Pinnacles National Park, California – 2 great family hikes

Pinnacles National Park - Tall rocky pinnacles towering over Bear Gulch ReservoirPinnacles National Park in California is the newest national park in the United States. And as such this park is not very well known. This is a good thing especially in California where the national parks get very busy starting with the spring are become very difficult to visit getting very busy with tourists. Pinnacles National Park was very easy to visit since they were not that many people even on a Saturday. Our family enjoyed two great hikes which were also a lot of fun.

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What to expect at Pinnacles National Park?

We have traveled to this new national park without knowing exactly what to expect. It was on our way to and from Monterey and we have always wanted to visitit. We knew it was in a dry area of California and we expected a lot of desert type of terrain.

However, at the beginning of May, we were surprised to find lots of green vegetation, spring flowers and streams meandering through the park.

East Pinnacles National Park – Bear Gulch Reservoir and dam seen from the Rim Trail
Pinnacles National Park - Bear Gulch Reservoir and dam seen from the Rim Trail
See more photos from East Pinnacles National Park

The highlights for us where the two trails that featured rugged and tall, rocky peaks (the pinnacles) and narrow and twisty caves. Our kids really enjoyed the hikes and they actually referred to them as very fun. Since my daughter doesn’t like hiking, to hear her saying that these trails were fun was great!

Bear Gulch Cave and Cliffs loop trail

Bear Gulch is a narrow short canyon otherwise known as a gulch. It is located on the East side of Pinnacles Mational Park, which is the most developed side.

Pinnacles National Park – The Bear Gulch Cave trail going under massive boulders
Pinnacles National Park - The Bear Gulch Cave trail going under massive boulders
See more photos from East Pinnacles National Park

This is a well maintained trail that has many elements in it: forest, streams, caves and high cliffs. Once we made it to Bear Gulch reservoir we decided to return on the high cliffs trail so we completed the loop giving us a great perspective from above.

If you are looking to visit Pinnacles you can find budget hotels in the nearby King City which is a good point for visiting both the East and West sides of the park.

Balconies Cave and High Cliffs loop trail

On the West side we did a similar loop but the trail was called Balconies and a featured a cave and a return loop going on top of the cliffs.

Pinnacles National Park West – Tall rocks and sharp edges on the Balconies Cave Trail
Pinnacles National Park - Tall rocks and sharp edges on the Balconies Cave Trail
See more photos from West Pinnacles National Park

Balconies trail is very similar to Bear Gulch trail. The only difference is that the Balconies Cave is much shorter than the cave at Bear Gulch. However, this cave has a lot more twists and turns and the trail has a lot more rock scrambling than Bear Gulch. This was a lot of fun for our kids.

Pinnacles National Park West – Balconies Trail weaving its way among tall peaks
Pinnacles National Park West - Balconies Trail weaving its way among tall peaks
See more photos from West Pinnacles National Park

If you are just interested in visiting West Pinnacles you can stay much closer in Soledad. You can find budget hotels in Soledad here.

My best tips for planning your trip to Pinnacles

Since there is no road that connects the east and the west sides of the park we visited Pinnacles in two separate visits. Going north to Monterey we stopped on the East side while on our way back south from Monterey we stopped on the West side of the park.

This means that if you want to see both the East and the West side of the park you need to add a good hour and a half to loop around from one side to the other.

If you are looking to visit Pinnacles you can find budget hotels in the nearby King City which is a good point for visiting both the East and West sides of the park. If you just have time to visit West Pinnacles the you can stay much closer in Soledad. You can search for great hotel prices in Soledad here.

If you plan on visiting you must check the official Pinnacles web page beacause these really fun caves are closed frequently. Just check before you go.

Is it worth visiting Pinnacles National Park?

Absolutely! Summers can be very hot, but a visit to this newest park will prove to be a lot of fun for the entire family.

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