Pinnacles national park is the newest addition to California’s list of national parks. It was previously a National Monument and only in January 2013 the ‘national park’ title was bestowed on it. Pinnacles is near the infamous San Andreas Fault, and the unique rock formations here are a result of volcanic eruptions eons ago.
The park has two entrances – east and west. We got in from the West entrance, paid a fee of $10 at the visitor station and drove 2 miles inside to reach the last parking lot, Chaparral. Beyond this point there are no vehicle roads further into the park. There are washroom facilities and a few picnic tables at this point.
Hiking in Pinnacles national park
So, this was our hike route: Chaparral–Balconies cave–High-peaks trail–Staircase–Juniper canyon trail–Chaparral parking lot
List of trails in the park can be found here.
From Chaparral we took the trail leading to Balconies caves, scrambled through the cave, walked by the Balconies cliffs, a dried-up creek, and then took the high-peaks trail. Total gain in elevation was about 1600 feet, and total distance we hiked was close to 9 miles (14.5kms).
At times you need to be on all fours inside Balconies caves. So carry a torch or a headlight; using mobile phones as a source of light can be a bad idea.
If you do not want to go through the cave, there is an alternate trail which goes around it.
Terrain is flat with shade all the way till the start of High peaks trail. From there, terrain is steep, mostly exposed with occasional shade, but views get better. Further, the trail leads to a climb called the ‘Staircase’ and then to a great viewpoint.
We took the Juniper Canyon trail back to Chaparral parking lot.
Pinnacles national park is home to California condor, which had almost become extinct in the wild in the 1980s. Through a captive breeding program they were re-introduced in the wild. We didn’t mange to see any condors during this hike, but we were told that beginning of the year, around February-March is the best time to spot them, when they return to the park to nest.