A Visit to Pinnacles, the Newest U.S. National Park

East side Pinnacles National Park

Hiking a ridge, valley views on either side, I thought, “How do more people not visit this place?” Welcome to Pinnacles, a palace of rocks, where we tromped beneath condors sailing on the wind, wove through oak groves, and lazed on soft moss by creeks.

Pinnacles was a lowly national monument until recently. (National parks sneered at it on the playground and you can be sure Yellowstone never invited it to birthday parties.) Instead, the park was the domain of rock climbers and local Californians in the know.

Now, with the official designation as Pinnacles National Park in 2013, it plays with the big boys and is making lots of new friends. Cue incoming RVs as tourists tick it off their checklist on the summer circuit. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, there are more national parks on the way.

Condors soaring high above the hills.

Condors soaring high above the hills.

Lying on the east side of Big Sur and two hours south of San Francisco, the park is part of the Gabilan Mountains. Well, half of it is. Since Pinnacles lies atop the San Andreas fault, an earthquake years back relocated the other peaks about 200 miles SE toward Los Angeles. No amount of rebar reinforcement saves your property in one of those quakes.

The stellar trail system in the park is signed and well-maintained, but if you aren’t down to hike your legs off or navigate the (fun) steep stone steps on the High Peaks trail, there are also caves to explore.

The east side cave is often closed to protect the bat population, but the west side counterpart is open more often. Heads up that the park is accessed by road on both the west and east sides, but you can’t drive all the way through it.

Hiking switchbacks on the east side.

Hiking switchbacks on the east side.

Overnight stays are only allowed in the east side campground, which luckily is also where the condors roost at night. (Bring your binoculars.) Even better, hot showers at the campground are only $0.50, and there’s even a pool in the summer to entertain the kids.

Enough chit chat! Put quiet Pinnacles on your list for the next time you’re driving along Highway 101. We had zero expectations for our visit and discovered yet another beautiful corner of California.

Chelsea sits and takes in a view looking west from High Peaks trail.

Chelsea sits and enjoys the view looking west from High Peaks trail.

Chestnuts staking their claim.

Chestnuts staking their claim.

All the rain in California was already coaxing spring flowers out.

All the rain in California was already coaxing spring flowers out.

High Peaks trail has dozens of steep stone step sections like this. Fun!

High Peaks trail has dozens of steep stone step sections like this. Fun!

Rocks Pinnacles National Park

A quiet creekside path on the east side.

A quiet creek-side path on the east side.

4 replies
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Thanks Penny! Glad that you all are having a good winter – biking, backcountry skiing, and the like. May the next chapter for you two be an adventurous one!

      Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Indeed! I try to avoid any earth event that moves things more than about 2″. A mountain peak moving would be a surprise culmination at the viewpoint of a hike.

      Reply

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