hikes in Pinnacles National Park. But you definitely have to work for the views. This adventure is rated difficult and comes in at 6 miles. Be sure to bring a flashlight to explore caves along the route.
- Balconies Trail to Machete Ridge: Rated easy and clocking in at around 2 miles in total is this family friendly out and back hike. The trail takes you along the bottom of the mysterious cliff rock formations. It also provides some lovely shade in hotter months.
- Moses Spring and Rim Trail Loop: The total mileage of this kid friendly loop is 2.5 as you ascend just shy of 600 feet in elevation. The trail goes by the Bear Gulch Cave which is open seasonally and very neat to check out. Views promise rare talus caves and rock formations everyone will enjoy.
- Old Pinnacles Trail Loop: The moderate rated trail will climb you up above the pinnacles to get great views of the park. It is longer at 10 miles, but a great way to fully immerse yourself in the volcanic history.
Spend The Night
There are a few ways to extend your visit from a day trip to an overnight or a few nights venture in Pinnacles National Park. Pinnacles Campground is the only campground located within the boundaries of the park. There are 134 tent sites, group camping areas, and RV sites available. Each tent and group site has a picnic table and fire ring. For the RV sites, you can pick sites with electrical hookups. Other amenities include showers and a seasonal swimming pool.
For anyone desiring a less rustic adventure, can stay at the Inn at the Pinnacles. This luxury hotel offers a continental breakfast spread, robes and slippers to relax in by the gas fireplace after your time in the soaking tubs, as well as private patios with their own barbeques. Located along wine country each room is uniquely designed and promises a lovely stay.
Any dirtbags who see the volcanic Pinnacles can not help but get the itch to climb them. You are in luck! Pinnacles National Park allows climbing in certain areas within the park boundaries. The climbing routes range from easy topropes to the multi-pitch climbs along Machete Ridge, along with some limited bouldering projects. Climbing routes from sport and trad options range from easier 5.6 all the way up to 5.12 difficult.
The rock formations at Pinnacles consist of volcanic breccia. This is a very different feel to the more cool and smooth granite. The routes tend to be full of loose rocks which makes wearing a helmet and checking bolts and anchors before climbing even more important!
Make sure if you are climbing in the January to July months that you aware of any seasonal raptor closures in the area.
- Furry friends are not allowed on any of the trails in Pinnacles National Park.
- This area gets hot in summer months. All year, make sure you plan to bring plenty of water for each person in your family.
- Since caves are just the coolest you want to make sure you can explore them! Bring a flashlight or grab some headlamps before you hike since most trails lead you to a cave.
- Make sure you plan out your visit very carefully because the East and West entrances do not connect within the park boundaries. The drive time from one side of the park all the way around to the other side is over an hour!
- Pinnacles National Park really helps you disconnect. There is no cell service available.
Pinnacles National Park is a rare glimpse into the formation of the world we dwell in today. Always remember when adventuring to follow Leave No Trace Principles or go one step further to leave it better! From talus caves and towering pinnacles to lush meadows – there is just something special about this place.
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Kaitlin is a former ballerina who now travels around the country in an 18-foot converted school bus. Her and her husband have welcomed 34 sweet children into their home the past eleven years. Although they would not be a forever home for all of them, they adopted their daughter buckets and are legal guardians to their son monkey. Follow their crazy adventures on Instagram @runawaymusbus