Pinnacles National Park: Day Hike (11 miles)
My goal is to hike once every week. On Monday, June 1st, went on a day hike and started around 8am since we camped there overnight. We chose this particular park since it was the only place nearby where we can camp overnight.
“Since 1908, Pinnacles National Monument has increased in bits and pieces to its present size of about 26,000 acres. On January 10, 2013 President Barack Obama signed legislation passed by Congress that redesignated the monument as a National Park. Many visitors come to hike, picnic, bird watch, rock climb, learn about geology and plants, see wild animals or perhaps to simply enjoy the wilderness which offers peace and quiet.” Information can be found here.
“Some 23 million years ago multiple volcanoes erupted, flowed, and slid to form what would become Pinnacles National Park. What remains is a unique landscape. Travelers journey through chaparral, oak woodlands, and canyon bottoms. Hikers enter rare talus caves and emerge to towering rock spires teeming with life: prairie and peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and the inspiring California condor.”
“This was a place where indigenous people harvested useful plant and animal resources, but no archaeological evidence has been found to suggest a village existed within park boundaries. Although there has not been a comprehensive archaeological study in the park, some sites have been known and recorded, but in order to protect the sensitive nature of these sites they have not been included on maps. A bedrock mortar might be an obvious cultural resource, the oak trees that produced the acorn and the water from the creek that mixed with the flour to make porridge are all important cultural resources too. The entire landscape is a a cultural resource from the indigenous perspective.” Read more here.
“The Spanish had a dramatic impact on the Native Americans who frequented Pinnacles. They traveled into California from Mexico and eventually established 21 religious missions between 1769 and 1823, stretching from San Diego to Sonoma known as “El Camino Real”. The mission closest to Pinnacles was built in Soledad in 1791. The Spanish sought to establish a route from Mexico or New Spain up to northern California, they believed they had a God-given right to claim land for Christ and the King. Captain Juan Bautista de Anza led an expedition to establish an overland route to the San Francisco Bay Area from Mexico. Visit this site to learn more about Juan Bautista de Anza.
The Chalon Indians lived in the area east of Soledad Mission — close to what is now the western side of Pinnacles National Park. Willingly or not, many of the Chalon and Amah Mutsun people became neophytes (baptized mission workers); however, the mission way of life was devastating to native people. A combination of diseases brought by the Spaniards and harsh changes to their way of life killed many Chalon and Mutsun people, and damaged their cultures. In 1770 the native population in California, which was already dropping from the effects of European diseases, was estimated at 300,000. By the mid-1800s, it was cut in half.” Read more here.
All of this information can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/pinn/learn/historyculture/index.htm
Since we were camping this trip was much easier to plan. I had looked at the map on my desktop the night before leaving for camping. One positive is that they were handing out physical maps. Wohoooo!
When we were camping we went over the map together and planned out our route. The most difficult thing of all is we didn’t have a bike rack. If you took your bike and start from the Bear Gulch Recreation Area, you automatically shave 4 miles. We scoured through the internet to find images of bike racks around there and found nothing. When we got there, there is ample bike parking.
Regardless of the extra 4 miles, our minds and heart was set to do a 11 mile loop. We brought plenty of water since we didn’t know where would be the last point to retrieve water. Thankfully you can get some at the Bear Valley Recreation Area and we only need water for 7 miles.
Lots of Elevation
2.5+ Liters Total
1.5 L Reservoir/Camelback
2x 20oz water bottle
Quest Protein Bar
Parking available on the Eastside, outside of the park on the west side, campground parking only, and no parking past the campgrounds (west side)
Water for Hiking Mileage Ratio
5 miles = 1 liter minimal
2 hours = 1 liter minimal
Goal Hike: 11 Miles, lots of elevation, 5-6 hours
2.5+ Liters of Water
Hot Hikes: Water to Hiking Mileage Ratio:
5 miles = 1 Liter of Regular Water;
1 Liter of Water with Electrolytes,
preferably Nuun Endurance maybe with Caffeine for a mid-hike energy boost.
The hike we did was approximately 11 miles. I wished we could have biked from the campsite, which would allow us to explore more.
We were extremely lucky with the weather since it rained two nights ago and the high was in the 70s. Usually, it is in the 100s, which makes the hike more difficult. Since Pinnacles is praised for the beauty of the rock formations, there is no shade. It is exposed. It feels like the desert but you are in the central coast. I do love that aspect because I am not in the desert.
- Arrive early as possible to avoid the heat
- Book a campsite and start your hike early as possible the next day
- Ask for a printed map, yet please still plan your trip when you arrive
- Bring bikes so you have a heard start and easy finish
We started at the campground and followed the “Bench Trail” from the Pinnacles Visitor Center. We were walking on the campground road, and it eventually becomes the Bench Trail.
When we hit the Peaks View Picnic Area, which is about one mile into the hike, there are tables, a water fountain, portapotties. What a gold mine!
We found the National Park Sign. Of course, we had to snap a picture in front of it.
We hiked 1.3 miles further on the Bench Trail.
We made it to the Bear Gulch Recreation Area 1.3 miles later, and wow, it’s nice. The bathrooms were cleaner than the campgrounds, and they had a water fountain for bottles and dogs too. It makes sense there are several water stations because it can get scorching hot out there.
On top of it all, there were several bike racks all over. It made me happy because there was plenty for everyone. At that point, it made us want to come back and bring our backs. And Stephen purchased a bike rack immediately after our trip.
At that point, we were two miles in, and we took the “Bear Gulch” Trail and walked about .5 miles and passed through the picnic tables, and there was another bike rack and water at the Moses Creek Parking Area.
We continued onto the High Peaks trail for 2x miles. We continued to climb up and up. It’s all exposed, and the one beauty of it: the magical views since.
We got to the peak of Scout Peak, elevation 2605. We started from 1260ft; therefore, we climbed 1345ft in two miles. That is a lot in the heat.
Perk: There is a restroom on the top! Woohoo.
Since the High Peaks Trail was closed (see sign) past Scout Peak, we took the trail to the left, which was the Juniper Trail.
Down we go for 1 mile via switchbacks.
As a reminder: Continue and go onto Juniper Canyon Trail. Don’t take that left!
We took a right and ventured off onto the Tunnel Trail for .5 miles. That includes going through a pretty cool cave.
Once again, we meet with the High Peaks Trail, and we continue to hike for .6 miles.
At this exact point, we knew there is minimal elevation. With such great weather, we finally relaxed and enjoyed the trip.
We decided to make our way to Bear Creek Gulch and continued to make our way downhill since that section of the High Peaks Trail was closed.
So we turned a right and went on the Condor Gulch Trail for 1.7 miles.
We found a spot to eat lunch that had a beautiful view.
One of my favorite things to do is to find a lunch spot with a view. It was one of the best sandwiches ever.
We continued to go onto the Condor Gulch Trail and go back to camp.
We continued to hike down.
We stopped by the viewpoint because it’s on the map, and why not? It is on the way down.
We continued to hike and hike downhill.
We realized we popped out right next to the Bear Gulch fancy park restrooms, which was fantastic. We used the best bathrooms in the park and refilled our water with the fancy water bottle fountain.
We sighed in relief that we made it back and wished we had our bikes instead of hiking two miles to our campsite. It’s ok because it is all flat from there.
Overall, we had a fantastic hike, and we were fortunate with the perfect weather. We want to come back again, and we will in late August. We will want to visit in November and January or February when it is colder and to see the caves.
I’d recommend visiting here. It’s a taste of the desert without visiting SoCal. I loved geology and rocks in general. Therefore it felt something special and unique.
REMINDER: LEAVE NO TRACE BEHIND
Lastly, please remember to leave LEAVE NO TRACE BEHIND and leave it better than you found it. Pack your trash. You brought it in, and you can take it out and properly dispose of it.