Article Overview: Things to Do in Pinnacles National Park
As one of the newer 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
Getting to Pinnacles National Park
San Jose to Pinnacles National Park
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
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
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
Top 5 Best Things to Do at Pinnacles National Park
1. Hike 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. Hike to 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. Hike to Condor Gulch Overlook
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. See the Epic Wildflower Blooms
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. Go Rock Climbing
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.
Top 10 Best Things to Do in Pinnacles National Park
6. See the Majestic California Condors
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. Go Camping at Pinnacles
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. Visit the Bear Gulch Nature Center
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. See the Balconies Cave
Another one of the cool things to do at Pinnacles National Park is see the Balconies Cave.
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. Take a Swim at the 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
- Bear Gulch Cave Trail
- High Peaks
- Condor Gulch Overlook
- Rock Climbing
- California Condor Viewing
- Bear Gulch Nature Center
- Balconies Cave
- 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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