Pinnacles National Park – The Diamond In the Rough
Pinnacles National Park
In the middle of the state – closer to San Francisco but still 4.5 hours from Los Angeles – is the least visited National Park in California. Although Pinnacles National Park may be overshadowed by its more famous siblings, it has a lot to offer for visitors. Great hikes, cave adventures, and more await!
How To Get There
Pinnacles is an extremely convenient park to visit for residents of the Bay Area. Depending on the day of the week, it could be nothing more than a 1 hour and 20 minute drive from San Jose! The drive is a simple southbound journey through Route 101 and 25. Visitors from Los Angeles can take the 5 up for roughly 190 miles, before taking exit 325. A few local roads can then be taken to get onto route 198 and 25. This trip takes approximately 4.5 to 5 hours. Much the same route is taken from San Diego, with this taking about 6.5 hours. There is an eastern and western entrance, although most visitors will probably take the eastern entrance. MOST IMPORTANTLY, visitors should keep in mind that the roads from the two entrances do not connect. Moreover, the sole campground can only be accessed from the eastern campground.
Camping and Lodgings
Because Pinnacles is a small National Park suited for day trips, there are much fewer lodging options compared to other National Parks in California. There are no cabins or hotels within the park. However, there is one campground which must be reserved several months in advance. The campgrounds have spots for both tents and RVs, and include several amenities to include water, coin operated showers, etc.
What To Bring
As dayhiking is the most common activity in Pinnacles National Park, it is recommended that visitors bring a camelbak and daypack, as well as sunscreen. Hats and sunglasses are also helpful. There are places to boulder as well, so bringing a chalk bag and climbing shoes as well as a crashpad can be beneficial. Also, there are caves in the park, so it is highly recommended that visitors bring a headlamp (lighting is required for people who want to enter the caves).
There are three main activities for visitors to Pinnacles National Park. First, there are several relatively easy hikes that all visitors will enjoy. Second, there is some climbing available, though visitors are asked to read up on latest Raptor Advisories to ensure they are not encroaching on sensitive habitat for various bird species. Finally, there are two caves which are accessible at various times of the year. Bear Gulch cave is closed from May to July to prevent disturbance of a resident bat colony. Balconies Cave is more likely to be open. It is EXTREMELY important that visitors wear proper gear if exploring the caves. The caves DO become completely pitch black and cool, so a flashlight (preferably a headlamp) is absolutely required. Appropriate shoes are important as well.
This great page by hikespeak.com contains information on 4 amazing hiking trails for visitors to Joshua Tree. This includes maps, elevation information, distances, photos, and trail ratings.
The National Park Service provides a brief overview of the weather patterns seen in Pinnacles National Park. Overall, there is minimal precipitation, with hot summers and mild winters. Temperature can be extreme in the summer, meaning it may be more enjoyable to visit at other times of the year. Weather.com contains up to date information on the weather conditions at the park.
Food and Restaurants
Pinnacles National Park does not have any major restaurants or food options. Visitors should get food at the various nearby towns before visiting the park.
There are various small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and insects which inhabit the park. There are larger mammals as well, to include bobcats, coyote, mountain lions, and deer. Hikers should be aware at all times because of this.
Pinnacles National Parks has several, mostly smaller plant species. The most dominant plant is the chaparral, a small bushlike plant. Other plants in the Park include flowering plants, lichens, ferns, and medium sized trees.
Operating Hours and Visitors Centers
The National Park Service Provides Information on operating hours for the National Park. The eastern entrance to the National Park is open 24/7, 365 days a year. However, the visitor’s center is only open from 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM. Pinnacles also has a shuttle service, which goes between the visitor’s center and Bear Gulch. The shuttle service operates between 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM.
Cellphone access varies based on which carrier is used. According to the website whistleout.com, AT&T has partial 3G coverage. Sprint largely does not have coverage in Pinnacles. T-Mobile has 4G coverage over most of the park. Finally, Verizon has partial 4G coverage over the park. Regardless of the carrier used, visitors should keep in mind that their cellphone may not work during part of their visit.
Points of Interest
The biggest point of interest is Bear Gulch cave, which occurs along a trail within Pinnacles National Park. The cave is cool and completely dark at certain points. There is a fair amount of vertical movement and moving through tighter spaces involved, so visitors should wear appropriate clothing and avoid wearing bulky backpacks when walking through the cave.
Alerts and Conditions for Pinnacles National Park
Want to learn more about Pinnacles National Park? Visit the National Park Service website here!