Pinnacles National Park is one of California’s newest National Parks, and was officially named a National Park in 2013. The park is in the middle of nowhere, but is definitely worth a visit. Pinnacles is named for the spire like rock formations that stick out of the hills. In one day, you can hike through a cave and to the top of a mountain. It’s pretty incredible.
A few notes: The park fills to capacity very quickly in the peak months, which is in spring and fall. Plan to get there early, or go in the off season. I went in early March and had no trouble parking. The park has no cell service, and there are no towns or restaurants nearby. Pack food with you, and download an offline map before you go.
First, you have to decide whether to do the East side or the West side of the park. There is an entrance gate at both sides, but there is no road to connect the two. I recommend doing the East side of the park.
Here is an itinerary for 4 hours in the east side of the park:
Start at the Visitor Center for bathrooms and information. Then continue to the Bear Gulch Nature Center area.
Hike Bear Gulch Caves
Start by hiking the 0.7 mile trail to Bear Gulch Cave. You will literally hike down into a cave. Be prepared with a flashlight and waterproof hiking shoes. The trail is an incredible experience.
Continue to Bear Gulch Reservoir
After you exit the cave, hike to the Bear Gulch Reservoir. Stick to the right after exiting the cave, and continue until you reach another cave-like trail. There will be a sign directing you to the reservoir. Continue through another small cave, until you climb a ladder that will lead you directly to the reservoir.
Hike back via Bear Gulch Rim Trail
Once you admire the reservoir, turn back and do the Bear Gulch Rim Trail. This trail takes you back to the Bear Gulch parking lot, but will lead you along the top of the gulch. The views are incredible from this trail!
Hike a little extra on the High Peaks Trail
Along the Bear Gulch Rim Trail, you will eventually reach a split. You can either go directly back down to the parking lot, or you can continue to the High Peaks trail. The High Peaks Trail is about 6 miles total, BUT if you hike the High Peaks trail for about 20 minus from this point, you’ll be rewarded with some amazing views of the pinnacles. I highly recommend taking the time to hike this extra little bit. Hike up until the trail levels out and until the vegetation clears on both sides of the trail. Then turn around and hike back to the Bear Gulch Parking lot.
If you follow this itinerary, you will get a good overview of the park. Enjoy!
I'm Abby, a traveling photographer and writer, and I'm most passionate about connecting people with the outdoors, and I started this blog because I believe in the power of visual communication to move people from awareness of the outdoors all the way to stewardship of natural resources.