Pinnacles National Park

Location: California

Park Tally: 56/59

Orientation: Having only been established in 2013, Pinnacles is America’s youngest national park. It was recognized that the unique landscapes and ecosystems that made up Pinnacles needed to be protected for generations to come. Interestingly, the area is thought to have an ancient 23-million-year old volcanic history and thus one of North America’s most fascinating landscapes.

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Pinnacles National Park is spilt into east and west districts and visitors must detour outside of the park to go between the two areas. The west district is famous for its talus caves, whereas the east side boasts the main park visitor center, and an established camping area. Both areas have ample opportunities to explore, climb, hike, cave, and bird-watch.

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Most iconic view:  The Pinnacles themselves are arguably the most well-known sight in the park. These geologic formations are the eroded results of the western half of an extinct volcano. Interestingly, the volcano is said to have migrated over 200 miles from its original location on the San Andreas Fault, leaving in its path colorful rocks, elaborate cliffs, talus caves and a forested landscape.

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Accessible activity:  The Moses Spring Trail is a wonderful short hike that covers 2.2-miles (roundtrip) and 500 feet of elevation gain. Hikers are treated to views of remarkable rock formations, talus caves views of the pinnacles. It’s a popular trial, though we were out on it not long after sunrise and didn’t see another soul! Be sure to bring a head lamp or flash light for the caves.

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For the adventurous:  Those looking for a longer hike should consider the High Peaks to Bear Gulch Loop Trail. This 6.7-mile hike (roundtrip) covers 1,425-feet of elevation gain and is rated as strenuous. The trail climbs into the High Peaks and then descends through meadows to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area under the shade of trees. We hiked it in the afternoon and were treated to spectacular sunset views.

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Best photo opportunities: We recommend the High Peaks Overlook for sunset photography, and the talus caves along the Moses Springs Trail for unique hiking images. Many bird photographers come to Pinnacles to capture the unique California condor.

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Quick facts

  • Pinnacles National Monument was established in 1908, but it wasn’t until 2013 that President Obama signed legislation to make Pinnacles America’s 59th National Park.
  • Native Americans in the Pinnacles region included the Chalon and Mutsun groups of the Ohlone People. They left stone artifacts in the park but were said to have left the area by 1810 due to European arrival.
  • Elevation within the park ranges from 824-feet to 3,304-feet, at the summit of North Chalone Peak.
  • Wildlife found in Pinnacles National Park include prairie falcon, coyote, skunk, bobcat, great horned owl, raccoon, Californian quail, wild turkey, gray fox, golden eagle, California condor, peregrine falcon, cougar, and various species of bats.
  • A census conducted in the 1990s found that Pinnacles National Park had the highest known concentration of bees per unit area than anywhere else on earth. We can vouch for that for at one point we must have had a hundred bees buzzing around the outside of our van!
  • In 2016, Pinnacles National Park had 215,555 visitors according to the National Park Service.