The Best Hike in Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park is one of the most beautiful and yet, underrated National Parks in California. There are over 30 hiking trails, campsites, caves, a reservoir, and lots of wildlife, including bats and condors! What’s not to love? Follow this for the Best Hike In Pinnacles to see the stunning, volcanic, rocky pinnacles. Be prepared for steep climbs leading to sweeping views. This is the best hike in Pinnacles because those views are well worth the effort.
Pinnacles National Park is really well taken care of and very hiker-friendly. There are many short loops, and easier trails, so don’t be intimidated by the strenuous hikes. There is something for everyone at Pinnacles!
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This hike is billed as the Best Hike in Pinnacles because, while it is considered strenuous, it is the perfect length for a day hike and takes you to the most beautiful spots in the park. The rocks are so majestic against the backdrop of the rolling green mountains, it feels magical. My favorite part is the Steep and Narrow, a section of, yup, very steep and very narrow climbs with stunning rewards at the end.
Bear Gulch to Condor Gulch to High Peaks Loop
6.1 miles Loop
Elevation: 1,500 feet
I recommend you hike Clockwise
Follow Signs to Moses Spring Parking Area
Facilities and Water Station
Moses Spring Trail (if you stay on this trail, you will bypass the caves)
Take Bear Gulch Cave Trail to
The Bear Gulch Caves
And then Bear Gulch Reservoir
To Rim Trail
And High Peaks Trail
To Condor Gulch Trail
And Back to Bear Gulch to the parking lot
Know before you go
When To Go
It’s California, so all seasons of the year have its beauty. I suggest the fall or springtime for the most color. Summer is gorgeous too, but will be hot. There is very little shade on this trail. Sweeping views, but a lot of exposure. Be sure to check the Pinnacles National Park website for closures and weather info.
IMPORTANT: The Bear Gulch Caves are home to the largest colony of Townsend Big Eared Bats. They are a protected species and the CAVES ARE CLOSED Mid-May – Mid July, during the birthing season. BE SURE TO CHECK the NP website and ask a ranger when you enter the park to make sure you can enter the caves.
How To Get There
This hike begins from the EAST ENTRANCE to the park. Pinnacles NP is about 150 miles south of San Francisco and about 50 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.
Take Highway 25 to Pinnacles Parkway and turn into the park. Drive for longer than you expect into the park until you reach the Bear Gulch parking lot. This hike will take you clockwise on the loop, discovering the cave and reservoir early in the hike. You can, of course, go counterclockwise and save the caves until the end.
IMPORTANT: There are no roads through the park. If you want to get to the West Entrance, you must drive around the park for approximately 25 miles or 2 hours. Take 101 South to Soledad and then 146 to the park. The road is steep and narrow from Soledad to the park.
What To Bring
I recommend hiking boots or shoes, with comfy hiking socks. I do not recommend regular sneakers. This trail has some steep climbs, wet spots, and slippery gravel.
A light is required to enter the cave, so make sure you pack one.
Layers are key! Start with three and you will end with one. A sports bra or top, a long sleeve runner, and a LuLu jacket.
Bring a hat!
PLENTY of Water
A flashlight (this little light was PERFECT)
Lunch and snacks
ALL Trails, or other app, with the trail map downloaded in advance.
GET THERE EARLY!!! These lots fill up quickly, especially on the weekends. We arrived at 8:30 on a Friday morning and the spots were already dwindling. True story: I attempted to go once on a Sunday and could not get anywhere near the park entrance, waited in a line of cars for about 45 minutes before turning around and literally drove the 2 hours back home without seeing the park.
If you have a National Park Pass, you will be happy to use it at Pinnacles. (I lucked out when the ranger gave me a free pass for the month because I am over a certain age…)
Vehicle Entrance Fee – $30.00
Motorcycle Entrance Fee – $25.00
Walk-in or Bicycle Entrance Fee – $15.00
Passes are good for seven days from the time of purchase. Vehicle and motorcycle fees include all passengers.
1. From the parking lot, you will easily find signs to the Moses Spring Trail leading to the Bear Gulch Trail. Enjoy the large boulders and their green moss cover. Look up, look down, don’t miss a thing.
2. Continue to the Bear Gulch Caves. These are Talus caves formed by boulders that make a roof over a narrow canyon. CHECK to be sure you can enter the caves, depending on bat mating and roosting season. Get your light out and enter!
3. Exit the caves and follow the Rim Trail to the Bear Gulch Reservoir. Serene and stunning, this is a great spot for photos, a sip of water, and a stroll around the water.
4. Begin the High Peaks Trail. Now you begin to really climb approximately 2 miles to Scout Peak at 2605 feet. You will love this spot, there is even a bench to rest and take in the views. Enjoy your lunch here. Use the restroom, and sign the notebook that is in a bin on the bench. Fortify yourself for the next stretch.
Pinnacles Fun Facts
The Pinnacle volcanic field was formed 23 million years ago.
These volcanoes were 195 miles southeast from where the park is now.
When the volcanic field split as the Pacific plate moved north, it brought two thirds of the volcanics along for the ride!
The 15 mile mass sank but over time, the wind and erosion exposed the Pinnacles and voila, we now have park to explore!
Over 100 species of wildflowers bloomin Pinnacles each spring.
16,000 acres of Pinnacles National Park is protected as part of the Wilderness Act.
Try the Balconies Cave Loop by entering on the West side of the park.
5. Continue on to High Peaks Trail and enter the Steep and Narrow. This is one of the remarkable things about this park. The conservation corp in the 1930’s carved foot steps into the rock to make it accessible. There are railings and stone steps. Watch your head and your backpack in some spots. You can do it!
6. Arrive at Hawkins Peak at 2720 feet and continue on High Peaks Trail another 2.3 miles to the Condor Gulch Viewpoint.
7. Now you begin your descent on the Condor Gulch Trail through more rock magnificents, some gravel and arches. We saw rock climbers and lots of ravens.
8. Back to the Bear Gulch Trail on an easy decline as you return to the parking lot.
The Condors of Pinnacles
The California condor was placed on the endangered species list in the 60’s and now over 400 are living in Pinnacles as part of a conservation program. They weigh more than 20 pounds and have a wing span of 9.5 feet! I was not lucky enough to see one this trip, but you might! The rangers are super knowledgeable, so ask your questions if you run into a park ranger.
Leave No Trace
These are ancient and protected lands. Please be respectful and follow all the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace!© Plan Ahead and Prepare,Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife, Be Considerate of Other Visitors. And, I would like to add, NO Drones Allowed in National Parks! They are disturbing to both wildlife and people.
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Have a great hike! Stay safe!