PINNACLES NATIONAL PARK
We had made reservations about a month and a half in advance for the campground at Pinnacles National Park. *NOTE: Camping is only permitted at the East Entrance of the park. We had not yet been to Pinnacles and while living in Monterey, we know we have to take advantage of being so close! I always check the historical temperature averages on weather.com before camping. For the dates we were going the highs were about 70 and lows about 40 deg F. Historical averages don't always mean much for what the weather will be when we'll be there! When we woke up on Saturday morning, it was 28 deg and campsite #40 is about the last to get sun at this time of year! We were a little more prepared Sunday by keeping all of our warm clothes in the tent to bundle up upon waking.
DAY 1 FRIDAY 11.17.2017
I made a very funny mistake that I stayed surprisingly calm about when I realized it. As I mentioned above, camping is only permitted at the East entrance. We got out of work Friday night at 5, went to Soledad for an authentic Mexican dinner and then were going to take off for "Pinnacles National Park", as I programmed into my GPS. By doing so, I totally forgot that it defaulted to the West Entrance - not the one with the campground! I thought of this in Soledad at the gas station and it became about a one hour mistake....oops! I decided to take a back road to get there and we ended up on a narrow, windy, pitch black, dirt road with 0 other cars on it for about 18 miles and it was awesome. That night we arrived to the campground about 8:30. We didn't do much that night besides get settled in.
DAY 2 SATURDAY 11.18.2017
We usually wake up early when camping. This was one of those times we wished we didn't. It was freezing. Later we found out it was 28 deg F that morning. We layered up and did everything we could to try to keep warm (ran circles around the tent, started a fire, made coffee) but us Northeasterners have gotten used to the CA warmth. It didn't help that our spot was one of the last in the CG to get sun because of the mountain behind us. We did one hike that day before searching the park for some easy spots to try to take night photos.
Condor Gulch Trail: Beginning from the Bear Gulch parking area, this is a 1.7 mi one-way. You can either go out and back or extend onto several other trails in the park. If you go up just 1 mile from the Bear Gulch parking area, that will take you to the lookout for a 2 mi RT. We planned on doing this one as a short warm-up hike before choosing another longer hike for the day but it ended up turning into our "long" hike. We didn't get an early start, so the Bear Gulch parking area was full. We got the last parking spot at an unmarked parking area on the right side of the road just past the Peaks View parking area (heading toward Bear Gulch). From there, it's a wooded 1.3 mi (one-way) hike to the Bear Gulch parking area and from there, we took the Condor Gulch Trail to the top (.7 mi past the lookout) and it was definitely worth going the extra .7. The views past the lookout are far better, in my opinion. Of course, you have to earn it with a little extra climbing. Our 2 mi RT hiked turned into a 6 mi RT and we decided that was enough for the day.
Condor Gulch Trail
The Rest of the Day: After returning to the car, we headed back to the campground for some lunch at the campsite. We made sausages and a frozen veggie mix on our Coleman camp-stove and just relaxed for a couple hours (that's what camping is all about!). Just before sunset, we took off to explore some areas that would be easy to access to try to take some pictures of the stars. The best spot ended up being at our campsite but we chose to hang out by the Peaks View and were rewarded with a very nice sunset as the temperature dropped.
After this, we headed back to the campground for dinner, a campfire, and more night photos at the campsite.
DAY 3 SUNDAY 11.19.2017
We were much more prepared for the cold morning. We kept all of our warm clothes in the tent to change into while still in the sleeping bags. We got up a little before 7, made coffee/tea and oatmeal, packed up pretty quickly and left, trying to make sure we got parking at Bear Gulch for an early start at our hike for the day, North Chalone Peak.
North Chalone Peak: This is the tallest peak in Pinnacles NP, at 3,306'. Starting from the Bear Gulch parking area, it is a 9 mile RT hike, ascending 2,040'. I enjoyed this hike more than yesterday's hike. It allows access to the Bear Gulch Caves, the reservoir, and of course North Chalone Peak. The trails are very easy to follow and are well-marked. *[If you get to the reservoir and don't want to continue to N. Chalone, there is a path that takes you to the High Peaks Trail instead - with this option you will still go through the cave and get to the reservoir]*. Very quickly into the hike, the ascent begins and before you know it, you arrive at the cave (.7 mi in).
Bear Gulch Cave
After squeezing through some tight spaces and ascending all the stairs in the cave, you come out to a short walk (and more stairs) that will take you to what looks to be an amazing rock wall. I'm not a rock climber but this wall looks like it's what indoor rock walls are designed after.
The "Rock Wall"
Just up ahead, you'll be at a nice place to take a break. We arrived to the reservoir early and it was empty and the sun had begun rising over the peaks not too long before.
Bear Gulch Reservoir
From the reservoir, the signs are very well marked, however, if you are going to continue onto toward N Chalone Peak, you will cross the bridge and go left. If you would rather take the High Peaks Trail, you'll go up to the right. As the trail goes on, the views get better. You may also run into what we call, "fondue trees." I don't know what they're really called so we'll go with that for now (if you do know, please comment below!).
As you get above the peaks, you'll begin to notice a tower of some sort. Yes - that is the top! You'll get to a fence and it will tell you to cross at the stile. If you didn't know what a stile was (we didn't), you'll know now. Once you cross, you're almost there!
Crossing That Stile In Style
Follow that path up to the end and you'll be rewarded with excellent views from the summit, maybe a condor sighting (we saw 2 flying together), and a bathroom! Yes, I was surprised to find a bathroom at the top. Below are some more photos from the summit. Lastly, we took the Moses Spring trail which bypasses the cave on the way back. It was worth taking that for something different instead of doing the cave twice.
That was about it for us. The way down goes a lot faster than the way up! We made it down in about an hour and a half and took off for home.
I will be updating the post within the next 2 months. We are going to go back to Pinnacles NP to the West entrance to hike from the Chaparral Trailhead taking the High Peaks trails to the Old Pinnacles Trailhead and then back on the North trail through the Balconies.
Feel free to contact me at if you’d like to chat about your trip to Pinnacles National Park! And if you like what you see, make sure to follow the blog for continued updated adventures.