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Pinnacles National Park - best trails/hikes?
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(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
Pinnacles National Park - best trails/hikes? on 03/23/2014 12:33:34 MDT Print View

After weeks of going around the clock except for our nearby daily sanity training hike, the Ms. and I are itching to explore new terrain. Pinnacles National Park at only about 1 1/2 hours drive from us looks perfect. Sincerely appreciate any recommendations for the best hikes that can be done in a day and best sites to see in the park.

Looks like wild camping isn't allowed in the park, but there's a park campground if you want to spend the night.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Pinnacles National Park - best trails/hikes? on 03/23/2014 12:52:58 MDT Print View

There are only two approaches, one from the west and the main one from the east, so you have access to the High Peaks Trail from either side. Although there is some normal trail, there are also some places with steps cut into the rock wall and sturdy steel pipes for handrails. From that trail, you have good views, especially if one of the California Condors comes sailing by. On a normal year, the season to be there for wildflowers is about now.

There is a talus cave system, but only one part of it is open to visitors for much of the season. I've gone through the talus cave when the cold water was ankle-deep. Not recommended. Still, you would want to have a headlamp for even the cave part that's open.

Carry lots of water. I've seen entire families walking around on the High Peaks Trail without a single drop of water with them. That borders on child abuse.

There are a few rattlesnakes, but they are friendly.


Michael Driscoll
(Hillhikerz) - F

Locale: Monterey Bay
Pinnacles National Park on 03/23/2014 13:09:47 MDT Print View

one of my fav. places but then it is close to me... the camping has improved with NPS taking over, it is on the East side... lots of trails to explore, cool history, right time of year and the caves are both open; bring a light, and a jacket... I like the run up and out to North Chalone Peak, caves on the way past the reservoir (bring all your water you expect to drink for the day)... then one could head up to the High Peaks trail and do the loop; bring binoculars lots of raptors and a condor or two could easily be spotted... if one drove down Fri. got up early Sat. and Sun. you could do most all of the park..
also the Ventana area is just across the freeway if you go in the West side and free camping in the Indians (another one of my fav. jumping off places) and cheap at Arroyo Seco and Hunter Ligget...

Edited by Hillhikerz on 05/23/2014 21:03:27 MDT.

Marc Eldridge
(meld) - MLife

Locale: The here and now.
Re: "Pinnacles National Park - best trails/hikes?" on 03/23/2014 13:46:12 MDT Print View

EJ and Mrs EJ, Anywhere you go in the Pinnacles is a treat. A real unique place in the coastal range with the caves. Enter either the east side through Hollister, which is probably a little closer for you, or the west side through Soledad. The east side has camping and is in close proximity to the park. Interperative centers at either entrance explain the topography and geology and are informative. The hike out to Chalone Peak gives you nice views as does the High Peaks Trail. Well worth going.

Bill Law
(williamlaw) - M

Locale: SF Bay Area
Re: Pinnacles National Park - best trails/hikes? on 03/23/2014 13:49:23 MDT Print View

I've hiked all the trails, except out to Chalone Pk. All are worthwhile, although all the trails up to the High Peaks area have stretches of exposed steep brushy section that aren't much fun. But unavoidable to get to the High Peaks area, which should not be missed.

Likewise, do not miss the caves (both areas).

I think you could cover all the trails in 2 loop hikes from the east side. That doesn't include the trail to N. Chalone Pk, which is ~7 miles out and back. I think I did stuff like hike some sections twice, like the balconies caves trail, doubling back on the balconies cliff trail, just to make sure I didn't miss anything.

A better map is here (gives the trail names):

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Re: Pinnacles National Park - best trails/hikes? on 03/23/2014 18:14:40 MDT Print View

make sure to go during early season as it gets extremely HOT there

(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
Pinnacles Nat Park, Thank you, some follow up Q's on 03/28/2014 11:27:40 MDT Print View

Thank you for the very helpful suggestions.


How exposed are the exposed areas of the High Loop Trail? Do all the exposed sections have hand rails and is there any scrambling on all fours? Would you avoid hiking there the day after rain, in terms of mud/slipperiness? Asking in particular because we have friends who want to go of different experience levels.

Of the two entrances to park, is there one side that offers nicer/easier trails to access the High Loop Trail?

Which caves are worth exploring, and do you recommend bringing light water shoes?

How long do you think the wildflowers will still be out in force in the park?

We've bumped into many rattlesnakes locally, including a super cute 12 in. little guy (have to add the photo to UL creatures). Interestingly it's the little ones who can inject the most venom and often their rattles aren't fully formed so they can't warn you. Also one of our favorite hikes near NY, MA and CT, Alander Mountain, has one of the largest rattlesnake dens in the NE. You can see some huge ones out there.


Any advice on the best parts or sites in the park camping area? Any parts/sites to avoid?

What is the "Indians" area and how far is it?

When do the caves close for the season?


Distance to us aside, do you have a favorite entrance to the park?

I'll check out Chalone Pk


How brushy are the trails up to the High Peaks Loop? Bushwacking brushy? And how exposed? Are the trails up to the High Peaks the same level of exposure/brush whether accessing from E or W side of the park?


When does the weather usually start getting prohibitively hot?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Pinnacles Nat Park, Thank you, some follow up Q's on 03/28/2014 13:35:34 MDT Print View

Exposure is relative. There is no hideous exposure while on the trail. One time we had a person in the group who had acrophobia. When she got to the place with solid footsteps in the rock and a solid pipe handrail, she couldn't do it and had to turn back on her own. Everybody else, including 12-year-old kids will get through it OK. No, I don't think that you need to go on all fours.

Hiking on the day after a rain is not a big deal unless you try to go through the length of the Bear Gulch talus caves. Last time I slogged through there, the water was over our ankles in a couple of places. For some seasons, NPS will lock off parts of the caves to protect nesting bats.

I think most visitors go to the east side to start. The west side is OK as well, and there may be fewer hikers on the trail. The approach roads are a little slow in either direction.

Wildflowers are hard to predict. On a normal year, I try to go there anytime in the last half of March (now). If you wait until May, you will be dealing with a lot of heat. The single rattlesnake that I saw there was on the High Peaks Trail. It was hiding in the shade to avoid the heat on the trail.


Bill Law
(williamlaw) - M

Locale: SF Bay Area
Re: Pinnacles Nat Park, Thank you, some follow up Q's on 03/29/2014 12:11:00 MDT Print View

No brush on the trail. Just the typical tunnel of chamise and coyote brush.

The west side is steeper, hotter and drier (but shorter?). But nice views across to the Resurrection wall (I believe it is called).

(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
Pinnacles - how much time for caves? What would you include in one day? Maps on 04/06/2014 14:06:38 MDT Print View

Michael, Bob and Bill, how much time is necessary to poke around the caves that are open now?

For a first visit, if we just have one day and start early enough (say 8:30AM), what would you fit in? I'd head out even earlier but there are people in our group who will mutiny...

Are the maps available at the visitor center sufficiently detailed?

Hoping to go in the next two weeks, and hoping the recent rains have the wildflowers out. We've found wildflowers in the Santa Cruz mountains coming out later this year because of the drought and later season rains.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Re: Re: Pinnacles Nat Park, Thank you, some follow up Q's on 04/06/2014 14:52:14 MDT Print View

" One time we had a person in the group who had acrophobia. "

The hand rail doesn't bother me, but the the "cave" area gives me the willies a bit if I over-think it since it is just a giant rock fall no doubt created by a huge earthquake. The park is right on the San Andreas fault- in fact the other half of the volcano that created the pinnacles is hundreds of miles to the south, drifting on a different continental plate.

I'm sure the events that move the huge rocks are pretty rare on the human time scale, but what is the technical term for "fear of walking and scrambling under precarious looking chock stones made up of house-sized boulders wedged between two rock walls"? :-o

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Pinnacles Nat Park, Thank you, some follow up Q's on 04/06/2014 14:57:16 MDT Print View

If you choose, you can worry about being injured or crushed by rockfall from above. However, in a cave like this, you are more likely to be injured by suddenly lifting your head upward and banging it onto a low ceiling. It may be slight overkill to wear a hard hat into this cave, but wearing a thick synthetic beanie would not be stupid.


Bill Law
(williamlaw) - M

Locale: SF Bay Area
Re: Pinnacles - how much time for caves? What would you include in one day? Maps on 04/06/2014 15:40:11 MDT Print View

I don't believe that one could spend too much time in the "caves" even if you wanted to. They are basically trails with rocks above one's head.

But still worthwhile. On at least two occasions I've done day hikes that travelled through both cave areas and did the high peaks trail where you go up and down steps and hang onto cables. Those are the highlights. You can easily do all that in a day (we did it, plus drive down from the Bay Area, and drive back home).

Assuming you're starting on the east side, where the camping and visitors center are located, my plan would be to park at the visitors center and go up the bear gulch caves to the reservoir, then return, either via the Rim Trail, or, via the trail alongside/above the caves trail. Then go up the Condor Gulch Trail and left on High Peaks Trail. Loop around to the Juniper Canyon trail, then down. From there, the balconies Trail to the Old Pinnacles trail gets you back. Maybe do it in the opposite direction. The flat trail around via the Balconies might seem more like a slog at the end.

Skip the Descent and Balconies bit to shorten things; come down the High Peaks Tr back to Bear Gulch in that case. This would cover those caves, thus allowing you to do see all but the Balconies in one loop. I suspect that's how the majority of people do it.

The map I linked to previously is likely what you would get in the current park brochure. Some detail is omitted, like the restroom at the top of the High Peaks area.

James VanDeVelde

Locale: Central California
Re: Pinnacles on 04/09/2014 16:26:09 MDT Print View

If you have any interest in rock climbing, either as a spectator or participant, Pinnacles has over 800 rated routes that are easily accessible. Some of the best views in the park are noted by signage indicating an access to a climbing route. Be sure to take these spurs (the sign looks like a climbing carabiner) and explore!

Robsudac *
(robsudac) - F

Locale: Northern California
West Side - Chaparral Trailhead on 05/23/2014 20:22:31 MDT Print View

Departed from the Western (via Soledad) Chaparral parking lot trailhead at 1030am. Took the Juniper Canyon Trail all the way to the Steep and Narrow High Peaks Trail. From there a detour along the Condor Gulch Trail to the Overlook viewpoint and back, to the Tunnel Trail and back out the Juniper Canyon Trail. The steep and Narrow section of the High Peaks trail should not be missed and was our highlight. I forgot to check the temperature when we left our car at 1030am but it was perhaps low to mid 60s, but when we returned to the parking lot at 230 it was 88 degrees. We felt the heat quite a bit right around noontime and especially in the afternoon. There is a lot of sun exposure with not too many shade opportunities, and hiking in the heat can sap the energy right out of you. My advice is to cover up and pack plenty of water. Great views up and down. The Steep and Narrow section was pretty harmless and did not induce a fear of heights. It is relatively short and easy, just think of cut-out stairsteps with a firm handlebar if you need to grasp it. Great overall topography and I enjoyed the many photography opportunities. Recommended for a good full or half day hike.

Edited by robsudac on 05/23/2014 20:33:34 MDT.