More than 23 million years ago, an ancient volcanic field began forming the rocks that established the land known today as Pinnacles National Park. A mix of powerful explosions, scalding lava eruptions and intense landslides has given way to a 30-mile wide volcanic field separated by the San Andreas Fault. Today, the area that once consisted of natural explosions and ferocious landslides now attracts 250 thousand visitors annually to its serene rock formations, according to the National Park Service.
Travelers visit Pinnacles to hike, rock climb, watch and study wildlife, view wildflowers, and experience nature. Pinnacles offers both solitude and escape from the urban interface of San Francisco and Monterey Bay. Are you planning a trip to Pinnacles National Park? Our team at DriveTheNation.com has compiled park information to help you plan your visit:
A Rich History
Pinnacles National Park has a rich history and anthropologists believe Pinnacles was intermittently occupied by groups of Native Americans. Pinnacles staff and tribal members are working to cooperatively manage culturally significant resources and to enrich the Park’s understanding and interpretation of Native American history. On January 10, 2013, President Barack Obama signed into law legislation passed by Congress to redesignate the monument to a National Park.
Hiking Trails and Ranger Programs
There are more than 30 miles of hiking trails at Pinnacles National Park, ranging from easy, flat walks to more challenging, all-day hikes. Ranger talks, guided hikes, and evening programs are offered each spring on the east side of the park. Night programs are occasionally offered on weekends in spring, summer, and fall months.
Be warned! You could see bobcats, coyotes, black-tailed deer, any number of lizards and snakes, tarantulas, and perhaps even a mountain lion during your hike.
(DTN Tip: Don’t forget to carry and drink plenty of water, especially during the hot summer months.)
There are hundreds of routes on both sides of the park. If you’ve never climbed at Pinnacles, be sure to read our climber’s safety advisory. You’ll also want to check our raptor advisory page for information on routes that are under advisory to protect nesting prairie and peregrine falcons.
Visitors can explore two systems of talus caves, which are formed by massive boulders wedged in ravines and widened by water and erosion. Rocks the size of houses will hang steadily over your head as you make your way through a cool, dark environment that provides a home for Townsend big-eared bats and red-legged frogs, among others. There are two talus caves at Pinnacles: the Bear Gulch Cave is closer to the east parking areas, and the Balconies Cave is closer to the west entrance.
(DTN Tip: Check the status of the caves before you plan your visit.)
Bird (And Bee?) Watching
Pinnacles is one of four sites where captive-bred condors are released to live in the wild, and many of these birds live out their lives flying between Pinnacles and the Big Sur coast. The park currently manages 33 free-flying condors. From the California Condor to the Acorn Woodpecker, birding can be very productive at Pinnacles National Park. Check the website’s birding page for information on where to go and what you might see.
Fun Fact: According to the National Park Service, Pinnacles National Park has the greatest number of bee species per unit area of any place ever studied. The roughly 400 bee species are mostly solitary; they don’t live in hives.
Hours and Lodging
The East entrance of Pinnacles National Park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Entrance fees are collected year round. Plus, camping is available. Check their website for more details and entrance fees.
Pinnacles Campground is now within the boundaries of Pinnacles National Park, and is managed by a concessionaire. Reservations are handled by recreation.gov or 1-877-444-6777. Tent, RV, and group sites are available.
Have you had an opportunity to travel to Pinnacles National Park? We would love to hear about your trip! Tell us about your experience in the comments below. You’re also invited to tag your photos with #DriveTheNation and we will share your stories on DTN’s social media pages.