Pinnacles is a real hidden treasure - a beautiful park that is not too far from civilization but not too crowded. Many thanks to Barack Obama for turning it from a National Monument to National Park back in 2013, making it the youngest of all the parks in the country!
Favorite Thing: I loved watching the California Condor, an enormous bird, flying in circles above the high peaks of the Pinnacles. It was just very quiet and beautiful.
Accommodations: We stayed in the sleepy town of Soledad, made famous in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I will not name the motel we stayed in because iI wouldn't stay there again. If you go, just drive another 30 minutes up the road, and stay in Salinas. It is a larger city with more options. It also has the National Steinbeck Center, so there is a bit more to see. But if you want to stay right outside the park, Soledad is the best place to be on the west side!
Food: Despite Soledad’s sleepiness, it had the best Mexican food I have ever had. Make sure you stop at Restaurant Plaza Garibaldi. This hole in the wall restaurant, with a Spanish-only menu, had killer fish tacos, veggie fajitas, guacamole, and incredible salsas.
Veggie fajitas; guacamole; salsa galore!
Getting There: Pinnacles is a little over 2 hours drive, 124 miles from San Francisco.
What To Do While Visiting:
Pinnacles is a small but mighty National Park. You can see the highlights in a day, but two days would allow you to explore both sides of the park. We only explored the West side of the park on this trip, but I hope to go back and do the rest! Of note, the park is wilderness through the center, so there is a west entrance and east entrance that are not connected. You can hike through the middle, but there is no other manner of getting from one end to the other besides driving one hour all the way around the mountains.
We decided to explore the West side of the park, since it had the most diversity for a short day trip. We parked at the Chaparral parking lot, which was full but there was plenty of overflow parking. We hiked about 2 miles of the Jupiter Canyon Loop before turning around. The views along the hike were incredible - views of the Pinnacles (High Peaks) above, and forest in the distance. I would like to go back and do one of the cross park hikes, in order to truly experience hiking at the top of the Pinnacles with views on both sides, like the Condor Gulch to High Peaks Loop.
Hiking along the Jupiter Canyon Loop.
After our small jaunt into the High Peaks, we ventured back down and tried the Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop. We only went part of the way into the caves as the sun was setting (the problem with exploring in late November). However, the hike to the caves was beautiful, with more views of the High Peaks, as well as access points to tons of rock climbing. The cave has a metal gate in front of it so you’ll know it when you see it. Within the cave, there are many rocks hanging at precarious angles, and you need a flashlight or headlamp to explore. Pinnacles is famous for these Talus caves, home to one of the largest colonies of big-eared bats. I didn’t see any, but definitely check the website before going as the park closes access to the caves certain times of year to allow the bats to raise their young.
Views from the Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop.
Final Observations: Pinnacles is a gem of a day trip from the Bay Area for a quick adventure. There are lots of different kinds of hikes, rock climbing, cave exploring, bird watching, and views for miles. You could also tack it onto a trip to Monterey Bay, the Gilroy Outlets, or San Juan Baptista. I can’t wait to go back sometime soon to try out some new hikes!