Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Pinnacles National Park, CA

  • Published 2023/03/24

If you have a day to spare, visit the famous Pinnacles National Park in Central California.

Five miles east of Soledad, Pinnacles is a national park that protects a steep area east of the Salinas Valley.

You can only bridge the park’s rock formations between the East and West Divisions on foot.

These granite formations attract rock climbers from all over the world because of their breathtaking peaks.

At least thirteen different species of bats live in the park’s distinctive talus tunnels.

Since Pinnacles is so hot in the summer, the best times to go are spring and fall, when temperatures take a dip.

Here are the best things to do at the Pinnacles National Park, California:

Follow a Short Trail at the Bear Gulch

Entrance of Bear Gulch caves

Sundry Photography /

Hike up the Bear Gulch if you’re seeking a short, easy hike in Pinnacles National Park with a touch of excitement.

Pinnacles National Park’s Bear Gulch walk is a must-visit attraction to reflect and relax.

In addition to highlighting the park’s most notable sights, this hike is suited for all ages and abilities.

Lower cave of Bear Gulch

Kelly vanDellen /

The trailhead is located at the southern end of the Bear Gulch Day Use Area parking lot, marked by a large bulletin board.

Before you start your journey, check the signs to see if the caves are closed because the local bats are raising their young.

Then, you can proceed up the shaded path, which rises steadily above the clearing.

The waters of Bear Gulch lake

Mike Brake /

Walk the High Peaks Loop

Sunny day at High Peaks Loop

Tom Robertson /

High Peaks Loop is the ideal area to go hiking if you are looking for a light walk.

You can see all of the park’s key features on the High Peaks Loop trail, which is a 9.3-mile circular trek.

Through talus caves and around the monument’s namesake rock pinnacles, the trail sometimes ascends steps etched into the pinnacles’ sides.

Scenic view from High Peaks Loop

Alisa_Ch /

During the spring, this road becomes awash with blooms.

It’s possible to cover the most significant routes within two days, even if you want to protect the entire park.

If you’re in the area, this park’s hiking, rock climbing, caving, bird-watching, and stunning landscape make it a must-see.

Hiking trail of High Peaks Loop

Alisa_Ch /

Bring Your Family to the Pinnacles Campground

The family-owned Pinnacles Recreation Company is committed to providing excellent visitor service and supporting local, sustainable environmental projects.

Although you’ve come to see the park, you can add a splash of fun to your camping trip.

This place features spots where most locals spend their childhood.

Although the campsites differ significantly in terms of amenities, location, and isolation, they all offer excellent views of the park’s breathtaking landscape.

You can book reservations for 13 RV sites for vehicles up to 32 feet in length; these sites have water hookups but no electricity service.

Six tent sites can accommodate one or two tents.

These sites also do not have water or electricity, but they have picnic tables and fire rings that you can use with an open fire pit.

Walk with a Friend at the Condor Gulch Trail

High peaks view from Condor Gulch Trail

mywp /

If you want to see the East side of Pinnacles National Park, the Condor Gulch Trail is a great option.

Since it is only around five miles long, this trip is perfect for individuals new to hiking.

People who simply want to get a taste of this gorgeous area will also enjoy the trail.

You can see condors circling over the towering pinnacles as you walk, so bring your binoculars.

Bring a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of drink because the terrain has absolutely zero shade.

Driving from Hollister to the Park’s East Entrance will take about 45 minutes.

You’ll come across a few small towns along the way if you need food or fuel.

In addition to purchasing food and beverages in the park’s tourist center, visitors can also use flush toilets.

Pick Wildflowers at the Pinnacles National Park

Plants and wildflowers along Pinnacles National Park

Lebid Volodymyr /

Spring arrives early at the Pinnacles National Park, bringing crowds of wildflower enthusiasts hoping to glimpse the peak bloom.

Because of its rich volcanic soil and expansive grasslands, Pinnacles is a fantastic area for wildflowers.

You can find California poppies in the creek beds, mariposa lilies in the thick grass, and shooting stars in the damp meadows.

With its tempting aroma, the lupine’s perfume can almost knock you over.

Paintbrush blooms at Pinnacles National Park

Kelly vanDellen /

You’ll find wildflowers almost anywhere in the park, although the High Peaks Loop, Balconies Trail, and Juniper Canyon Trail are good bets.

To identify species, look through the online wildflower gallery or print the informative plant list.

Likewise, you can go camping.

The Juniper Campground includes 15 tent-only sites, while Manzanita Campground has 41 sites that can accept tents and RVs up to 35 feet in length.

There are both bathrooms with sinks and running water but no showers.

Shooting stars flowers at Pinnacles National Park

Kelly vanDellen /

Watch the California Condor at the Pinnacles Playground

If you’re planning a trip to Pinnacles, you may wonder where the condors are.

These birds do not migrate; you can see them throughout this area.

Condors from the Pinnacles have expanded north to Livermore, south to Ventura County, west to Big Sur, and east to the Sierras around Mariposa.

Pinnacle is a great site to see a condor if you visit the High Peaks early in the morning or late at night.

Both park gates lead to the High Peaks, which you can reach after a strenuous hike.

Another familiar spot to see condors is on the mountain to the southeast of the campground.

Early morning thermals often bring sightings of condors soaring around the ridge and landing in the woods where they like to spend the night.

Explore the Balconies Cave

Entrance to the Balconies Cave

yhelfman /

The Balconies Caverns are a network of interconnecting talus caves.

During earthquakes and landslides, large volcanic boulders smashed into the fault lines and shattered the canyon below, forming them.

Rocks of this size piled on each other to make cave-like ceilings.

There is no indication of Native American presence in these caverns, even though experts have yet to do an extensive archeological investigation.

Narrow pathways of Balconies Cave

yhelfman /

However, Native Americans lived in the vicinity of Mutsun and Chalone.

Many urban legends claim that they used these caves as hideouts in the 1800s.

However, some evidence suggests that people also hid their treasures in these caves.

First, residents and park workers used ropes and ladders to explore Pinnacles National Monument, established in 1908.

As part of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, they built stairways and bridges along cave passageways.

View from inside the Balconies Cave

Alisa_Ch /

Be the First to the Prewett Point Trail

Pinnacles National Park’s Prewett Point Trail is one of the park’s newest trails.

It offers hikers a bird’s eye view of the High Peaks and Balconies Cliffs.

If you don’t have a parking pass or haven’t already done so, park at the visitor center and head to the visitor center to pay a fee.

As you approach the visitor center, a compacted five-foot-wide path leads out into the fields.

Approximately one-tenth of a mile into the walk, you can see a sign identifying the Lyons family, who owned a home in the area.

At this position, you can see the High Peaks and the North Chalone Peak fire tower peaks.

With direct views of Balconies Cliffs, this grassy plain is the final stop for the route.

Discover Bats at the Bear Gulch Cave

Rainwater flowing down Bear Gulch Cave

yhelfman /

Bear Gulch Cave is the place to go if you’re looking for a unique experience in Pinnacles Park.

A colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats lives there all year.

The cave is closed between late May and early July to allow the bats to raise their young.

However, from mid-July to mid-May, you can visit the lower part of the island.

If you’re feeling adventurous and want to see more than the cave, you can extend your trip by taking different paths around Bear Gulch Reservoir.

Likewise, you can try climbing nearby peaks like Big Baldy Mountain or Mount Reuben.

Try Rock Climbing at the Machete Ridge

Scenic view of Machete Ridge

aido /

Challenge yourself at the Machete Ridge.

You can put your climbing talents to the test by tackling Pinnacles National Park’s Machete Ridge climb.

Ultimately, you’ll get rewarded with a breathtaking view and a sense of accomplishment from the endeavor.

Even though this trail is accessible year-round, be prepared for high temperatures during peak summer months.

Check your water before you head out for a day of climbing.

Take a Morning Walk at the Moses Spring Trail

You can do many things at the beautiful Pinnacles National Park, including the Moses Spring Wall.

There are numerous photo opportunities at Moses Spring Wall, a stunning rock formation with diverse forms.

A prominent element of the Moses Spring Wall is the camel, which has an elephant-like profile.

Continuing your journey, you can follow Moses Spring Wall down to Discovery Wall or Bear Gulch Cave.

Turn around, and return north on the Bear Gulch Cave Trail.

Otherwise, continue on Moses Spring Wall until it joins Bear Gulch Cave Trail around its intersection with Discovery Wall.

Feel the Breeze at the Hain Wilderness

Hiking trail of Hain Wilderness

Sundry Photography /

The Pinnacles National Park is filled with surprises.

As you traverse the Hain Wilderness, you cannot but be awed by the sharply angular crags and spires formed by eons of wind, water, fire, and frost.

It is hardly surprising that they named this location after Schuyler Hain.

Mountain views from Hain Wilderness

Sundry Photography /

Hain was a homesteader who pushed for the preservation of the area by taking excursions to Bear Valley and through the caverns.

The Pinnacles National Monument became a national park in the same year that they renamed the Wilderness after Theodore Roosevelt.

Learn New Things at the Bear Gulch Nature Center

Bear Gulch Nature Center, which is close to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area, is a must-see for anyone visiting the Pinnacles National Park.

The center walks visitors through Bear Gulch’s history and how it has changed throughout the years.

Learning additional information before venturing into the woods enhances the overall experience.

See bears, mountain lions, and deer among the natural species on display at the center.

There are also exhibits on flora found in the area and how Native Americans used them.

A short stroll down a trail leads to a viewing platform with panoramic views of the canyon below.

With its towering cliffs and the azure waters of Lake Tahoe in the background, you can see some of California’s most magnificent scenery.

Take a Steep Walk at the Chalone Peak Trail

The view towards north Chalone Peak Trail

Sundry Photography /

If you’re looking for a challenge, Chalone Peak is the hike for you.

It’s a nice challenge for peak-baggers who can handle the sun and the 2,000-foot elevation spike to reach Chalone Peak.

To reach the windswept Chalone Peak, take the Pinnacles Trail from the mouth of Bear Gulch Cave in the park’s eastern portion.

Then, climb a section of the park’s iconic spires and knobs.

View from south Chalone Peak Trail

Sundry Photography /

In terms of distance and height increase, this trail is probably the most difficult one to maintain.

Hikers flock to the area because it contains some of California’s most stunning scenery.

You can see the Pinnacles’ towering spires and domes from the trail’s starting point of 2,300 feet above sea level, which soon ascends switchbacks into a vast valley.

End Your Pinnacle Trip at the Windmill Restaurant

The Windmill Restaurant near Pinnacles National Park is worth visiting because of its accessibility.

You will undoubtedly like the pleasant environment and great decor.

Order their specialties, such as grilled prawns, melted sandwiches, and fried chicken.

Guests recommend desserts like chocolate cake, apple pie, and ice cream.

Visit this restaurant to sample some of the best wine or beer in town.

Do not miss out on some of the best coffee around.

Drop by the Pinnacles Visitor Center

Before starting your journey in Pinnacles National Park, it’s recommended to drop by the Pinnacles Visitor Center.

The center provides plenty of information about the park, the dos and don’ts, and how to get around with ease and with safety measures.

Registered visitors can also use the bathroom and shower, as well as the pool at the center.

A convenience store is also on-site for your needs like sunscreens, snacks, bug sprays, and more before getting around the park.

You can ask for maps and other pamphlets that may be helpful in your trip around the park.

Embark On Your Hiking Journey at Chaparral Trailhead

On the west side of the park, you can find the Chaparral Trailhead, which will take you to several trails in the park.

The Balcony Cave Trail, High Peaks Loop, and the Juniper Canyon Trail are the most popular trails in the park, which are accessible at this trailhead.

Parking here is convenient, but it fills up quickly, which means that you may need to arrive here no later than 9 o’clock in the morning to get a decent parking slot.

There are no vending machines for snacks and drinks at this section of the park, so you’ll have to have your own food before coming here.

You can use the picnic tables at Chaparral Trailhead too.

Go Bird-Watching on the East Side of Pinnacles National Park

While birds are prevalent around the national park, one of the best spots to see lots of birds perching on treetops is the East Side of the park.

The visitor center, for instance, is surrounded by oak and pine trees, where you can find different species of birds perching and wandering around the area.

You’ll also see them in the swimming pool, fountain, past the overflow parking lot, in the riparian corridor, and other nooks and crannies on the East Side.

The endangered California Condor is everywhere in the park too.

But look out for other 200 species of distinct species!

Buy Books and Souvenirs at the Pinnacles Book Store

Both the east and west centers in the park have a little bookstore, where you can buy books and other souvenirs.

The Pinnacles Book Store offers a variety of books for all ages.

There are also lots of souvenirs and gifts to browse, including pins, t-shirts, patches, magnets, tote bags, and hats.

Proceeds of these books and souvenirs that are sold are used for the maintenance and development of the park.

Don’t forget to check out the Pinnacles Book Store as soon as you visit the visitor center and the contact station!

Take an Instagrammable Photo with the Park’s Welcome Sign

Daytime view of the Park’s Welcome Sign

Cheri Alguire /

It may not be a requirement to do such, but for travelers who are on social media, it’s awesome to take a photo with the park’s welcome sign.

It’s great documentation for this trip.

And you get to show your friends and loved ones that you rubbed shoulders with one of the historical parks in the country.

The welcome sign that reads “Welcome to Pinnacles National Park” shows an arrowhead logo.

This logo is the park’s official emblem, representing the wilderness.

Don’t forget to take an Instagram-worthy photo with it before or after exploring the park!

Final Thoughts

The Pinnacles National Park is a great place to get in touch with nature.

For hiking and camping, the Pinnacles National Park is an excellent choice.

You can easily spend an entire day on the trip, which will take about three hours.

You should carry enough food and water to last you for your entire stay in the summer because it can become rather hot.

You’ll also want to bring some thick clothing, as the nights may get quite chilly.

Start planning your Pinnacles excursion today!

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