Location: Pinnacles National Park
Directions: east side entrance – off of Hwy 146 via Hwy 25 (32 miles south of Hollister, CA and 29 miles northeast of King City, CA)
Campground: Pinnacles campground, $23/night, open year round
Park entrance fee: $15
Date of visit: April 2016
With three days of rain in the forecast, we left our home for Pinnacles National Park not knowing what to expect from our weekend. We considered cancelling our campsite reservations for half a second, but having made them 6 months in advance for the exact campsite we wanted, we weren’t going to give up that easily. Also, we wanted to test out how the campervan would fare in the rain. The rain started picking up as we got closer to Pinnacles and we braced ourselves for whatever “adventure” we were about to experience.
We had reservations at Pinnacles campground on the east side of the park. There are two entrances to the park with no roads that connect the two sides (it takes 2 hours to drive from one entrance to the other). The east side has a visitor center, nature center, store, campground, camp pool (seasonal), showers, and easier access to the Bear Gulch cave and reservoir. The westside looks to have a ranger station (“Visitor Contact Station”) and easier access to the Balconies cave. We arrived at the campground on Friday a little after 6 pm and were surprised at how many campers were already there braving the weather. I was really impressed with all of the tent campers that weren’t going to let a little rain ruin their camping. The sign said to check-in at the visitor center, but when we got there we found it had closed at 5 pm. Hubby found the park ranger sitting on a chair under the eaves of the store (adjacent to the visitor center) eating his ice cream bar and checking people in.
We had reserved site #35 (standard, non electric) after looking at campsitephotos.com and google maps, and were extremely happy when we pulled up to it in person. Exactly like the photo and very private. Many of the sites on that loop (Loop B) looked good, #34 was larger and just as private. Other sites on the loop were more open and good for families/groups that wanted to have sites together. The sites that were on the main road through the campground were very open with little to no privacy. As my hubby reminded me though, some people like that.
We hunkered in for the night and were happy that the campervan did exceptionally well in the rain even with the penthouse top up. There was the normal condensation on the windows in the morning and the canvas was slightly damp, but overall, everything stayed dry inside.
The rain had stopped sometime in the middle of the night and we were excited about getting out on a hike. We had slept in a bit, got dressed in our layers and had a big breakfast. As we were cleaning up, hubby came back from throwing the trash away and said we needed to leave in 5 minutes! He said everyone was packing up and there was going to be a mass exodus from the campground. We needed to get up to the Bear Gulch parking area to secure a parking spot! Aye, Aye captain! We literally threw things wherever we could stow them for the drive up, brought the penthouse top down (latched it) and took off. He was right, everyone had their trunks open and looked like they were in the final stages of clean up. We headed up the couple of miles to the Bear Gulch day use area. There were only a few spots left in the parking lot and we were able to secure one (at about 9:30 am). In about 5 minutes, all of the spots were filled and cars were piling up. The alternative to parking up at the Bear Gulch area is to to park at the visitor center (or overflow parking) and take a shuttle up. The shuttles came pretty frequently (about 20-30 minute intervals) and many people seemed to be taking advantage of this service.
Except for about 5 minutes at the beginning of our hike, it didn’t rain at all the rest of the day. There were occasional puddles and rocks that were a bit slippery, but the trails were just fine for hiking. The temperature stayed around 65°F and felt very pleasant with the sun peeking out every once in awhile. Turned out to be a beautiful spring day. Pinnacles is famous for its wildflowers that bloom in the springtime and all their different colors painted the landscape. The brochure said that there are over 100 species of wildflowers, we lost count at about 20. They say the best months to see the wildflowers are March, April and May. You could tell that some flowers were in the final stages of their bloom, while other plants were filled with buds ready to bloom in the future.
Pinnacles is home to many birds including the California condors, golden eagles and turkey vultures which were flying over us (we think) throughout our hike. Pinnacles is a release site for captive bred California condors and they have a program that monitors the condors. My daughter (unlike myself) was able to capture some great bird photos.
She’s fully into nature photography now!Pinnacles National Park was formed from multiple volcano eruptions that occurred hundreds of millions of years ago. The famous rock spires, talus caves, wildflowers, reservoir are some of the many interesting things you will see at the park. Pinnacles is primarily a hiking park. The park is only about 26,000 acres with a little over 30 miles of trails. Unlike other parks such as Yosemite, where you can drive to places and see the sights, you have to hike to see most things of interest in Pinnacles. We spent about 5.5 hours out on the trails and were completely spent by the time we got back to the van. This was truly an amazing hike! Hike post to come. No wonder this park got its National Park designation in 2013 (although it has been a National Monument since 1908).
On the way back to the campground we stopped at the Pinnacles store and were happy to see it fully stocked with many varieties of ice creams. We celebrated our hike with an ice cream bar (or two). I’m telling you, Pinnacles has it all!
Back at the campsite.
Couple of other places to check out in the park:
Bacon Ranch east of the visitor center. Park in the day use area and walk east about a quarter of a mile on the path/service road, cross the wooden bridge and you will see the Bacon ranch directly ahead. There is a brochure that we picked up at the visitor center that explained the history and significance of this ranch. We walked around, read from the brochure and tried to imagine living on Ben Bacon’s homestead where they farmed without modern equipement and irrigation back in the 19th century. Ben Bacon was one of the first settlers in Bear Valley and was one of the most successful homesteaders of his time. They’ve preserved some of the structures and surrounding fields to look as they did in the 1870s.
If you want to see the Pinnacles mountain, but don’t want to hike, there is a parking area you can drive to, across from the Welcome to Pinnacles stone structure that allows for a peek at the pinnacles mountains. These were the kinds of pictures we took from there.
The drive along Hwy 25 after you leave the park is so picturesque with the green rolling hills and majestic oak trees here and there to create points of interest. I told my daughter to take a nap because her eyes were half closed already, but she said she couldn’t because she didn’t want to miss all the beautiful scenery. Totally know what she meant!