Pinnacles National Park is a small park located southeast of Monterey Bay, California. Highlights of the park include chilled out camping, bird watching, hiking, and abundant rock climbing.
The best views of the park can be found on the High Peaks to Condor Gulch trail. A friend of mine describes this trail as being able to experience “exactly what I wanted to experience at Pinnacles.” Another hiker we met on the trail said: “High Peaks is the absolute best part of the park.” High Peaks trail starts in the Bear Gulch Day Use Area, increases in elevation through a “Steep and Narrow” section that overlooks Condor Gulch, and then meets up with Condor Gulch Trail, giving even more angles of the condor habitat and steep igneous rock formations. The steep and narrow section is reportedly the most amazing part of the park and allows hikers to see the most California condors, one of the bird species the park helps to protect. Part of the trail is made of a steep staircase with a hand-rail that will challenge anyone with a fear of heights.
We actually took High Peaks to Tunnel Trail to Condor Gulch, skipping the steep and narrow section of High Peaks. Our hike was just under 6 miles. This way we got to see views of the west side of the park as well. We got to see just as many views of Condor Gulch but a lot of people say experiencing the steep and narrow section is just absolutely incredible. We have already decided to go back and redo it some day. We were able to see magnificent condors from the parking lot of the Bear Gulch Day Use Sight.
There are two talus caves in the park, which are both worth visiting. One is on the west side of the park, named Balconies Cave. The other is on the east side, named Bear Gulch Cave. We got to explore Bear Gulch Cave. While we were there, Balconies was closed due to a rock slide. This is a common occurrence in the park, so just be aware that this is a possibility as you are planning your visit. Also, bring a flashlight as the caves can get very dark.
There is not a road that connects the east side of the park to the west. You have to leave the park, drive around the park for at least an hour, and then re-enter the park. There are a few different routes you can take. Research on Google your route plans before entering the park because once you are in the park, cell reception is virtually nonexistent. We took a shortcut from the west entrance to the east entrance and ended up on a stunning, curvaceous, gravel road with steep drop-offs sprinkled throughout (CA-146). It was well maintained, but the curves are sharp in many places.
On our way out of the west section of the park, we stopped at Chalone Vineyard, Monterey’s first winery. It boasts breathtaking views and even better wine. Wine tasting is $20 per person or free if you purchase a bottle of wine. The vineyard does not serve food, but you are invited to bring in your own lunch for a picnic out on the balcony or down in the yard. We had to bring back a couple of bottles of wine because I enjoyed it so much!
There is a campground on the east side that offers sheltered sights, bathrooms, showers, a small convenience store, potable water, and wood for sale. The proprietors are very friendly! The campground is nice and well maintained. There is a fire pit, picnic table, and food storage box at every sight. Reservations can be made at the park website.
This park is lush, quiet, and filled with staggering heights. Drive out of the way, get out of cell reception, and breathe in the freshness.