Pinnacles National Park Guide (2024) → From a Local Expert!

The rock formations at sunset

When you visit Pinnacles National Park, you’ll be welcomed to a beautiful world in San Benito County, surrounded by nature and exhilarating activities. So let this California local be your Pinnacles National Park guide!

I’ve lived in California for years, so rest assured you’ll get all the hidden tips in this post you just won’t find anywhere else

Filled with amazing hiking trails, historic attractions, and mysterious natural caves, there is so much to cram into your Pinnacles National Park itinerary!

So, pack your best trail runners, and let’s hit the dirt for an amazing journey through the US’s smallest national park.

Brief history of Pinnacles National Park

Two people hiking on a trail in the mountains.

You’re going to love America’s smaller, lesser-known national park – Pinnacles National Park.

Designated as Pinnacles National Monument by President Roosevelt in 1908, the magic of this place was easy to see right away.

In 2013, this dynamite little gem made it to the National Park list, and it is best known for its unique rock formations, talus caves, and diverse natural life.

You’ll also discover the rich Native American history throughout the park and surrounding area.

Small but mighty, you’ll have plenty to do during your trip, but should the inspiration hit to explore more of the nation’s parks, check out our article on California’s 9 most beautiful national parks.

What to expect

A sign for pinnacles national park in california.

When visiting Pinnacles National Park, you can anticipate the most stunning landscapes, towering rock formations, rugged canyons, and lush hills.

You’ll be amazed by the network of beautiful hiking trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging elevation gains.

Keep your eyes peeled for tons of wildlife: California condors, bobcats, and unique insects are all around.

If you love to scramble and climb, get ready for a rock-climbing paradise with tons of peaks and valleys to set out for.

Weather-wise, you always want to be prepared with the correct equipment and clothing. Expect hot, dry summers and cooler, wetter winters.

Be forewarned services within the park are limited, so stock up on supplies, including water and food, before entering for the day or weekend.

While visiting Pinnacles, you’ve actually made it to Dark Sky Park, making it an excellent spot for stargazing. You can even attend ranger-led programs and night sky viewings.

Keep in mind that the park is a California condor conservation area, so respect park regulations to protect the environment and wildlife.

If you ever feel lost, confused, or just need some 4-1-1, head to one of Pinnacle’s many visitor centers, like East Pinnacles Visitor Center. This is the perfect spot to ask for help or learn about the park’s volcanic geology.

Pinnacles is often a stop-over on longer California road trips, so I’ll go ahead and link here to the best hotels in the top 6 cities in California that you may want to add to your itinerary.

Things to do in Pinnacles National Park

There are tons of adventurous and interesting things to do in Pinnacles National Park, from rock climbing to cave exploration. Below are some of the absolute musts!

1. Venture into Talus Caves

Explore the mysterious talus caves on both the west entrance and east entrance sides of Pinnacles National Park with the help of a detailed trail map.

A Pinnacles National Park guide offers insights into exploring the unique Talus Caves, making it easy to navigate all the trails and uncover the secrets hidden within these fascinating geological formations.

Don’t miss the chance to explore this natural wonder, but keep in mind it is popular and often busy.

2. Discover Bear Gulch Cave Trail & the east entrance

A narrow canyon with mossy rocks and a stream.

Continuing your adventure, I highly recommend utilizing a Pinnacles National Park guide, ensuring a well-informed visit to must-see attractions like Bear Gulch Cave Trail (see trail map).

Begin your Bear Gulch Cave Trail’s 1.9-mile (3 km) loop at the Bear Gulch Nature Center, where you can gather essential info and obtain a national park pass.

If you’re hiking Bear Gulch Cave Trail, check the national park hours to plan your adventure appropriately – the park closes at dusk.

If you have some extra time, visit Bear Gulch Nature Center to learn park history. At the time of writing, Bear Gulch Nature Center is closed until further notice, and you can check for updates here.

Don’t miss Bear Gulch Day in Pinnacles National Park, an outdoor, family-friendly experience with guided nature walks, interactive programs, and opportunities to explore the park’s unique attractions.

The Nature Center is also a great place to attend seasonal interpretive programs and hikes through the surrounding region.

3. Get wild on the Balconies Cliff Trail

The entrance to a cave with a metal gate.

Navigate the challenging Balconies Cliff Trails, Balconies Cliff Trail (see trail map) accessible from the Bear Gulch parking lot on the west entrance side, which offers an exhilarating adventure through narrow canyons.

Be ready for a challenging ascent with significant elevation gain as you navigate this stunning trail.

The app. 9-mile (c. 15 km) hike begins at the parking area and leads you deep into the heart of Pinnacles National Park, where you’ll discover breathtaking vistas and unique geological formations.

When you return to the Bear Gulch Parking area, you’ll be ready to dust off your hiking boots, grab a snack, and regroup for your next mini adventure.

If you love the challenging hikes, also explore Bench Trail’s (see trail map) serene landscapes.

4. Take a hike on Old Pinnacles Trail

A person is climbing up a large rock in a canyon.

Pinnacles is one of the lesser-known parks, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton to offer!

The Old Pinnacles Trail (see trail map), one of the best hiking trails in Central California, is perfect for rock climbers and hikers alike. It’s a 5-mile (8.2 km) loop perfect for any skill level! Don’t forget your camera because the views are stunning! ☀️

This is a great place to rock climb on challenging routes and pinnacles.

5. Explore the Tunnel Trail

A path leading to a cave in a rock formation.

Tunnel Trail stretching about 1.6 miles (2.5 km) will take you out to some of the coolest rock formations of Pinnacles National Park.

The Tunnel Trail offers a picturesque hiking experience winding its way through the stunning landscapes of Pinnacles National Park along the tranquil Bear Gulch Reservoir, showcasing the natural beauty found within the California National Parks system.

Marvel at the Tunnel Trail’s rock features, they’re absolutely incredible up close!

Whether you’re camping nearby or exploring the park for the day, the Tunnel Trail provides a fun and adventurous hike in Pinnacles.

6. Have a stroll on the Rim Trail

If you want to really challenge yourself, have a go at the Rim Trail, a lengthy hike spanning 9.2 miles (14.8 km). This trail offers a stunning panoramic of Pinnacles National Park and its rock formations.

Check out the famous Juniper Canyon Loop (see trail map), a favorite among rock-climbing junkies!

7. Take in the views on Chalone Peak Trail

A dirt trail in the mountains.

The Chalone Peak Trail (see trail map), spanning roughly 8 miles (13 km), opens up to exhilarating views at the summit of Chalone Peak.

Experience the tranquility of Chalone Creek down below and the soaring wildlife overhead.

The perfect spot to take in the majestic national park condors soaring overhead and take photos of the unique rocks that dot the landscape.

Don’t forget to also take photos of the unique rock spires dotting the horizon – you’ll love looking back on them and remembering your adventure!

Birdwatch for various species native to the area, witness the spectacular bat flight, or relax at peaceful spots by the park’s reservoirs.

8. Explore Balconies Cave Trail & Moses Spring Trail

A man walking through a narrow passage surrounded by rocks

If you’re looking for an easy hike option, the Balconies Cave and Moses Spring Trail (see trail map) is a scenic route spanning approximately 2.6 miles (4.2 km).

Discover native wildlife on Moses Spring Trail – explore caves, discover natural plant life, and venture out into the lust brush.

Take Moses Spring Trail from the Moses Spring parking area and drink in panoramic views from Hawkins Peak immersing yourself in the park’s diverse and breathtaking scenery.

Don’t move on from this stunning view right away, really give yourself time to revel in panoramic views from Hawkins Peak.

9. Hike on Condor Gulch Trail & Juniper Canyon Trail

A rock formation on the side of a mountain.

Many people come here for wildlife opportunities, and there’s no doubt why once you step foot in this park!

The Condor Gulch and Juniper Canyon Trail, covering approximately 5.7 miles (9.2 km), allows you to see panoramic views from the high peaks and opportunities to spot the endangered California condors in flight.

Navigate through the Juniper Canyon’s rugged terrain with scenic vistas and unique geological features to explore.

Hiking enthusiasts can consult a Pinnacles National Park guide to plan their trail routes, such as the stunning High Peaks Trail (see trail map), which offers majestic vistas at the Condor Gulch Overlook.

Witness the majesty of Condor Gulch Overlook on a clear day, when you can see the full panorama out in front of you.

Enjoy spring’s wildflower blooms on park trails like Juniper Canyon Trail and High Peaks Trail.

High Peaks Trail has super steep ascents and rugged terrain, taking you to some ridiculously high elevations, including the 2,296-foot (700-meter) South Chalone Peak.

Plan your camping trip in Pinnacles National Park

A man and woman sitting next to a campfire in a tent.

When you plan a camping trip at Pinnacles National Park, it requires careful consideration and prep work.

This Pinnacles National Park guide helps visitors plan camping experiences and understand the associated costs.

From choosing the right campground to understanding park regulations, the below will ensure you have a memorable and hassle-free camping trip.

Know before you go

  • Reserve your spot in advance, especially during peak times
  • Choose between developed or remote campsites, depending on your preferences
  • Use bear-resistant food canisters to safeguard your supplies
  • Follow ‘Leave No Trace’ principles to protect the environment
  • Check for park safety alerts and adhere to park regulations
  • Arrive early and bring essential camping gear (and food!) to ensure a comfortable stay

Extra costs and amenities for campsites

A group of tents in a wooded area.

When camping in Pinnacles National Park, the campgrounds are only accessible from the east side of the park, not the west side. So pay attention to your park entrances.

Pay attention to camping fees, which vary based on the type of campsite and the season.

Pinnacles National Park Campground is a great option in the park, with awesome amenities such as restrooms, showers, and picnic tables.

It’s so fun to picnic amidst the breathtaking rock formations, steps from your home away from home. ⛺

Pinnacles Campground offers amenities that come with a fee included in your campsite reservation.

If you’re feeling extra adventurous, backpack through the wilderness for an overnight stay.

Where to stay in Pinnacles National Park

There aren’t that many options to stay near Pinnacles National Park, but I managed to find a few lavish, convenient, and comfortable places to stay around the park. Below are a few of my favorites in each budget, but note that you’ll still need a car to get from the accommodation to the park.

collage of 3 images with: indoor pool, bedroom and patio

Luxury (US$330 and up)

  • Tuscany Estate – This large, luxurious, lavish estate is an ode to the Italian lifestyle, close to the park, and the perfect place to call home for a longer stay at the park.
  • Pinnacles Ranch 6 Bedroom Airbnb – this luxury Airbnb option near Pinnacles National Park is perfect for a larger group, sleeping 6 with awesome decor, a giant kitchen, and beautiful views.

Mid-Range (US$200 – US$300)

  • Hacienda de Leal – this tiny, charming hotel near San Juan Bautista is the perfect choice for a mid-range option near the park with comfortable rooms, continental buffet breakfast, and great service.
  • Beautiful King Suite – a great mid-range option near Monterey, this King Suite is only a short drive to the park and is perfect for single travelers or a couple.

Budget (up to US$300)

  • Holiday Inn Express & Suites – Located in Hollister, about 30 minutes from the east entrance of the park, this comfortable and modern budget option is a great choice for your trip.
  • Fairfield Inn & Suites – modern, comfortable hotel in Hollister, within a short drive to the east entrance of the park. This budget option has spacious rooms, daily breakfast, and an indoor swimming pool.

Check the rates here

💪 Top challenging hike:Balconies Cliff Trail
🚶 Best easy hike:Balconies Cave Trail
🚸 Best hike for kids:Bear Gulch Nature Trail
🤩 Best views:High Peaks Trail

FAQs about your Pinnacles National Park guide

A lake surrounded by rocks and trees.

🦅 What wildlife can be spotted at Pinnacles National Park?

Condors, canyon bats, and mountain lions are just some of the wildlife that can be spotted at Pinnacles National Park.

🎫 Are there any special permits required for camping or hiking?

Yes. There is an entrance fee of US$30 per vehicle to enter the park, and camping permits are required; they cost US$23/night for camping and US$36/night for RVs. See them all here.

💵 What are the entrance fees for Pinnacles National Park?

Yes. Pinnacles National Park entrance fee is US$30 per vehicle.

🌄 Are there any tours of Pinnacles National Park?

Yes. Ranger-guided walks are offered at the park’s eastern and western visitor center entrances.


A river surrounded by rocks and trees.

Size is inconsequential when it comes to the absurd amount of fun and exciting things to do in Pinnacles National Park, from rock climbing to hiking tall peaks.

I hope this Pinnacles National Park guide helped you plan your itinerary, but don’t forget to book your hotels and activities ahead of time so you don’t miss out on any of the fun!

Did I miss something that you LOVED on your trip? Please drop a comment below, and I’ll add it to the lineup!

Aloha and safe travels,

Hayden G.

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collage of 2 images with: aerial view over the park and couple hiking

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