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10 [EPIC] Things to Do at Pinnacles National Park 2021 (Expert Guide)

As one of the newest national parks, the list of things to do at Pinnacles National Park is still growing but already full of fun activities.

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About Pinnacles National Park

pinnacles national park california
Pinnacles National Park California (courtesy NPS) | California National Parks

As one of the newest national parks, the list of things to do at Pinnacles National Park is still growing but already has some great additions.

The most recent addition of the California National Parks is a beauty featuring some lovely dry mountain scenery, caves exploration, condor viewing, and lots of great rock climbing opportunities.

With that being said, hiking is the main activity in the park and there’s plenty of it. A great time to check out the park is in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming.


Pinnacles National Park Information

Location: Central California

Nearest Major City: San Jose

Pinnacles National Park Score: 29/50 (see our scoring breakdown & full rankings here)

  • Accessibility – 6.5/10
  • Recreation – 6/10
  • Crowds – 8/10
  • Amenities – 3/10
  • Scenery – 5.5/10

RELATED: All California National Parks RANKED (Best to Worst)


Getting to Pinnacles National Park

San Jose to Pinnacles National Park

san jose to pinnacles national park map
San Jose to Pinnacles National Park Map

Fastest: If you’re flying into California, the fastest and most convenient way to get to Pinnacles is by flying into Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport, renting a car, and driving to the park.

The overall drive time from San Jose to Pinnacles is about 90 minutes and scenic.

San Francisco to Pinnacles National Park

san francisco to pinnacles national park map
San Francisco to Pinnacles National Park Map

Cheapest: Flying into San Francisco (SFO), renting a car, and driving to Pinnacles is the most budget friendly option and only adds 30 mins to the trip. Rental cars and flights are typically much cheaper at the San Francisco airport than San Jose.

The overall drive time from San Francisco to Pinnacles is about 2 hours and scenic.

Fresno to Pinnacles National Park

fresno to pinnacles national park
Fresno to Pinnacles National Park Map

The last route worth considering is flying into Fresno International Airport and driving to Pinnacles. This route is neither the shortest or the cheapest but you never know when airlines might be running a deal to Fresno.

The overall drive time from Fresno to Pinnacles is about 2.5 hours and scenic.


Things to Know Before You Visit Pinnacles

Entrance Fees: $30 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.

Sunscreen: Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one which we never leave the house without because it plays nice with our dear friend, earth 🙂

Guide book with hikes: We feel like this is the best one out there.

Leave No Trace: We’re big fans of Leave No Trace, here at MTJP. Want to learn more? Read about the seven principals of Leave No Trace here.

Insect Repellent: We carry around an Eco-Friendly Insect Repellent with us, especially in the redwoods, as mosquitoes can be a bit crazy in the parks.

Dogs are not allowed on trails in most national parks due to their potentially disruptive presence with the natural ecosystem. The basic rule is they are allowed where cars can go so be sure to check before taking your pooch on your trip to the park!


Things to Do at Pinnacles National Park

1. Bear Gulch Cave Trail

lower bear gulch pinnacles national park california
The Bear Gulch Cave Trail

Bear Gulch Cave Trail is a beautiful hiking trail and cave tour that winds through narrow canyons and has a creek running through it. The path through the gulch has some boardwalks & bridges to cross which make for an even cooler experience.

  • Distance: 1.5 miles (out and back)
  • Elevation: 275 feet
  • Time Required: 45-60 minutes

Moss grows on either side of the tall canyon walls in the best part of the gulch due to the moist environment. Speaking of which, this trail does occasionally close to allow bats to do their thing.


2. High Peaks

pinnacles national park california things to do high peaks
Hike the High Peaks

High Peaks Loop is probably the most popular trail in the park giving hikers the most famous views of Pinnacles including the rock spires you see in the photos. This hike is hardy but doable at just over 6 miles for the loop with 1325 feet of elevation gain.

  • Distance: 6.4 miles (loop trail)
  • Elevation: 1325 feet
  • Time: 3 – 4 hours

Along the way you’ll see many of the most popular viewpoints in the park including Condor Gulch Overlook (more on that below).


3. Condor Gulch Overlook

pinnacles national park california
Pinnacles National Park California (courtesy NPS)

The Condor Gulch Overlook is one of the most popular scenic points in Pinnacles National Park. Sweeping views of the parks most popular peaks area with the famous formations can be viewed here.

  • Distance: 2 miles (round trip)
  • Time: 1-2 hours

Condor Gulch Overlook is also, as one might imagine, a great place to view the endangered California Condor.


4. Wildflowers

pinnacles national park california things to do wildflowers
Wildflowers at Pinnacles National Park (courtesy NPS)

When thinking of great places to view wildflowers in the United States, Pinnacles National Park might not be at the forefront of your mind. However, there are really spectacular wildflower viewing opportunities here, especially in the spring.

When to see wildflowers: January – June (peak is March – May)

Where to see wildflowers: High Peaks Loop, Juniper Canyon Trail, Balconies Trail (but also lots of other places)


5. Rock Climbing

rock climbing pinnacles national park things to do
Try Rock Climbing at Pinnacles National Park (courtesy NPS)

With over 300 climbs in the park (most of them of the sport variety) Pinnacles can be a rock climbers dream. While the quality of the rock is not anything like the granite you’ll find in places like Yosemite, the adventure aspect is certainly there.


6. California Condor Viewing

pinnacles national park california things to do condors
Pinnacles National Park Condors | Things to Do Pinnacles (courtesy NPS)

One of the park’s top attractions is watching the endangered California Condor in it’s native habitat. This is an impressive bird (albeit not the prettiest) that is a true sight to behold.

Mature adults weigh more than 20 pounds with wingspans reaching over 9 feet long!

Where to see Condors: According to the National Park Service one of the best places to watch this bird are in the High Peaks area around dusk and dawn. Another great spot is the ridge near the Pinnacles Campground.


7. Camping at Pinnacles

pinnacles national park california things to do camping
Campers at Pinnacles National Park | Things to Do Pinnacles (courtesy NPS)

Pinnacles Campground is a great (and only developed) spot to spend the night in the park. The campground even has a swimming pool (a rarity for a national park – more on that below).

Reservations: Click here

The campground has no first come sites available (boo) meaning *all* of the sites must be reserved ahead of time.


8. Bear Gulch Nature Center

pinnacles national park california things to do bear gulch nature center
The Bear Gulch Nature Center (courtesy recreation.gov)

Bear Gulch Nature Center is a great spot to get acquainted with the things to do at Pinnacles National Park. The nature center holds all sorts of information including park maps and helpful rangers.

There is also an informative video available to view in the nature center. Great interactive exhibits are also present here (great for kids).


9. Balconies Cave

balconies cave pinnacles national park
The Balconies Cave at Pinnacles National Park (courtesy wikimedia)

Balconies Cave is located off of the Balconies Cave Trail and is one of two “talus caves in the park”. To get to the trailhead visitors should park at the Chaparral Trailhead parking lot. From there, signs clearly show how to get to the Balconies Cave Trail.

  • Distance: 2 miles (out & back)
  • Elevation: 200 feet
  • Time: 60 – 90 minutes

Be sure to check the cave status prior to hiking the trail as it does close seasonally for bat pupping.


10. The Swimming Pool

pinnacles national park swimming pool
Pinnacles National Park Swimming Pool

It’s a pretty rare thing to find a swimming pool in a national park. Pinnacles is one of those rare parks that actually have a swimming pool and it’s a great park to take a dip!

Temperatures at Pinnacles can soar into the triple digits so the idea of taking a swim can be very attractive. The pool is located adjacent to the Pinnacles Campground and can be accessed easily by campers.


Map of Things to Do Pinnacles National Park


List of Things to Do in Pinnacles National Park

  1. Bear Gulch Cave Trail
  2. High Peaks
  3. Condor Gulch Overlook
  4. Wildflowers
  5. Rock Climbing
  6. California Condor Viewing
  7. Camping
  8. Bear Gulch Nature Center
  9. Balconies Cave
  10. Swimming Pool

Watch the NPS Pinnacles Video (Dated)

This video created by the National Park Service may be a bit dated in style but still has some visuals for what you might expect when visiting Pinnacles National Park.

The video walks viewers through the history and topography of the park in a Ken Burns style fashion with narration that is somewhat dry but covers some interesting ground.


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Will Pattiz

Co-founder of More Than Just Parks. Husband. Conservationist. Currently living in NYC.

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