Pinnacles National Parks



Visit at June 06, 2021; Balconies Cave was close to visitors

What? : Pinnacles NP is the best place to see the rare California Condor flying over the pinnacle’s. on top of the rare Condors this newest member of the National Parks system offers several exiting hiking options that includes small caves, water reservoir, mountain ridge, viewing pinnacle towers and a wilderness area.


Where? : Located in central California at the mountain ridge east of highway 101 and west of California highway 25, south of Hollister. The main, west, park access is 32 miles south of Hollister on highway 25. The east park entrance is at the end of highway 146 east of Soledad (small town on hwy 101).

Google Map Link


When? : The park is open year round but the best time to visit here is during the cooler months, it is hot during the summer.


Due note 1: Compare to other national parks the Pinnacles is a small National park that offer relatively small number of hiking options.


Due note 2: There are 2 different entrance to the park (east and west) and they are not connected by inside park road.


Due note 3: Look for cave opening, they may be close for bat colony hibernating.


Due note 4: The only campsite available in the park is at the east entrance at the visitor center near the creek, no wilderness overnight camping.


My thoughts: I visit this small National Park many times, always amazed by the Pinnacles ridge and the upper trail and by the flying Condors from above. The best way to see the Condors is from the ridge top where they fly closer.


The visit:

Few words about the California Condors:

The entire world California Condor population was on the verge of extinction, in 1982 only 22 Condors were living in captivity. After a lot of breeding in captivity efforts during the 80’s and 90’s few Condors were release to the nature in 1992. Today there are 100 free Condors living in the wild, mainly of them in California.

For more information:


Do not confuse the Condor with the Turkey Vultures that can also be spotted in the park.

Both birds have “similar” appearance, but Condors are much bigger, has large bold orang head (young has black head) and their white wing coloring start near the wing front bone while the Turkey Vultures (common bird) are smaller, their white coloring is at the feathers edge and has much smaller red head.

All California condors have at least one tag along the leading edge of their wing, and many have two.

Need to understand that the Condors are free birds, and it is not guaranteed you will spot them at your park visit. I think that is spotted Condors around 50% of my park visits, some was far away but in some cases nearby flying above my head.

Best place to see Condors is from the high pinnacle ridge trails, usually during the morning and afternoon.


There are east and west park entrances and there is not any direct road that connect between them.

If you plan to visit the parks small caves (one at the east and one at the west) bring flashlights (cell phone light may be enough) and check in advance if the caves are open to hikers, during mid-May to mid-July they may be closed for bat colony hibernating.


East entrance:

The main park entrance is from the East (out of hwy 25), you can find a small visitor center, shop, and the only available park campsite.

During morning and afternoon, you can see many Turkey Vultures on the treetops near the park entrance.


Not so much to do at the small Visitor Center and there are few hiking options depending on time you have and difficulty levels.


Bear Gulch Day Use Area:

This is a popular trailhead; you can head from here into different hikes.


2.1-mile, hike (if you park at Bear Gulch Day Use Area, Red color):

Moses Spring Trail --> Bear Gulch Caves (bring flashlights or use phone) --> Bear Gulch Reservoir --> going up 0.6-mile on the Rim trail and then head back down to Moses Spring Trail.


5.5 miles, hike with climbing to the upper ridge section (Orange color):

From Bear Gulch Reservoir --> Rim trail to High Peaks trail all the way up --> High Peaks trail including the trail section between the pinnacles --> Condor Gulch Trail all the way down, back to the parking lot.


7.4 miles, Hike to the North Chalone Peak watch tower (Orange color, Map2):

Out and back on the same trail, can be connected to the upper ridge section trail.

From Bear Gulch Reservoir --> Chalone Peak trail all the way to the watchtower (climbing 2,000 f).


8.3 miles hike, Hike option starting from Chalone Creek (Light Blue color, Map2):

High Peaks trail --> Juniper Canyon Trail --> Chaparral parking --> Balconies Trail --> Balconies Caves Trail (need flashlight) --> Old Pinnacle Trail


West entrance:

Out of the 101 take the narrow hwy 146 up to West Pinnacles Visitor Contact Station; Continue to Chaparral Trailhead Parking at the end of the road.


4 miles, Hiking High Peaks loop (Blue color):

Juniper Canyon Trail --> take the right turn to High Peaks Trail --> reaching the top of the ridge --> turn left to High Peaks Trail edge trail between the pinnacles --> left to Tunnel Trail going down --> turn right down to Juniper Canyon Trail


1.7 miles, Visit Balconies Caves (Purple color):

Another short option to hike from the east parking is to Balconies Caves. This is an easy hike, total of 1.7 miles out and back.