Have you wanted to see a Californian Condor in the wild or visit the remnant of an ancient volcano? Head to the beautiful Pinnacles National Park in central California to see the crazy rock formations formed millions of years ago by volcanoes. Home to these magnificent condor’s nesting grounds and resplendent mountainous terrain, it’s a great place to visit! There are so many wonderful things to do in Pinnacles National Park.
Pinnacles has two different sides: East and West. These areas are not connected and the drive between the two takes about 90 minutes. Spend a weekend seeing both sides of the park or choose one of the areas to see the highlights.
I hadn’t heard much about this park before visiting it in early May, but it was wonderful! I loved learning about the wildlife, walking on the quiet trails and exploring the deep caves. You can read about all of the best things to do in my guide below!
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Table of Contents
Best Things to Do in Pinnacles
1. Go Hiking
There are plenty of hiking trails on both sides of the park. Climb up into the highest areas of the park to see the gorgeous peaks or stay in the lowlands and observe ground wildlife. You can’t go wrong by choosing any one of these trails to trek!
East Pinnacles Hikes:
- Bear Gulch Cave Trail – Take this 1.5 mile easy trail through the forest to get into the Talus Caves. Walk under the rock formations and take in the wonders of nature in this spot.
- High Peaks Trail – This is one of the harder trails in the park at 5.1 miles long, but you will be able to see the beautiful rock spires at the top! On hot days, you should avoid taking this path, because the heat gets unbearable at the top.
- Condor Gulch Trail– If you want to see the Pinnacles formations, but you want an easier path than you can take this trail. This 1.9 mile trail will take you to a wonderful overlook of the spires at the top.
- Moses Spring Trail – Visit this 2 mile trail to see the Bear Gulch Caves as well as the beautiful water features there.
West Pinnacles Hikes:
- Balconies Cliff Cave Loop- Visit the Talus Caves on the West side of the park on this great trail! When there is a lot of precipitation you may need to wade across water during this 2 mile loop trail.
- Juniper Canyon Trail – Another great hike to the spires and the Pinnacle formations. This trail is shorter than the High Peaks one at just 4.1 miles long.
- High Peaks Trail– Similar to the trail on the East side, this is one of the harder trails in the park at 8.3 miles long. You can connect this to the Balconies Caves and also see the pinnacles at the top!
2. Camp in Pinnacles
Even though there is only one campground in the park, it’s a great place to spend a night or two! This campground has sites for tents, groups, and RVs. The campground has coin operated showers, barbecue pits, a dump station, and electrical hook ups.
One of the best parts is there is a pool that is open from April to September. It’s a great place to relax, beat the heat, and soak up the sun. You can reserve a campsite here as early as 6 months in advance.
3. Visit the Caves
One of the other main attractions of this park are the Talus Caves that nest within the walls. These caves are formed when boulders pile up on the mountain sides and create small pathways and crevices below. There are two different Talus Caves in Pinnacles: Balconies in the West and Bear Gulch in the East.
These caves were formed in the last ice age and still change shape to this day! As soon as you enter their walls, you will feel the air get cooler and it feels almost mystical. During some of the year, the caves close to protect the wildlife so make sure to check if they’re open before you go!
4. Rock Climb
Rock climbers will love to try to make it to the tallest peaks and crags in Pinnacles National Park. There are hundreds of routes that span both sides of the park, however climbing routes in this park are considered more difficult than in other areas.
If you haven’t climbed in this park before, then you will want to take extra care to be safe. The brittle rock, bolt climbing, and rock slides makes these areas dangerous and climbers should take extra precautions and wear protective gear. Many people choose to climb in the East side, because the rock is a little harder than the rock in the West side. Also, routes are often closed to protect the wildlife and nesting falcons in the area. Always follow posted signs and safety measures.
5. Go Bird Watching
Pinnacles is famous for having a large Californian Condor habitat in the park. The comeback of the Californian Condor is one of the most amazing conservation stories. In 1987, there were only 27 of these condors left, but now there are over 400 condors living throughout the state of California. You can try your luck at seeing them in their natural habitat up in the high crags of Pinnacles National Park.
Even if you’re not an avid bird watcher, seeing these magnificently large birds is an impressive sight. For those bird enthusiasts you can find plenty of other species in the area to seek out. It’s always fun to see how many different bird species you can find.
Other bird species in Pinnacles:
- Acorn woodpecker
- Long-eared owl
- White-taled kite
- Peregrine falcon
- California quail
- Golden eagle
- Prairie Falcon
6. Learn About the Ecosystem
Luckily, no matter which side of the park you visit, you can go to the Nature Center. These nature centers are open when staff is available, but they are great centers of learning. Go in before or after you’ve gone on a hike to ask the workers all of your burning nature questions!
There are multiple posters and books in the nature center to learn about the local wildlife and fauna. You can also sit down to watch the video that talks about the natural landscape and the history of the park.
Things to Know Before You Go:
- Pinnacles National Park has a fee of $30 to get in or you can use an Annual Pass including the America the Beautiful Pass for entry.
- During the peak season of late spring and summer, the park gets very crowded. The Park suggests that you arrive before 8:00 am to avoid waiting in long lines at the entrance stations and to find parking.
- Parking fills up quickly in lots of the park, so you may have to find a spot at the Visitor Center. There are free shuttles that run through the park during the peak season on Saturdays and Sundays only.
- Pinnacles has two sides of the park: East and West. However, there is no road connecting these two area of the park. You will have to drive about 90 minutes to get from one of the sides to the other one.
- The East side of the park is open 24/7 year round, so you can go into the park to watch the sunrise, see the sunset, or camp in one of the campgrounds. The West Entrance is only open from 7:30 am-8:00 pm every day.
- There is only one campground that is open on the East side of the park and there are no campgrounds on the West side. There is a nice pool at the East campground and you can make a reservation for a spot here.
- Pets are only allowed in the parking lot, on paved road, and in the campgrounds. Otherwise, pets are prohibited from the park’s grounds.
- Remember to follow the Leave No Trace Principles. As always, you want to leave nature looking better than you found it.
Let me know in the comments if you enjoyed this guide to Pinnacles National Park!
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