Pinnacles National Park was elevated from National Monument status by President Obama in January of 2013. I have never heard anyone talk about visiting Pinnacles NP and I am sure that many of you reading this didn't know there was a Pinnacles National Park (or monument since 1908.) Yet, if you have ever driven up Highway 101 toward Monterey, you have passed one of America's newest National Parks!
Thirty miles south of Hollister, CA between Hwy 101 and Interstate 5, Pinnacles NP is a small dot (26,000 acres) in Central California. It was formed by an ancient volcano and San Andres fault earthquakes....lifting and shifting great walls of rock. It is not easy or convenient to get to and it gets really hot, so you really must take time to plan your visit. During our stay 4/30 – 5/3, the days were in the low 90's and the nights dipped down into the 40's.
There are two entrances (East and West) into Pinnacles but they do not meet. You cannot drive from one side of the park to the other. Camping is only available on the east side. The campground is very small – for National Park standards – and offers 30 amp electrical hook-up and an awkward dump station. The campsites are nondescript dirt and they're delineated by white chalk lines. There is a tiny Visitor's Center, no cellular signal and an over abundance of ground squirrels (holes everywhere) and foxtails (a dog owner's nightmare). I would not recommend this campground if you need handicapped access. The small bathhouse/shower house is not handicapped accessible....so two outhouses have been placed nearby for those needing wheelchair access. There is no handicapped access for showers. It has only been 2 years since Pinnacles reached National Park status...we can only hope that there are plans in the works to get this park up to code and a proper visitor's center.
Pinnacles is a park for bird watchers, hikers and rock climbers. There is little to do otherwise and oddly, it is not particularly scenic. It is one of the few release sites for California Condors, although we only spotted a plenitude of turkey buzzards. We hiked the Old Pinnacles Trail to Balconies Cave (5.3 miles) -which was recommended by the ranger. The Balconies Cave is a talus cave – a cave created when boulders form a roof over a narrow canyon – and was great fun to explore. Scrambling over and squeezing between the rocks required a moderate amount of agility but the trail was well marked (directional arrows on the rocks), it was cool in the cave and we are alone, so we didn't feel hurried. You will need a flashlight once inside the cave or you will never find your way out - it is dark (hence no pictures in the cave)! There are several other maintained trails in the park but most are labeled as “strenuous” and only recommended during the cooler months.
Overall, we enjoyed our visit but I would not recommend this park (in its current condition) if you have limited time in your tour of California. Nevertheless...it is all part of the adventure and we have a very good life.