As volcanoes erupted throughout central California about 23 million years ago, Pinnacles National Park began to form. Located near the San Andreas Fault, the fault split over time and pushed Pinnacles about 200 miles north. Peaks over 3,000 feet were formed, and the continuing tectonic movement and wind and water erosion formed the unusual rock structures. Tall spires, large pinnacles, narrow gorges, talus caves, shear fractures, and rolling hills are just some of the features that remain.
California’s newest national park— signed and protected in 2013— is home to the endangered California Condor, prairie falcons, bats, mountain lions, wild pigs, and more. This unique desert environment in Central California is a must see. Both hikers and climbers will find that the trails and routes throughout the park and the remote location makes Pinnacles a wonderful spot for stargazing. This park has an east and a west entrance that do not connect. Be sure to plan ahead where you want to visit so you end up in the right location!
2023 Guide to Pinnacles National Park
Where is Pinnacles National Park?
Pinnacles National Park is a protected mountainous area in Central California, east of the Salinas Valley. It’s about 80 miles southeast of San Jose and 5 miles east of Soledad.
Planning to visit every national park in California? Don’t forget to check out Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park, a 3 hour drive east, or California’s iconic Yosemite National Park, an easy 4 hour drive northeast of Pinnacles.
Pinnacles National Park Facts
- The California Condor, the largest land birds in North America, soar high above the Pinnacles. Their wingspans reach up to 9.5 feet and they can weigh around 20 pounds.
- Pinnacles joined the California Condor Recovery Program in 2003 as a management and release site. The nearly extinct condor has since seen a population increase with about 86 of these birds managed and protected in Pinnacles.
- Native Americans are believed to have lived in the Pinnacles region for over 10,000 years. Stone artifacts of the Chalon and Mutsun groups of the Ohlone people have been left behind.
- There are over 400 species of bees in the par, and 14 of the 23 bat species in California live in Pinnacles.
Pinnacles National Park Weather
The mediterranean climate in Pinnacles creates hot, dry summers and mild winters with moderate precipitation. Because of this, the cooler winter months are the best time to visit. From November to April you will experience the most comfortable conditions. May and October temperatures rise to around 80 degrees and can still be a nice time to visit. June through September are very hot with temperatures reaching over 100 degrees. Water access is limited and hiking is not advised during the heat of the day.
Pinnacles National Park Hours
Pinnacles National Park is open daily, for day use from 7:30 am to 8:00 pm. Check out the current conditions at Pinnacles for up-to-date hours and accessibility. With its close proximity to two major cities, be sure to arrive early. Parking is limited and fills up quickly, especially on weekends.
Pinnacles National Park Entrance Fee
Entrance fees into Pinnacles National Park are $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, and $15 per walk in or bicycle. Entrance passes are valid for 7 days from purchase date. An annual Pinnacles National Park pass is $55 and an “America The Beautiful” National Parks Pass, which allows access to all National Parks, is $80 a year.
Getting to Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles is located just south of San Jose and San Francisco. The park has both an east and west entrance. You can hike across the park but you cannot drive through so be sure to check which side you want to visit. There are hiking trails on both sides but the only campground is on the eastern side.
Pinnacles East Entrance: Head south on US-101 S to CA-25 S. Follow CA-25 S to CA-146 into the park. (1 hr 30 min from San Jose; 2 hr from San Francisco).
Pinnacles West Entrance: Head south on US-101 S. Take exit 303 onto CA-146 E and continue into the park. (1 hr 40 min from San Jose; 2 hr 20 min from San Francisco).
Hiking in Pinnacles National Park
If you’re ready to stretch your legs (but not sure where to start), here’s a list of our favorite cavern trails in California’s Pinnacles National Park:
Easy, perfect for families
- Prewett Point Trail (1 mi; 70 feet gain)
- Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop (2.4 mi; 100 feet gain)
- Moses Spring Trail to Bear Gulch Reservoir (1.1 mi; 300 ft gain)
- Moses Spring and Rim Trail Loop (2.5mi; 500 ft gain)
- Balconies Trail to Machete Ridge (1.5mi; 100 ft gain)
Moderate, fairly strenuous
- Old Pinnacles Trail to Balconies Cave (5.3 mi; flat)
- Condor Gulch to High Peaks Loop (5.3 mi; 1,300 ft gain)
- Condor Gulch Trail to Overlook (2 mi; 500 ft gain)
- Juniper Canyon Loop (4.3 mi; 1,215 ft gain)
- Jawbone Trail (2.5 mi; 600 ft gain)
Difficult, experience recommended
- Old Pinnacles Trail Loop (9.5 mi, 1,700 ft gain)
- High Peaks to Bear Gulch Loop (6.7 mi; 1,425 ft gain)
- High Peaks to Balconies Cave Loop (8.4 mi; 1,540 ft gain)
- North Wilderness Trail Loop (9.3 mi; 1,020 ft gain)
- Chalone Peak Trail (9 mi; 2,040 ft gain)
Pinnacles National Park Lodging
Pinnacles National Park Camping
Planning a night under the stars? Here are some of the best campgrounds and campsites inside and outside of Pinnacles National Park:
Pinnacles National Park Hotels
If camping isn’t your thing, there are plenty of resorts, hotels, hostels, inns, cabins and B&Bs within a quick drive of Pinnacles National Park. Here are some of our favoritesL
- Inn at the Pinnacles
- Valley Harvest Inn
- Bar SZ Ranch
- Soledad Motel 8
- Travel Inn Greenfield
- Budget Inn Greenfield
Pinnacles National Park Tours
While there are no commercially operated tours running from nearby cities into Pinnacles, join a Ranger Program to enhance your park experience. Check the Pinnacles National Park visitor center to see when programs are running. They are all free and include activities such as educational talks, night hikes, and star parties.
Best Things to Do in Pinnacles National Park
Hike to Bear Gulch Reservoir
The hike to Bear Gulch Reservoir is perfect if you want to see caves, water, and the grand pinnacles. Be sure to carry a headlamp and be prepared for a short walk in a small, dark cave.
Go rock climbing (basically anywhere in Pinnacles National Park)
With over 200 routes, Pinnacles features both bolted and traditional climbing opportunities. The rocky pinnacles and spires attract climbers of all levels.
Grab your headlamp and explore the Talus Caves
Bear Gulch Cave and Balconies Cave are narrow canyons filled with boulders. They are home to many species of bats are considered some of the best caves in California. Stop by the visitor center to get the most up-to-date information about cave closures due to bats giving birth.
Hit up the Condor Gulch Overlook
The Condor Gulch Overlook is one of the best spots to watch for the California Condor. Soaring high above the Pinnacles, these massive birds are a site to see. They are distinguishable from other large birds with their black wings with a large white triangle underneath.
Visit the Pinnacles Visitor Center
Although this is a smaller visitor center than other national parks, there are exhibits about the formation of Pinnacles, a small gift shop, and camping supplies. At the Pinnacles visitor center you can get the most up-to-date information about cave closures and any other questions.
Explore the High Peaks Trail
Hike up steep ladders leading you up to impressive views of the area. The High Peaks Trail a more difficult trail and will add some excitement to your visit!
Go bird watching near Bear Gulch Nature Center
Pinnacles is home to over 180 species of birds. Visit the Bear Gulch Nature Center or Pinnacles Visitor Center for information about the best spots to bird watch at that time of year.
Enjoy the night sky at Pinnacles
Stop by the visitor center for information about stargazing. Ranger led programs will give you the best experience identifying stars and planets in this remote location.
Walk through Pinnacles’ famous wildflowers
Best from March to May, but sometimes as early as January or February, the blooms in Pinnacles are incredible. Check out the High Peaks Loop, Juniper Canyon, or the Balconies Trail for the best sites.
Take a dip in the Pinnacles Campground Swimming Pool
Pinnacles is one of the few national parks with a swimming pool. The year round, hot temperatures at Pinnacles Campground Swimming Pool make this an enjoyable spot to hang out when it’s too hot to hike during the day. If you’re camping in the park be sure to check it out.
Hike the Chalone Peak Trail
Surprisingly, Pinnacles reaches over 3,000 feet in elevation. The Chalone Peak Trail will take you to the highest peak in the park. This unmaintained trail gains over 2,000 feet in elevation making this trail a more difficult one, however, less trafficked than others. You’ll see the surrounding rolling hills, valleys, and pinnacles in the distance.
Hike the Moses Spring Trail
The Moses Spring Trail will also bring you to the park highlights. The reservoir, caves, and narrow canyons allow you to see many sites along this short, easy hiking trail.
Visit old town Salinas
The charming old town of Salinas, made up of brick buildings that date back to the 1800s, is a cute spot to stop at during a weekend visit.
Take a road trip to Monterey and Carmel-By-The-Sea
Only an hour from Pinnacles, head to the California coast to enjoy the ocean. Monterey and Carmel both have fun shopping areas and beaches to relax and spend the day at.
Get tipsy on the River Road Wine Trail
There are over 10 wineries around the Pinnacles area. Be sure to check one out while you cruise the famous River Road Wine Trail.