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When you think of California national parks, the top ones that come to mind are Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and Redwood. But did you know that the Golden State is home to five other national parks?
Today, we’re diving into the details of Pinnacles National Park so you can plan a trip to visit this lesser-known national treasure. Let’s learn more!
Where Is Pinnacles National Park?
Pinnacles National Park is one of the nine national parks in California. It’s south of San Jose and east of Monterey between Highway 101 and I-5 in the central-eastern part of the state.
Monterey State Beach is about 51 miles northwest of the West Pinnacles Contact Station.
When Did Pinnacles National Park Become A National Park?
Originally established as a national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, Pinnacles was redesignated as a national park in 2013 under the Obama presidency. A little more than 2,000 were first preserved under the Antiquities Act.
In 1923, President Warren G. Harding enlarged the national monument, and in 1924, President Calvin Coolidge did as well. Additional presidents expanded the area over the years, but it wasn’t until President Barack Obama signed the bill on January 10, 2013, that it officially became a national park.
Unique Things About About Pinnacles National Park
The majority of Pinnacles National Park is protected wilderness. The pinnacles are the remains of an ancient volcano that once sat along the San Andreas Fault. These towering rock formations lure rock climbers every year.
The park also contains talus caves, canyons, and beautiful spring wildflowers. More than 30 miles of trails connect the east and west sides of the park, providing access to stunning vistas and diverse wildlife.
Falcons, eagles, California condors, bats, mountain lions, and more animals call this beautiful place home.
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3 Most Popular Attractions In Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park welcomed over 275,000 visitors in 2022. In 2021, it saw its second-highest attendance on record, with almost 349,000 visitors.
If you’re looking to visit the California coastline, we highly recommend spending a few days exploring this national park. Here are our top suggestions!
1. Explore Bear Gulch Cave And the Bear Gulch Reservoir
The Bear Gulch Cave’s lower main section is open most of the year except from late spring to early summer, when it’s closed for the pupping season.
Bats give birth and raise their young during these critical months. Make sure to visit in early spring or early fall to have access to Bear Gulch Cave.
A trail leads through the lower portion of the cave and into the reservoir. We suggest packing a lunch and enjoying a picnic at this iconic Pinnacles National Park location. It’s also an ideal place to watch the sunset.
Park at the Bear Gulch Day Parking Area and take the High Peaks Trail before making a left onto Moses Spring Trail towards the caves. Bring your flashlight, as the cave is completely dark!
2. Hike the Balconies Cave Trail
Another popular trail is the Balconies Cave Trail. It’s about 9.5 miles roundtrip and offers views of the largest rock formations in the park.
You’ll go through tunnels and steep drops for an adventure. With a length of 9.5 miles, it’s not for the average hiker. But for those outdoor enthusiasts who want a several-hour-long hike, it’s an excellent option. Again, make sure to bring a flashlight to explore the cave.
3. Climb Discovery Wall
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We mentioned how rock climbers visit Pinnacles National Park every year. On the east side, one of the best options is Discovery Wall. Park in the Bear Gulch Day Use Area and walk about 15 minutes down the trail.
We suggest Discovery Wall because it offers a wide variety of routes and a range of difficulties to appeal to all levels of climbers. Make sure to follow safety protocols and regulations within the national park.
With its location on the migratory Pacific Flyway, Pinnacles National Park is an ideal place for birders. We suggest hitting the Moses Spring Trail to see Canyon Wren, Bewick’s Wren, Bushtit, and Spotted Towhee. Cross the road at the Bear Gulch Nature Center to take this trail.
Over 160 bird species live in Pinnacles National Park. You’ll find a diverse community with the park’s various habitats, like creeks, reservoirs, woodlands, and rocky summits.
You’ll likely see the California condor, North America’s largest land bird and a species on the endangered list.
Best Places For Camping Near Pinnacles National Park
If you want to camp inside the park, Pinnacles Campground is operated by Pinnacles Recreation Co. You can make reservations on Recreation.gov up to six months in advance.
RV sites offer 30-amp hookups with easy access to water. This campground is on the east side of the national park.
Yanks RV Resort is less than an hour from the Pinnacles National Park Visitor Center. It offers more amenities and full hookups. There’s a fitness center, spa, swimming pool, laundry faculty, fenced dog exercise park, pet wash, and more. All sites are on concrete pads.
About 40 minutes from the visitor center is dispersed camping at Laguna Mountain. Campsites have level RV pads, fire rings, shade structures, picnic benches, and vault toilets.
It’s important to note that there is no running water, electricity, or trash pickup. However, it’s free to camp here since it’s on BLM land.
Is Visiting Pinnacles National Park Worth It?
Pinnacles National Park is a unique national treasure. Its distinct geology offers insight into the volcanic eruption that occurred some 23 million years ago.
From rising spires to lush vegetation, its diversity is evident in the landscape, ecosystems, and wildlife. While it may not be one of the most famous California parks, it’s certainly worth visiting.
This would make for a fantastic road trip!
Have you ever visited Pinnacles National Park? What were your favorite activities?