Pinnacles National Park
Guide

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Introduction

If you are looking for a unique RV getaway destination you can't beat Pinnacles National Park. The area in and around the beautiful Pinnacles National Park was originally born from natural disasters and was home to the Chalon and Mutsun groups of the Ohlone people. These Native Americans left stone artifacts in the park that have been found in archaeological digs through the 20th century.

The incredibly unique Californian landscape of the park is due to many natural occurrences, including trembling from the San Andres Fault Line Activity (the line runs through the park), along with water and chemical erosion. Before becoming Pinnacles National Park in 2013, it was known as Pinnacles National Monument when it was given the title by President Theodore Roosevelt. In modern day times, the park receives 250,000 visitors each year, including lots of RVers, and even more wildlife critters.

The weather within the park consists of hot and dry summers and mild winters. The good thing is that there is no bothersome humidity to be found, however dehydration can be a real issue, so be sure to stay hydrated and protect yourself from the powerful sun. You most likely won’t have to worry about rain, and when it does rain, it’s a moderate amount during the winter months. Some of the popular activities inside the park include rock climbing, wildlife watching, and hiking. You will also get to experience all kinds of beautiful nature and scenery, including mountains, caves, wildflowers, rare wildlife, and the incredible rock formations that give the park its name.

Unlike the majority of National Parks in the United States, Pinnacles National Park has only one RV-friendly campground available for visitors. The campground is open all year round for renters and owners, featuring a combination of primitive and electrical sites. Due to the weather, Pinnacles National Park's peak season is during the spring months.

Park Alerts (3)

[Information] High Volume of Weekend Traffic

Visitation is highest on weekends. Expect parking lots to fill by 10:00 am. Delays to enter the park may occur.

[Park Closure] West Visitor Contact Station Closed mid-week

The West Visitor Contact Station is temporarily closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The west entrance remains open.

[Caution] Canine Distemper Found in Gray Fox at Pinnacles [+ Info]

If you see an animal that is dead, sick, or acting strangely, report it to park staff immediately. As always, please enjoy wildlife from a safe distance. See our news release for ways to protect your pet and park wildlife.

RV Rentals in Pinnacles National Park

Transportation in Pinnacles National Park

Driving

When visiting Pinnacles National Park, you have the choice of two entrances from the east or the west. Both of these entrances are found on Highway 146, but the the road is interrupted by the rock formations and does not actually connect to the two locations. You can access the west side of the park from Soledad on Highway 101 and the east side from San Benito on Highway 25. Overall, navigating inside the park is straightforward, but Route 146 can be steep and winding in spots. The west side, in particular, is not well suited for large RVs and is a single lane road, so consider accessing the park from the east entrance if you plan on bringing a bigger rig to the park.

Parking

You’ll find many parking options inside the park, including overflow options for busy times. At the campground, there are plenty of campsites to choose from. There is so much room here that even the tent camping sites allow for up to two vehicles to park at each site.

Public Transport

On the weekends, you can choose to take a shuttle bus through the park from the campground to the visitor center trailheads, which will save you both time and energy. You can also walk from place to place throughout the park if the weather isn't too hot. Pinnacles is known as a “hiking park,” so this is a very common way of getting around. Bikes are another option as well.

Campgrounds and parking in Pinnacles National Park

Campsites in Pinnacles National Park

Reservations camping

Pinnacles Campground

Pinnacles Campground is the only campground within the park and should be number one on the list of places that you should stay.

There are 28 RV electric sites to choose from, and every campsite also comes equipped with a picnic table and fire ring. You’ll also be sure to find showers and drinking water nearby, along with a dump station, a camp store and even a swimming pool, in season. If you have a pet, that’s no problem; Pinnacles Campground is pet-friendly so you can bring yours along as long as they are kept on a leash six feet long.

While this campground does allow walk-ups, it is highly recommended that you make reservations online first, especially for RV and group sites. Tent and RV site reservations can be made up to six months in advance, while group sites can be reserved up to 12 months in advance.

Los Banos West / I-5 KOA

Located to the northwest of the park is Los Banos West / I-5 KOA. This campground is a great place to stay thanks to the cool breezes coming in from the San Luis Reservoir that makes for a comfortable stay. The campground is known for its shaded areas and quiet, road-noise free nights, and for being big-rig friendly as it features pull-through sites that can accommodate rigs up to 90 feet.

There are over 100 sites for you to choose from, all of which have the ability for you to hook up to electricity, water and sewer. The Los Banos KOA also features a crystal-clear swimming pool, renovated patio and Texas-style grill. Other on-site amenities include restroom and laundry facilities, a rec room with arcade games, and Kamping Kitchen.

Nearby historic Los Banos provides all the city amenities you need including restaurants, grocery stores, and more. If you plan to stay at the campground, remember to book a reservation in advance.

Moss Landing KOA Express

The perfect, serene vacation on the bay might not be as far away as you think if you happen to find yourself at Moss Landing KOA. Moss Landing provides you the chance to enjoy a varied vacation experience thanks to its seaside location and proximity to Pinnacles National Park.

The Moss Landing KOA Express is quite small for a KOA campground with 46 sites available for visitors to call home. The sites have 50-amp electrical hookups, water and sewer hookups, and the option for you to connect to cable TV and WiFi. You should also be able to get cell phone reception on any of the major networks and pets are welcomed.

This seaside spot is an ideal place to stay for marine lovers interested in a relaxing Monterey County vacation while still being close enough to Pinnacles National Park. Since the campground is quite small, it is encouraged to book a reservation in advance of your arrival.

Salinas / Monterey KOA

Another KOA campground that would be a good choice for you to stay it if you want to stay closer to the coast is the Salinas/Monterey KOA. This campground is located just seven miles from the coast and features 47 RV-friendly campsites for you to choose from. All of the 47 sites are equipped with the option to connect to a 50-amp electrical hookup, and there are also full hookup sites available for guests.

Campground amenities at Salinas/Monterey KOA include cable and Wi-Fi, showers and restrooms, laundry facilities, a year-round pool, a playground, a dog park and a convenience store with gifts and wine. You can also find bathrooms, showers and a dump station that you are welcome to use.

Santa Cruz / Monterey Bay KOA

Located around an hour and a half northwest of Pinnacles National Park is the Santa Cruz / Monterey Bay KOA. The campground is located on the coast and is renowned for having around 300 days of sunshine every year.

The campground features over 200 sites that are a mix between electric only, water and electric, and full hookup sites. There are also some fantastic fun times to be had within the campground thanks to the pool and hot tub, the KOA Fun Train, bike rentals, an outdoor cinema, coconut palm trees to climb, a Zorb ball, a jumping pillow, a camp store and gift shop, weekend pancake breakfasts, themed activities, and a dog park. Other amenities at the family-friendly campground include toilets, showers, BBQ area, picnic tables, and a dump station.

First-come first-served

Pinnacles Campground

While you may make reservation, Pinnacles Campground is also open to those who prefer to just show up. The benefit of first-come, first-served camping is being able to check out each site before making the final decision on where you’ll be staying. This can be an important part of the decision-making process since some sites offer electricity hookups for your RV while others might not. You’ll also find that the vehicle size restrictions might vary from site to site.

The downside to doing a walk-up versus making reservations is you might not be guaranteed your favorite spot either, especially during the busier times of the year. The campsite stays fuller on the weekends, so you’re safer to do a walk-up during the weekdays.

Alternate camping

Off-Park Camping

While there may only be one campground in the park itself, there are lots of other options available outside of the park. There are private campgrounds and resorts nearby that might fit your needs better or offer more creature comforts if you are wanting a little more luxury during your stay.

Seasonal activities in Pinnacles National Park

Spring

Photography

Pinnacles National Park offers all kinds of opportunities for nature photographers thanks to its unique landscape, overlooks, caves, meadows, wildflowers, and wildlife. Taking pictures is a great way to preserve all the memories that you’ll make during your visit here, so grab your camera and get to shooting this incredible national park.

Wildlife Watching

Pinnacles National Park is home to all kinds of diverse wildlife, much of which is rarely seen elsewhere, and some that are protected as sensitive species. Some more commonly seen creatures that call the park home include the bobcat, gray fox, bats, turkey vultures and the coast horned lizard. More elusive residents include mountain lions, western pond turtles and badgers.

Hiking Trails from Pinnacles Campground

If you’re staying at the campground, you won’t have to go very far to find trails around. In fact, there are three different trails you can take that start here, and all of them are labeled to be a moderate level of difficulty. Though labeled as moderate, they can be considerably lengthy trails. The shortest trail here is around two miles and is even wheelchair accessible. The longest one is 9.4 miles, so keep that in mind and be prepared when you head out.

Hiking Trails from Bear Gulch Day Use Area

There are five trails that start at Bear Gulch Day Use Area. The trail going from Moses Spring to Rim Trail Loop is a great choice for bringing the kids along with you, and you’ll get to see all kinds of cool rock formations. You can also hike to the highest point in the park by taking Chalone Peak Trail, a trail totaling a nine-mile round trip if you keep going to South Chalone after making it to North Chalone.

Picnicking

There’s no better place to hold a family picnic than at Pinnacles National Park. Enjoy a great meal with great company while also being surrounded by wonderful scenery. There are many great areas for you to chose from, including three separate picnic areas where you will find amenities such as bathrooms, BBQs and toilets. If you do go picnicking be sure to dispose of all trash so that we can all help to keep this park looking beautiful.

Summer

Campground Store

If you need to escape the heat of Pinnacles National Park in the summer, step into the air conditioned Campground Store. Having a store located within the park is a really handy feature that will hopefully mean you won't have to leave to find what you are looking for. Common things sold at the store include food, water, and souvenirs, which would be a great present for you to take back home with you.

Bear Gulch Nature Center

Take a break from the sun and check out the great exhibits at the Bear Gulch Nature Center. This nature center is a great way to learn more about the park, and the movie that plays throughout the day is especially informative. If you have any specialized questions you can ask the ranger on duty. Check out the tactile map of the Pinnacles Monument, along with other information about the park’s features, habitats and history.

Swimming

While the park may not have any natural bodies of water, there is a swimming pool located at the Pinnacles Campground that is a welcome relief from the weather. Going for a dip can be a great way to cool off on a hot day, just be sure to wear plenty of sun block. The pool is typically open from mid-April to late September, and closes for the fall.

Ranger Programs

Some visitors to Pinnacle National Park love to immerse themselves in all of the information possible about the park. If this is you and you are looking for an engaging and educational experience, participate in one of a number of ranger programs. In the summer, you can join a group for a night hike, or even go to a star party. Try participating the night time activities that are on offer so that you can escape the heat of the day and still explore the park while learning.

Stargazing

There is nothing like looking up in a light pollution-free area and taking in the sights of the distant stars and planets. While it might be too hot for you to enjoy all of the park during the day in the summertime, you can still get lots of enjoyment at night. Stargazing is a family-friendly activity that allows kids to use their imagination while reminding adults about how amazing the world is. If you are looking to improve your stargazing experience we recommend investing in a pair of binoculars.

Fall

Hiking Trails from Old Pinnacles Trailhead

There is only one trail that starts at Old Pinnacles Trailhead, and it goes from Old Pinnacles Trail to Balconies Cave. This trial is labeled to be moderate in difficulty level and totals around a five-and-a-half mile round trip. When you hike this trail, you’ll be able to see some impressive rock formations, including Machete Ridge and Balconies Cliff. Be sure to bring a flashlight when you go so you can safely navigate the caves.

Birdwatching

Birdwatching is a fairly common activity that visitors to Pinnicle National Park enjoy, thanks to the chance to search for some uncommon birds. These species include California Condor, the Canyon Wren, the California Thrasher, and even the Greater Roadrunner. If you’re quiet and attentive, you might be able to see them and maybe even get a picture before they disappear again.

Hiking Trails from Chaparral (West Pinnacles)

There are four trails that start in the West Pinnacles area of the park, and if you’re looking for trails that loop around, you’ll find them here. You can take your pick from Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop, Juniper Canyon Loop, North Wilderness Trail Loop, or High Peaks to Balconies Cave Loop. The longest of all of these is North Wilderness Trail Loop, totaling just over nine strenuous miles. The shortest trail and the one most suited for beginners is Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop that is around 2.5 miles long.

Hiking Trails from West Pinnacles Contact Station

Looking to do some hiking from the West Pinnacles Contact Station? There are two trails to be found here, and both are probably the shortest trails in the entire park, making them ideal for children and elders. Pewitt Point trail is rated to be an easy hike that is less than a mile long. This trail will take you to some great overlooks, but come prepared for lots of bright sunshine as there is little shade. Jawbone Trail is a little longer at just over a mile and is rated easy to moderate.

Rock Climbing

At Pinnacles National Park, rock climbing is one of the most popular recreational activities. Climbing challenges range in levels of difficulty, so whether you’re new at climbing here or are an expert at it, there is something for you to enjoy. Just be sure that you come prepared to climb and follow all safety protocols. People that come to climb between January and July must check raptor advisories to avoid sensitive areas that may host nests, but that’s less of an issue if you come in the fall.

Winter

Scenic Drive

While it may be a challenge to get from one side of the park to the other, you can still take either of the roads that enter the park for a scenic drive. If you have a larger vehicle, you might want to avoid to the west side of Highway 146 as this road will not be suitable. Keep an eye out on your drive for any animal crossings and make sure that you are obeying the signed speed limits.

Winter Hiking

If you love to go hiking then visiting Pinnacle National Park is the perfect time to get out on the trails and enjoy some peace and quiet. By hiking around the park during the winter time you can see all the same breathtaking sights the park has on offer and you won't need to worry about the crowds and blistering heat. One thing to watch out for when hiking during the winter is the weather forecast, as it is the wet season and flooding can make some routes hazardous.

Winter Ranger Programs

There are always different ranger programs happening within Pinnacle National Park, and attending them during your visit is a great way to learn a little more about the history, landscape, and wildlife of the park. Check the park’s event calendar to find out what programs are available during the winter time in order to make the most out of your visit to this awesome place.

Exploring Bear Gulch Cave

If you are interested in bats you must check out Bear Gulch Cave or Balconies Cave. The cave provides a home to a colony of Townsend's big-eared bats, which is the largest maternity colony between San Francisco and Mexico. The opening and closing times of the cave is based strictly on the well-being of the resident bats. Winter is the time that the bats hibernate in the caves, so you’re more likely to see them hanging all around you when you visit during this time.

Mountain Viewing

The mountains within Pinnacles National Park are beautiful all year round, but even more so in the winter as they become topped with glistening white snow. Don’t miss your opportunity to take a snapshot of its wintery perfection while you’re staying here at Pinnacles National Park. You can even do this from the windows of your car while you’re on the road or during one of the many hiking trails that will give you a glimpse of the snowy tops.

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