We visited Pinnacles National Park for a few hours in mid-October 2022, as part of Big Trip #4.
We thought Sequoia National Park was the last national park we’d be visiting in California, and then we looked at the route from our campground in Three Rivers (near Sequoia) to our next campground in Marina, on the coast. There was a national park kind of on the way! We decided to stop by Pinnacles National Park for a hike on the drive west.
Pinnacles is a newer national park, just attaining the status in 2013, and it’s the smallest in California. The park is known for its pinnacle rock formations–eroded remains of an ancient volcano–and California condors, the largest North American land bird.
There are two entrances to Pinnacles, and they’re only connected by hiking trails. We considered hikes on both sides of the park before realizing RVs should only use the east entrance. I feel like that wasn’t said loudly enough on the internet when we were researching: if you’re pulling a trailer, go to the east entrance! The east entrance has a visitor center and a nice campground with a pool and showers, and some of the RV sites have power. I can tell you nothing about the west entrance (other than: don’t drive your RV there), but this website has a detailed write-up comparing the two sides of the park.
Parking at trailheads in Pinnacles is awful–the lots are tiny, and the cars plentiful. We dropped off the Airstream in a big picnic area parking lot near the visitor center, set up Bugsy in her (our) comfortable bed in the shade (no dogs are allowed on the trails), and drove the truck down to our chosen hike, only to find hordes of hikers and cars circling like vultures (or condors).
If you have a bike, you could park at the visitor center (or your campsite, if you’re camping) and cruise down to the trailheads to avoid dealing with the tiny parking lots. We lucked out and got a spot before J lost his mind and went hiking.
We chose the 6-mile Condor Gulch – High Peaks loop and it was wonderful. Beautiful colors, wild hoodoos, and condors! We saw two condors cruising around! The sound their enormous wings make is wild, like an airplane flying by.
The hike wasn’t too crowded for all the cars in the parking lot, but there were a lot of people at Bear Gulch Reservoir and Bear Gulch Cave toward the end. On a busier day the steep, narrow section of the trail might be frustrating to navigate.
Pinnacles National Park is a super little park and if you’re in the area you should check it out!