Thursday, April 27, 2023

Pinnacles National Park


Spring break 2023 we visited Pinnacles National Park! It is only 3.5 hours away, making it an easy destination. It is north-west of King City. The closest hotel accommodations and restaurants are in King City, but camping in the park makes it much more affordable and means you can get the best parking early in the morning before the crowds hit. The best time to visit the park is in spring or fall because summer can be hot (and some of the trails are partially closed in summer). There are 2 parts to the park which do not connect by road (but you could hike it). East Pinnacles has the campground and most of the trails.

The campground has tent cabins and tent sites. We stayed in a cabin which did have electricity, 3 cots and a heater/fan. It was chilly at night the week we were there (low of 29 degrees the first night!). We stayed for 3 full days and 4 nights, coming in late the first night. This was longer than necessary to see the park! I would recommend 2 days and you could get the highlights in 1 day.

Kid friendly trails include (listed in recommended order):
Bear Gulch Trail (East Pinnacles, 1.5 mile loop and connects to other trails):  This moderate trail goes through caves where bats nest and mate. We never saw bats but hiking through the cave was my 9 year old's favorite part of the trip. Bring headlamps or flashlights for the cave.

Condor Gulch Overlook Trail (East Pinnacles, out and back 1.8 total): This moderate trail leads to an overlook where you can look down on the condors!

Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop (West Pinnacles, 2.4 mile loop): This loop trail goes through the cave, but there was too much water when we were there to enter safely. This hike is only reached from the east by a longer rim hike or a drive 65 mile (1 hour, 20 minute) since there was rain in the forecast we ate lunch in King City and hiked, driving back while it was raining.

Other Attractions:
Junior Ranger Program: We did not find any talks or places to visit a ranger, but downloaded the booklet to complete and send in.

Bear Gulch Nature Center was closed when we were there, but it looks like an interesting spot. It is located near the entrance to the Bear Gulch trail (Moses Spring Parking Area).

There is a viewing area for condors in the campground.

West Pinnacles Ranger Station looked big and modern but was only open on the weekend when we were there. (Although we read about an East Pinnacles ranger station, it was a store with someone to answer basic questions and had no displays.)

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