Pinnacles National Park: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Everything you need to know about visiting Pinnacles National Park
If you don't know Pinnacles National Park, now is a great time to get acquainted. Pinnacles is a little known gem in Central California. Not many people have heard about it and less have actually visited.
Pinnacles National Park is our favorite National Park and our #1 recommended park to visit. Pinnacles is America's newest National Park. It was established in 2013 and people are starting to learn about it, which means it's not as busy now as it will be years from now.
Pinnacles is only one and a half hours from San Jose, so if you're in the Bay Area, you have no excuses not to visit. If you're not from the area, but you're driving past, don't miss out on the opportunity to stop by.
Why visit Pinnacles? Because the experience of visiting Pinnacles leaves you feeling extremely fortunate. The park gives a lot more than you would expect going in. The playground of unique rock structures and exhilarating hikes leave you in a state of wonder and amazement and you won't look at anything the same again.
Planning and Preparing to visit Pinnacles
If you like to camp, Pinnacles is a great choice. The campground is beautiful and the spots are spacious. Be sure to reserve a campground as soon as possible as they do fill up quickly. You can find more information on camping here and you can reserve a campground at recreation.gov.
If your trip is more spontaneous and all of the campgrounds are full, you can try to secure a walk in spot by arriving at the visitors center on the day of. Arrive in the morning at the visitor center to try and secure a first come first serve tent spot. It's easier to secure a walk in spot on weekdays than weekends. The visitor center phone number is (831) 389-4485.
How to get to Pinnacles
Pinnacles is two and a half hours from San Francisco, one and a half hours from San Jose, and four and a half hours from Los Angeles. There are two entrances to the park, east and west, and the entrances do not connect. The main entrance that most people visit is the East Entrance. The East Entrance has the campground and most of the trail heads. The West Entrance is mostly for day visits, which is good if you're not camping. Hiking or driving from entrance to entrance can take hours so make sure you go to the correct one!
Pinnacles National Park
5000 Highway 146
Paicines, CA 95043
What to do at Pinnacles
The best thing to do at Pinnacles is hike, hike, and then hike some more! Our first weekend at Pinnacles we hiked over 30 miles because each hike left us wanting more. There are spectacular views so see, rocks to climb, caves to explore, rivers to dip your aching feet in, and wildlife to witness.
Our most recommended hike in Pinnacles is the High Peaks trail. Along this trail you spelunk, see spectacular views of the rocky and grassy valley, and walk along narrow ridges on top of the Pinnacle rock formations. This part of the trail is known as the Steep and Narrow section and it is definitely adrenaline inducing!
More information on the trails available is located here. Stop by the Visitor's Center to inquire about which of the trails fit your skill level.
If you plan on hiking in Yosemite in the near future and will be summiting Half Dome, we recommend checking out the Chalone Peak Trail. The hike is 9 miles round trip, 3 to 5 hours, and has an elevation gain of 2,040 feet. This hike is a perfect trainer for the Half Dome Hike with respect to intensity. The steep and narrow section of the High Peaks trail also helps you become comfortable with walking on top of narrow, steep ridges.
If you're camping, stop by the campground amphitheater at night for presentations and talks about nature!
If you're a climber, bring your gear! More info on Pinnacles Climbing options here.
If you enjoy bird watching, bring your binoculars. The park is know as a breeding ground for the critically endangered California Condor. The Condor's huge, almost 10 foot wingspan is the widest of any North American bird!
Tips for Visiting Pinnacles National Park
Don't forget your flashlight or headlight for cave exploring
- You're lucky if a California Condor flies right over you, it's known as a fly-over
- Fun Fact: Pinnacles is the remnants of an ancient volcano. Over time, the earth split the ancient volcano apart and the other half of the volcano traveled south, and is today what is known as Neenach Volcano/Neenach Formation.
Don't forget your light for the caves!
Back to Reality
Wow! What an adventure. You saw huge California Condors, hiked on top of narrow ridges, and explored caves. You didn't realize central California could be so beautiful! Maybe you thought it was just farmland. Well now you know that is not the case.
Pinnacles in my opinion is California's best kept secret. Not too many people know about it and less have actually visited. It's not too far from the Bay Area and definitely worth the trip.
If you have a lot of fun at Pinnacles and want to go somewhere just as fun, consider visiting Yosemite National Park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, or Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks! Monterey is also close by and hosts beautiful parks such as McWay Falls and Point Lobos. If you're from Southern California, your next adventure could be camping at Mt. Baldy or Catalina Island!
Question: Are the caves open right now?
Answer: Pinnacles has 2 caves, Bear Gulch Cave and Balconies Cave. Both caves are really cool. Depending on the status of the bats and on the weather, one or both caves may be open or closed. To check the open/close status of both caves, click here. Don't forget your flashlight!