Pinnacles National Park: Tips on the Newest U.S. National Park

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Pinnacles National Park: Tips on the Newest U.S. National Park
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Pinnacles National Park. (Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/parksjd.)

Pinnacles National Park is the newest of the 59 national parks in the United States and earned its status as a national park earlier this year. The park was originally designated a national monument area in 1910 by President Theodore Roosevelt, and its original borders have been expanded through the years to its present size of 26,606 acres.

The park is close to Soledad and San Jose, California and was originally the remains of an ancient volcano and lava field. The park contains wilderness areas with a wide variety of unique geological formations, including the San Andreas Fault Line, the Miner's Gulch, and Pinnacles faults. Gorges in the park are often deep and narrow and feature shear fractures to form numerous talus caves. These caves have been found to contain more than 13 species of bats, and the park is the perfect place to view other wildlife, including California condors, elk, antelope, prairie falcons, bobcats, turkey, wild pigs, and other birds and animals.

Important Things to Remember When Visiting

The park charges entrance fees that can range from $5 to $100, depending on the vehicle that is used to enter the park and the number in your party.

While both the eastern and western entrances to the park can be accessed via Highway 146, there is not an actual road that travels through the park and connects the entrances.

Most of the terrain within the park is rugged and isolated. While there is a limited amount of snacks and drinks such as water available for sale at the entrance, this convenience store is only open for a few hours each weekday afternoon, so it is important to ensure that you pack enough food and water before you visit, along with camping gear such as flashlights.

The climate is quite hot during the summer months, so you may wish to plan your visit during the cooler spring or fall months.

Camping is only allowed in designated areas on the eastern side of the park, and certain portions of the park, such as various caves, may not always be open year-round.

Dogs must be on a leash in the campground and are not allowed on the trails.

Fires are not allowed in the park or campground at any time.

Things to Do When Visiting Pinnacles National Park

In addition to providing a perfect place to enjoy a scenic picnic or take a trip to see various birds and animals, the park also has campgrounds, and the natural scenic beauty can be best enjoyed by hiking more than 30 miles of trails in the park. Tent, RV, and group sites are available for campers, and reservations can be made by calling 877-444-6777.

Additional accommodations can be found in inns and hotels in the nearby towns of Hollister and King City.

Hiking trails range from easy to extremely strenuous, with the most popular including the Bench Trail, the Moses Spring to Rim Trail Loop, the Condor Gulch to High Peaks Loop, High Peaks to Bear Gulch Loop, Old Pinn Trail, North Wilderness Trail and Juniper Canyon Loops, and the Chalone Peak Trail.

Many of these trails allow access to the Balconies and Bear Gulch Caves; however, these caves are only open during certain seasons in order to protect the bats that may be nesting and raising their offspring. The caves may also close suddenly due to extreme weather conditions. Visitors can check the park's website for status updates for the caves, as well as other alerts.

In addition to hiking, the park also offers several sites that provide challenging climbs to experienced rock climbers, such as the Destiny climb found along the Machete Ridge Trail, Chockstone Dome, the Tilting Terrace on the Flumes Formation, the Unmentionable on the High Peaks and the Sponge, and the Burgundy Dome. Most of the rock formations are made of volcanic breccia, so climbers more used to granite or other types of rock forms should take care when they first approach rock climbing in the park. Rock climbing ranges from the beginner level to climbs that are only recommended for the most experienced climbers, and even then, extreme caution is still urged.

My family first enjoyed visiting Pinnacles National Park a few years ago, when it was still designated as a monument area. Our children enjoyed exploring the caves, seeing the wildlife in the park, and learning about the area through programs presented by one of the park's rangers. The park is the perfect place to spend an afternoon walk to see and enjoy nature or to enjoy longer hikes using the park's campground as a base.

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