Pinnacles National Park

This spring we continued to work on our national park bucket list.

Pinnacles sign

Pinnacles National Park became the 40th national park we have visited. It is the newest park unit to attain National Park status, making it the 59th. Pinnacles was established as a 2500-acre national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 primarily because of the work of Schuyler Hain, an 1891 homesteader, who was fascinated with the area. He led tours up through Bear Valley and into the caves. He spoke to groups and wrote articles urging preservation. Since that time, Pinnacles has grown to about 26,000 acres and on January 10, 2013, was re-designated as a National Park.

Pinnacles, located in central California in the southern portion of the Gabilan Mountains, is in proximity to millions of people but has quite low visitation.

pinnacles pinnacles4

Highway 146 is the access road to both the Westside and the Eastside of the Pinnacles. However, highway 146 is not a through road and does not connect the two sides of the park together, Lodging, food and gas are not available in the park. The road to west Pinnacles is steep and narrow ( at times one lane and at best about one and a half lanes) and RVs, trailers and large vehicles should avoid this entrance. The only campground is located on the east side of the park.

trail2 trail

The main draws for Pinnacles are over thirty miles of hiking trails, numerous rock-climbing routes and the caves, which are not really caves in the common sense. They are talus caves created by fault action and earthquakes. Deep, narrow gorges or shear fractures were transformed into caves when huge boulders toppled from above and wedged in the fractures before reaching the ground. These boulders became the ceilings of the talus caves that now entice not only people but also several kinds of bats. The caves are sometimes closed because of bat roosting or because of storms or high water.

cave entrance cave hike3

The first day we visited the park, we arrived in early afternoon and entered the west side. We parked at the Chaparral parking lot and hiked the 2.4 mile Balconies Cave Trail.

cave hike cave hike3

A hike through these talus caves is more of a rock scramble or bouldering experience than a cave hike.

Pinnacles National Park, located near the San Andreas Fault along the boundary of the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate, is a prime example of tectonic plate movement. The Pinnacles Rocks are believed to have been part of the Neenach Volcano which was split by the giant San Andreas Fault. As the Pacific Plate crept north, the Pinnacles were carried along. The work of water and wind on these erodible volcanic rocks has formed the unusual rock structures seen today.

pinnacles2 stream

Pinnacles has a Mediterranean climate of hot, dry summers and cool winters with moderate rainfall. As warm as it was hiking when we were there in late April, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t enjoy hiking there in summer. California has been suffering a prolonged drought so everything was already pretty dry.

Our second day, in order to visit the east part of the park, we had to drive around the southern end and then back north to the east entrance. We hiked the 5.4 mile Old Pinnacles Trail to Balconies Cave, explored a bit more and decided it was time to head on. Pinnacles is a rather interesting place but lacks the “wow” factor of many of our national parks.


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