America’s 59th National Park
Today, the President signed into law, the conversion of Pinnacles National Monument into Pinnacles National Park. Pinnacles is now the USA's 59th national park and the 9th in California. Pinnacles is located east of the Salinas Valley in the central part of the state.
The pinnacles are the remains of an extinct volcano. Actually, it’s half of a volcano – the other half is almost 200 miles south, split in two by the nearby San Andreas Fault. Hiking and rock climbing are popular. Pinnacles National Park is best seen from its hiking trails – very little can be seen from its parking lots. Most trails are moderate to strenuous.
- Rock formations – the volcanic rock has a pink color and is very tough. Casual rock climbing is easy due to the very rough surface. Technical rock climbing is restricted to certain locations
- Caves - there are 2 sets of talus caves at Pinnacles. Both caves are accessible by hiking trails that pass through, although you can bypass the caves on alternate trails. Sometimes one or both caves are closed due to high water or endangered species protection.
- Wildflowers – it’s the variety that makes Pinnacles special. The rocky, thin soil and dry climate can’t support a lot of plant life. Chaparral and few scrubby pines are mixed in with the pinnacles. There isn’t much shade here.
- Wildlife – deer, turkeys, jays and woodpeckers are common near the east visitor’s center. Turkey vultures, crows and lizards are common in the higher elevations. Condors are hit-or-miss, but when the flock is around, you may see as many as a dozen. (Pinnacles is a California Condor release site, but they range out to Big Sur and they aren’t always present here).
I first visited Pinnacles National Monument in the 60’s. At that time, the east campground was along Chalone Creek within the park. That campground was eventually closed (along with the west campground) in favor of a private campground outside the eastern boundary. A few years ago, the park was enlarged to include the formerly private campground.
The park is one of my favorite hiking and photography locations. The best time of the year for visiting is fall, winter or spring – it’s too hot in the summer when 100°F temperatures are routine. You can drive to Pinnacles from Solidad on US-101 to CA-146 or from Holister on CA-25 to CA-146. CA-146 does not connect CA-25 to US-101; no road connects the east and west sides. Pinnacles is a 1½ - 2½ hour drive from the S.F. Bay Area.