Pinnacles National Park is known as the People’s Park and it is the final park we visited on our three-day weekend excursion to central California. We are excited to finally explore Pinnacles National Park! The previous two days were filled with impressive historical sequoia trees, beautiful landscapes, and stunning sunsets! For every new national park we visit, we have a new found appreciation and desire to explore more parks, landmarks, and nature. Read about our visit to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park here:
Pinnacles National Park is an interesting park in that it is actually part of the San Andreas Fault Zone (running east of the park). Did you know? San Andreas Fault system is part of the Ring of Fire; a zone of earthquake and volcanic activity that partially encircles the Pacific Ocean. This park is a result of a combination of heat, frost, water, and wind wearing away rock. The caves are also a result of fault action and earthquake activity created by boulders falling into deep, narrow gorges and getting stuck between the rock walls.
The People’s Park:
During the 1700s, the Pinnacles’ Native Americans; the Chalon and Mutsun Indians, were hunter-gatherers and harvested on the local resources. Later, when emigrants arrived, Pinnacles became a popular place for activities, picnics, camping, and exploring.
When you explore Pinnacles National Park, you will take paths that lead you to unbelievable views, caves, and landscapes. The hiking paths include Juniper Canyon Trail, Tunnel Trail, High Peaks Trail, Condor Gulch Trail, Old Pinnacles Trail, Balconies Cave Trail.
Journey To The Park
We hit the road toward Pinnacles around 9:00 a.m. after meeting up with friend and FitlifeandTravel guest blogger, Sam, at our hotel in Salinas. Sam was also traveling and exploring Santa Cruz and Monterey areas over the weekend and shared her interesting trip with us as well. She departed San Diego Thursday night drove directly through the areas where the large massive fires were near Los Angeles/Ventura. And luckily she finally made it to her destination in Santa Cruz.
Formulate A Plan
After following a couple detours along highway 101, we finally arrived at the park entrance to use the restrooms and have a chat with the park ranger. We formulated our plan to explore Pinnacles National Park and map out to venture into Bear Gulch Cave, Balconies Cave, and see the California Condors. However, things did not go the way we planned exactly, but we still had an amazing experience.
We began hiking from the Chaparral Parking Area and continued on the Juniper Canyon Trail. As we were approaching the Tunnel Trail, it was becoming a bit challenging with gradual inclines and switchbacks. It was only a short while into the trail, when we looked up and saw two large condors flying near one of the mountain peaks. I enjoy hiking trails when you can indulge yourself into nature with large boulders and colorful rock formations.
Taking The Wrong Trail
Some of the trails intersect with each other and can be difficult choosing which path to take. We had intentions of taking the trail that leads to Bear Gulch Cave Trail, (to explore Bear Gulch Cave) this is where we chose the wrong trail route and ended up at the Overlook on the Condor Gulch Trail. (We only saw Condors earlier on the hiking trail).
Explore Pinnacles National Park Wildlife
We continue on a decline trail of switchbacks and narrow paths towards Old Pinnacles Trailhead Parking lot area. We sat and rested in this area for a short while. Finally, we decide to continue on this trail where it took us through a tree filled hillside, through a canopy of trees, then out to an open dried up creek bed. (West Fork Chalone Creek) This is where we encountered a wild bobcat roaming around. My husband grabbed the Nikon and took off toward the bobcat. As he was photographing him, he told me it was like the bobcat was sitting there posing for him.
Explore Pinnacles National Park Caves
Shortly after our wild animal encounter with the bobcat, we then proceed towards Balconies Cave. We continue on the Old Pinnacles Trail to Balconies Cave.
We probably had already hiked nine miles at this point because we took the wrong trail earlier. The journey through the cave is very cool, literally. Combine it with nearly total darkness, quiet and silence that you can hear yourself taking every breath. You can probably hear a pin drop. Inside the cave is thrilling as you find your way out to the other side of the cave. It is suggested to have a flashlight or headlamp to help guide you so you do not get lost. Check out the video of the cave adventure here:
Bear Gulch Cave
Now this cave, Bear Gulch, is the cave we originally planned to explore. Here are some details about why this cave is so intriguing. There is a bat maternity colony known as the Townsend big eared bats that call Bear Gulch Cave home. Parts of this cave are closed during specific seasons and times in order to protect the bats while they rest and raise their young. Townsend big eared bats are considered a sensitive species by the state of California.
The journey through Pinnacles National Park was amazing! Despite the past couple days of experiencing smoke filled hazy skies, it was a beautiful day with blue skies and sunshine.
By the end of our day exploring; we hiked about 11 miles, scrambling over rocks in Balconies Cave, and enjoyed a backdrop of massive boulders and stunning landscape views. Here are the many activities you can do at Pinnacles National Park.
- Explore Caves
- Rock Climbing
- Enjoy Plants and Trees
- Birds-Condors and Bats
Here is more information to plan your visit: