Best time to visit: Year Around
Recommended Hikes/Walks: Bear Gulch Cave Trail, High Peaks Trail, Balconies Cave Trail
Ideal For: Hiking, Rock Climbing, Camping
Where to stay: Pinnacles Campground on the east side, wine country or Soledad on the west side
Pinnacles National Park is one of the newer parks in the country, but has been a national monument for over 100 years. It is a landscape of volcanic boulders and spires, mostly concentrated onto a single mountain ridge. Earthquakes over the eons have created two impressive cave networks that visitors can hike through. Pinnacles is a year around destination, but the caves are closed if there is rain.
Must See Attractions:
Bear Gulch Cave - Located on the east side of the park, Bear Gulch Cave is the larger of the two cave systems. Visitors can hike all the way through it to the Bear Gulch Reservoir. Flashlights or headlamps are crucial, and there are a few tight spaces that require crouching.
Balconies Cave - Balconies is smaller than Bear Gulch but still quite impressive. The trail here is steeper and narrower than Bear Gulch. These caves are located on the west side of the park.
High Peaks Trail - This hiking route goes right through the heart of the tallest rock formations and reaches the highest peak in Pinnacles. It can be accessed from both the west and east sides of the park. Read more about it in the hiking section below.
There is no road that crosses the park, only hiking paths. It takes about an hour and a half to drive around the park to reach the opposite side.
Two full days should be enough to see the major attractions of the park - Bear Gulch Cave, High Peaks, and Balconies Cave. If you only have one day, you can see one of the caves and High Peaks, but it will be a long day of hiking.
Bring flashlights for the caves - they have sections that are very dark but unlike normal caves, also have breaks of sunlight..
The caves each have a few sections of low clearance where you have to crouch and move forward simultaneously, in addition to some narrow gaps in the rock to squeeze through. They can feel claustrophobic.
Click here for the park's rock climbing information.
Drinking water is available at the visitor centers on either side of the park, bring your water bottle to fill up.
There is a shuttle service on the east side of Pinnacles NP that runs from the visitor center to the trailheads when parking is scarce. If you visit on a weekend, you may be required to use the shuttle.
Where to Stay:
There are very limited options for lodging.
There is one campground on the east side of the park, which can be reserved online in advance here. This is the only option within park boundaries. There is a small store at the campground and a bathroom with a shower.
Camping is not allowed on the west side of the park, but there are numerous wineries just outside the park's western boundary. Some of these offer bed and breakfast style lodging. A few more hotel options are available in the town of Soledad.
Hiking in Pinnacles:
Bear Gulch Cave is on the east side of the park while Balconies Cave is on the west side. High Peaks Trail connects the two and can be accessed via day hike from either side.
Bear Gulch Cave - This is my favorite part of the park. Bear Gulch Cave is about a mile long with sections of deep caverns and suspended boulders. The cave opens up at the Bear Gulch Reservoir, and the trail continues further south from there. Read more about the hike here.
Balconies Cave - Much shorter than the Bear Gulch hike but still very cool. Balconies Cave has a section of steep and narrow descents that seem to go down rather than forward. There are low clearance sections here as well. Read more about the hike here.
High Peaks - This is an awesome hike that climbs to the highest peak in the park and runs right through the heart of the tallest rock formations. There are a few sections of steep and narrow stairs carved into the rock, but they all have handrails for support. This hike can be done as a loop from either the Bear Gulch or the Balconies areas, and can be extended to include other longer loop trails. Read more about High Peaks here.