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Pinnacles National Park in California

Pinnacles National Park in California

Pinnacles National Park is located two and a half hours south of San Francisco. It’s truly a sight to behold, and probably quite unlike anything you’ve even seen before.

Jagged rocky spires rising high above the Chaparral-covered foothills are the remnants of million-year-old volcanoes. Far below, dripping caverns and secluded chambers have been fashioned out of colossal rock slides taking place in the distant past.

The result is something remarkably spectacular.

Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts will be delighted to find both casual and rustic trail systems running throughout the park. Some of these hiking trails even run through cave systems, granting hikers the extraordinary ability to witness sequestered waterfalls.

Pinnacles National Park is surely not your average backyard woodland.

NPS pinnacles-map

History of Pinnacles National Park

The park itself was originally established by the Mutsun, Chalon and other native tribes hundreds of years ago. In 1908, at the request of local settlers to the area, President Theodore Roosevelt officially recognized Pinnacles as a national monument. It wasn’t until 2013, however, that Pinnacles became a comprehensive national park.

The multicolored cliffs and rugged steeples have been attracting visitors for as long as anyone can remember. The sacred vistas found in Pinnacles National Park do not only tell a story of historical humanity, as evidenced by the remnants of habitation found throughout the park, but they also speak to a geological biography unique to the area.

Among the stunning geologic formations of these colorful igneous rocks, Pinnacles is also home to dozens of native mammals, including coyotes, bobcats, gray foxes, cougars, and more. High above the rustic woody foothills, visitors can see prairie falcons, great horned owls, golden eagles, and even the California condor.

With so many unembellished foot trails to walk along, the patient observer is almost guaranteed to be greeted by some type of critter or another.

Tips for Pinnacles National Park

For that sake, there are two key points to remember when it comes to visiting Pinnacles National Park.

The first, practice leaving no trace while on the hiking trails. Stay on the designated walking paths, and remember to leave the park clean and free of litter for people who visit in the future.

The second key point is to arrive early if you intend on parking in the few designated spots located throughout the area. Because the development of Pinnacles was not originally intended to function as a large-scale national park, there is very limited parking. Although it is possible to find parking spots earlier in the day, most visitors take a shuttle into Pinnacles.

If parking is unavailable, it’s also possible to park at the visitor’s center and hike to the trailheads from there. There’s a $30 vehicle entrance fee and a $15 walk-in or bicycle entrance fee.

Pinnacles National Park Campground

The Pinnacles campground is situated just beside the visitor’s center. There are 99 sites available for tent campers, 14 sites for group camping, and 36 sites for RV campers as well. Most of the sites are shaded by large blue oak trees.

NPS pinnacles-campground-map

Each tent and group camping site has a picnic table and a fire ring. Most of the RV sites have electrical hookups and water can be found at the many designated filling stations throughout the campground.

There are also coin-operated showers, a dump station, an amphitheater, and a swimming pool available in the warmer summer months. Pets are allowed in the campground, but they are not allowed on the trails. It would be advisable to leave pets at home, because it is restricted to leave pets unattended at any time.

The cost per night for the campground varies. It is $23 for tent campers, $36 for RVs, $75 for groups under 10, and $110 for groups under 20. Tent and RV sites can be reserved up to six months in advance, and group sites can be reserved up to 12 months in advance.

How to get to Pinnacles National Park

The best way to reach Pinnacles from the San Francisco Bay Area is to take Hwy 101 to Hwy 25 south, then merge onto Hwy 146 until reaching the park.

From the south, take Hwy 101 north to Hwy 146 east.

Keep in mind that there are two entrances to the park and that there is no connecting road between them. The campground and the visitor’s center are near the east entrance.

Near the west entrance, there are multiple trailheads and a small visitor contact station.

However, the road into the west entrance is a narrow and winding road and not recommended for RVs or trailers according to the National Park Service

There are, however, hiking trails that connect both sides of the park. Some of the trails can be pretty extensive and fairly rigorous, so it’s always a good idea to plan your route ahead of time, and to start early in the day.

As you can see, Pinnacles National Park has a lot to offer. 

Visiting this magnificent park is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the rugged terrain and the incredible backdrop of towering spires jutting far out into the sky. The caverns themselves are also wondrous and exciting to explore.

And if you’re lucky enough to stay overnight at the campground, expect to be treated to clear skies speckled with hundreds of thousands of twinkling stars.

This young national park is making big headway in attracting new visitors each year. Sometimes the park can actually become somewhat crowded. So, if you are seeking to get away from the big crowds, try visiting on a weekday in late summer or early fall.

Overlook of Pinnacles National Park

The charming landscape of Pinnacles National Park transports visitors to a place of austere beauty, where the hustle and bustle of daily life seem like distant memories. The rugged bronze crags and intricately shaded precipices echo a reminder of just how alluring the countryside can be.

For a true taste of adventure, consider adding Pinnacles National Park to your list of places to visit. 

It is undoubtedly one of California’s many must-see attractions. If you’re looking for other places to take your Airstream in California, read our California Oceanfront RV campgrounds article.