We arrived at Pinnacles National Park on a dark and rainy December afternoon. After having spent the previous month in the bright sunshine in Palm Springs, it was a bit of a shock to the system, but it also felt a little like being welcomed toward home for us Oregonians. Even in the rain and fog, there was beauty.
The campground was simple but nice – lots of large old oak trees and a giant bluff at our backs. Our site even had power, not a given at a national park campground. There were water spigots throughout the campground for community use. They did freeze up overnight while we were there, so if you go in winter, plan ahead. Several small rustic cabins dotted the edge of the campground, but I am guessing they had no heat as they also had no people in them. A little store and ranger-staffed visitor information center were within walking distance.
Pinnacles is one of our country’s newest national parks, and is California’s ninth. The park, situated in central California nearly due east of Monterey, is known as a place to hike, rock climb, and look for wildlife, particularly raptors and critically endangered California Condors. Seeing the condors sitting heavily in the trees on the top of the bluff and circling slowly over the high peaks with their nine-foot wingspans was certainly a highlight of our trip to this park. We actually saw lots of birds in this park, and would definitely spend more time birding if we returned.
We also did a great hike on the Condor Gulch Trail heading up toward the High Peaks Trail. We started out a little bit late in the day because it was below freezing when we woke up and we wanted things to warm up a bit before starting out. Since we were near the shortest days of the year, that meant we didn’t leave ourselves enough time to do the entire loop, but it was still a beautiful hike. The sun came out and warmed us right up, and the views in every direction, particularly those of the pinnacles themselves, were really beautiful. Their deep color and interesting topography contrasting with the sky was simply gorgeous.
We saw only a few people on our hike, but apparently in spring and fall in particular, this park is extremely popular. Its proximity to large cities makes it a popular day trip or weekend jaunt. A shuttle bus was setting up to take hikers into the trailheads on the weekend as we were leaving, in fact, because parking is so limited in the hiking areas, and it wasn’t even high season!
Pinnacles is a beautiful place, but it seems to us more like a state park than a national park. The condors do put it over the top on that front for us, but otherwise, it was a pretty place to visit with some nice hiking. If you’ve been there, let us know if you agree or disagree with that assessment.
In any case, we’re glad we had the chance to explore Pinnacles — the 53rd national park we’ve visited! We’re heading to Vietnam and Thailand to explore next, but we do have plans to visit our 54th US national park in December. We have only ten parks left to visit, by the way – Congaree, Gates of the Arctic, Great Smoky Mountains, Isle Royale, Katmai, Kobuk Valley, Lake Clark, New River Gorge, Shenandoah, and Voyageurs. Which one do you think will be the next for us?
Enjoy your next adventure, whether it’s for a week or a weekend!