Pinnacles National Monument, a natural volcanic wonderland is located in central California, about 50 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and 140 miles south of the San Francisco Bay area. The park has over 30 miles of trails featuring 2 caves, hiking, rock climbing, and wildlife viewing. It is also famous for citing birds of prey namely, the California Condor. Overnight camping is allowed only in the campground accessed from the east entrance. We were able to explore the entire park in 1 1/2 days.
Day 1 – Bear Gulch and Balconies Caves
Early afternoon we arrived at the East Entrance Pinnacles Visitors Center. We checked in at the campground and the Visitor Center Ranger gave helpful tips and recommendations for planning our 1 1/2 day exploration of the park that included being equipped with good working flashlights for both the Bear Gulch and Balconies Caves. First, we parked at the Bear Gulch Trail Head and hiked the Bear Gulch Trail to the High Peaks Trail, to the intersection with the Juniper Canyon Trail. At the intersection, we headed back to the car. We then drove to the Condor Gulch Trail Head and hiked up to the overlook and back. It was a perfect plan to experience the southern part of the park complete with caves, views, exercise, and a bit of optional rock climbing.
After a very cold night, we got on the trail to hike a 10-mile loop. After talking to the ranger the day before, we altered the direction and route of our original plan. Our loop started at the Old Pinnacles Trail Head, north on the Old Pinnacles Trail, south on the Bench Trail, east on the High Peaks Trail, north on Juniper Canyon Trail, north on the Balconies Trail to the Balconies Cave Trail, and west on the Old Pinnacles Trail to the car. I recommend this route with the biggest elevation gain in the morning, cave exploration in the early afternoon, stunning views, and the trail is fun and very creative.
The trail system in the park was well designed and very diverse with sections perfect for kids to explore and wander and also features strenuous portions for the avid hiker. Also, the park has many established climbing routes making it a playground for the experienced rock climber. We would definitely like to revisit during the spring when wildflowers are in bloom and perhaps have the opportunity to cite a California Condor.
View additional trip photos on Flickr