Pinnacles National Park
Guide

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Introduction

You may not believe it, but the beautiful Pinnacles National Park was born from natural disasters. Much of the area in California was formed from volcano eruptions that shook up everything in their wake for thousands of years. Ash and lava weren’t the only things carving this park into what it is today though - the San Andreas Fault Line is here too, and there have been other forces of change, such as water and chemical erosion. The result of these natural disasters has slowly created an incredibly unique landscape for all to enjoy. In fact, this park receives 250 thousand visitors each year - including lots of RVers - and is home to all kinds of wildlife, including some rare and endangered species.

The weather within the park consists of hot and dry summers and mild winters. The good thing is that there is no bothersome humidity. Dehydration can be a real issue in these areas though, 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. Hiking is popular activity here at the park, and the best times to hike are the spring and fall, so it’s not too hot or cold. When you visit Pinnacles National Park in your RV, you’ll get to set up your base camp and 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. So what are you waiting for? Start packing.

Park Alerts (2)

[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

The West Visitor Contact Station is temporarily closed. The west entrance remains open.

RV Rentals in Pinnacles National Park

Transportation in Pinnacles National Park

Driving

There are two entrances to Pinnacles National Park - the East and West entrances - but even though they are both on highway 146, the road is interrupted by the rock formations and does not actually connect 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’re taking a bigger rig.

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. Even the tent camping sites allow for up to two vehicles to pa right 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, saving you time and energy. You can also walk from place to place throughout the park. 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

Santa Cruz / Monterey Bay KOA

Enjoy 300 days of sunshine every year at the family-friendly, multiple award-winning Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA on the California coast. The Monterey Bay Aquarium, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, the Roaring Camp Railroads, Pebble Beach golf course and historic Monterey are all easily accessible. The campground features a new 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.

Salinas / Monterey KOA

The Salinas/Monterey KOA is just seven miles from the coast and within easy driving distance of the Monterey Aquarium, whale watching at Moss Landing and the Elkhorn Slough Safari. Local wineries, Monarch Grove Sanctuary, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk and the National Steinbeck Center are also easy to drive to and enjoy from the campground. Biking, climbing, hiking and other outdoor recreation are all nearby. Campground amenities include full hookups, 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.

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 a varied vacation experience with places for water activities, land activities, and areas to just relax and enjoy the culture of this small coastal town nestled between Monterey and Santa Cruz. Moss Landing KOA offers amenities like cable TV, fishing, 50-amp hookups, and sites for rigs up to 60 feet. This seaside spot is the ideal place to stay for marine lovers interested in a relaxing Monterey County vacation.

Los Banos West / I-5 KOA

Cool breezes coming in from the San Luis Reservoir make for a comfortable stay at Los Banos West/I-5 KOA. With shaded areas and quiet, road-noise free nights, Los Banos West/I-5 KOA is the perfect place to set up camp. This place is big-rig friendly with pull-through sites to accommodate rigs up to 90 feet. The Los Banos KOA also features a crystal-clear swimming pool, renovated patio and Texas-style grill. Enjoy horseshoes, croquet and grass areas for the kids to play. 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. Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, and Monterey Bay are all within a two-hour drive from this perfectly situated campground.

Pinnacles Campground

This is the only campground within the park, but it is a great one. 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 6 months in advance, while group sites can be reserved up to 12 months in advance. There are about 28 RV electric sites to choose from, and every campsite has 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 6 feet long.

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 doing this 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.

Seasonal activities in Pinnacles National Park

Spring

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. Just be sure to dispose of all trash so that we can keep this park looking beautiful.

Hiking Trails from Bear Gulch Day Use Area

There are 5 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 totalling 9 miles round trip if you keep going to South Chalone after making it to North Chalone.

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 trials. The shortest trial here is 2.3 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.

Wildlife Watching

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

Photography

Pinnacles National Park offers all kinds of opportunities for nature photographers with its unique landscape, overlooks, caves, meadows, wildflowers, wildlife, and so much more. 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.

Summer

Ranger Programs

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. This way, you can escape the heat of the day and still explore the park while learning a bit too.

Stargazing

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 from it at night, when you can go out, look up at the sky, and see brilliant stars winking right back at you.

Swimming

While the park may not have any natural bodies of water, there is a swimming pool located at the Pinnacles Campground. 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.

Bear Gulch Nature Center

Take a break from the sun and check out the exhibits at the Bear Gulch Nature Center. This former visitors center is now home to a tactile map of the Pinnacles Monument, along with other information about the park’s features, habitats and history.

Campground Store

If you need to escape the heat of Pinnacles National Park in the summer, step into the air conditioned Campground Store. You never know what you’ll find here, but it’s worth a stop to look around. You might find something that you need, or even a souvenir for you to take back home with you.

Fall

Birdwatching

Birdwatching is a fairly common activity here, and visitors can enjoy searching for the rare 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 this 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, totalling 9.3 strenuous miles. The shortest is Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop at only 2.4 miles.

Hiking Trails from West Pinnacles Contact Station

There are two trails 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 .9 mile hike. It’ll take you to some great overlooks, but come prepared for lots of bright sunshine as there is little shade. Jawbone Trail is 1.2 miles long and is rated easy to moderate.

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 5.3 miles 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.

Rock Climbing

At Pinnacles National Park, rock climbing is a popular activity. 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 and stay safe. 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

Winter Hiking

Winter is the perfect time for some peace and quiet, and what better place than out on the trails in the off-season? You can see all the same breathtaking sights the park has on offer, without the crowds and blistering heat. Take precautions and check conditions though; this is the wet season and flooding can make some routes hazardous.

Winter Ranger Programs

There are always different ranger programs happening here, 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 when you come.

Exploring Bear Gulch Cave

The opening and closing times of the caves is based strictly on the well-being of the resident Townsend's big-eared 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 go.

Scenic Drive

While it may be a challenge to get from one side of the park to the other, you can still take either road for a scenic drive. Don’t let that stop you from seeing all the beautiful scenery that this park has to offer you. Take your car instead of heading out on foot. Just remember the west side of highway 146 isn’t suitable for larger vehicles.

Mountain Photography

The mountains here are beautiful in the winter time, 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 driving on the road.

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