|A ruggedly beautiful destination on California's rural coast|
Where is Pinnacles National Monument?
Pinnacles National Monument is located about 2.5 hours and 120 miles Southeast of San Francisco. After leaving the greater Bay Area, the scenery becomes much more rustic and rural. Paved country roads take you through the rugged Central Coast Mountains which completely contrast what most people think of California. The East Entrance is from highway 25 and the West Entrance is from the Salinas Valley. The two are not connected except by hiking trails.
View Pinnacles National Monument Hiking Trails in a larger map
The loop trail above is probably one of the best ways to see the park in a relatively short distance. Its a 5.5 mile long but it is very steep and very rugged. There are some things that you can't miss though!
If you start in a clockwise direction from the parking lot, the Bear Gulch Caves are within a short distance of the trailhead. These are not really caves in the traditional sense but house-sized boulders have covered the narrow canyon creating a cave-like feature with a natural entrance and exit. You will need a flashlight through this area. Its quite a sight but if caves aren't your thing, there's a trail which bypasses this section
|The Bear Gulch Caves were created in a narrow canyon|
|Bear Gulch Reservoir|
Just past the caves is Bear Gulch Reservoir. Obviously its not a natural pond but it is pretty none the less. Its also very reflective and gives the hiker an opportunity to see the lush, shrubby flora which are so characteristic of the Central Coast. For a reservoir, its pretty cool...
For the adventurous types, its possible to turn south and hike North Chalone Peak. This trail is a round-trip 6.6 miles from the reservoir and summits the highest point in Pinnacles National Monument. The view itself makes the trip worthwhile and its also a rarely traveled portion of the park. However the summit is full of radio towers which may be discouraging to some. I'd recommend it simply for the views of Salinas Valley and the actual Pinnacles which the park was named after!
|View from North Chalone Peak|
Most will elect not to do the North Chalone Peak trail and will head up to the "High Peaks" trail (which is, ironically enough, not the real high part of the park). Semantics aside, the high peaks trail is much more rugged than the North Chalone trail. In fact, it was downright scary in some sections! As you skirt around the precipitous ledges and hang on to the metal railings, keep an eye out for California Condors which have been reintroduced to the park. This is one of the most likely places to see them in the wild. You don't even have to have binoculars- they have a wingspan of almost 10 feet!
The High Peaks trail is stunning and scary. Its no wonder that so many rock climbers love to come to this monument.
|You might get that classic knot in your stomach hiking the high peaks trail!|
|Wonder why its named Pinnacles??|
Without a doubt, the High Peaks are a spectacular sight on the Central Coast and its one of my favorite trails in California. After getting through the dicier sections, the trail circles back around and comes to a fork. Heading back towareds the Bear Gulch Trailhead, the trail gives you some panoramas of the Pinnacles. This is another opportunity to see some of the California Condors riding invisible thermals. Up close, Condors are somewhat ugly looking birds but they can be graceful giants on the wing.
Well... that's alot to see in less than 6 miles of hiking! No doubt the rugged and steep trail will leave your calves and thighs sore, but its worth it! This is one of many trails and variations that can be hiked in the Monument and I'd recommend multiple trips. There are also hundreds of Rock Climbing opportunities. Its a small monument but there are endless adventures. Wouldn't this make a great addition to California's collection of National Parks?
Now that I live out East, its a bit more difficult to get to Pinnacles, but it would be at the top of my list if I had a week to see California's Central Coast! If you live in the Bay Area or Sacramento, I hope you get the opportunity to make it to this special place!
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