Pinnacles National Park.
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7 BEST Hikes in Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park only got its national park status back in 2013 but has always been a popular place for an epic hike!

The park got its name from the incredible rock formations that seem to push themselves upwards out of the earth, forming strange, pinnacle-like structures.

The pinnacles are actually the remains of a volcano, moving nearly 200 miles from where they were originally through displacement on the San Andreas Fault.

Nina walking along a cliff edge underneath a rocky overhang with a view of rocks and trees in Pinnacles National Park.
Nina along the Bear Gulch Trail.

Although these incredible rocks are the main attraction here, the park also has several exciting caves to explore, cool camping opportunities, and tons of wildlife.

We were blown away while hiking Pinnacles National Park! We can’t believe how underrated this national park is. There are a few things to note before visiting though, so here’s the low down!


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Pinnacles National Park: East VS West

The park has two main entrances, the East and the West Entrance.

The west side of the park is a good option if you are coming from the coast. Monterey is one of the closest cities, only an hour away.

Nina hiking besides a huge rock in Pinnacles National Park on a sunny day.
There are HUGE rock formations everywhere!

The east side is more easily reached by some central California cities like Fresno, about two and a half hours away.

Santa Cruz and San Jose are only about an hour and a half away from either side of the park.

Although there is a road that leads to both entrances, there is no road that leads all the way through the park.

A stunning view over giant rocks in Pinnacles National Park and over a cloud inversion in a distant valley.
What an amazing view over Pinnacles National Park!

To drive from the east side to the west takes about an hour and a half, so this is why you might want to enjoy and focus on just one side of the park for the day.

The good news is, there’s no “bad” side! So if you only have time for one side, just choose the side you’re closest to below and enjoy some prime hikes in Pinnacles National Park!

Pinnacles Hikes on The East Side

This was the first side we started with, and just WOW! Truly, you have probably never seen scenery like this. Condors flying above, caves, and insane pinnacles towering overhead—legendary!

Here are the best Pinnacle trails on the west side…

1. Condor Gulch Trail

Distance: 2 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 534 feet

The Condor Gulch Trail is short and sweet, taking you from the Visitor Center up to an incredible viewpoint overlooking Pinnacles National Park.

Nina hiking along the Condor Gulch Trail with views of a sunny Pinnacles National Park.
The scenery is perfect along the Condor Gulch Trail.

Yes, you are going up the whole time, but it’s nothing too crazy or steep, and as you climb, you’ll be accompanied by views of the beautiful rock formations as you traverse the canyon walls up to the Pinnacles themselves.

When you reach the overlook, you are in a prime viewing position to see Condors soaring above the rocks, so bring some binoculars if you want to see them in more detail.

Nina standing at a viewpoint on the Condor Gulch Trail summit with a view over the sunny valley.
Nina admiring the overlook… waiting for condors!

There are only about 500 left in the world, although it is far from the only bird species found in the park, so keep your eyes peeled! We luckily got to see a bunch of them along this trail but they were a bit difficult to snap of a pic of that’s for sure.

At about 1.7 miles at the intersection, you can turn left and join the High Peaks Trail if you want to extend the hike, but bear in mind that it is very exposed, so sun protection is a must!

2. Moses Spring Trail to Bear Gulch Reservoir

Distance: 1.2 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 314 feet

With this hike you get a lot of interesting scenery and rock formations packed into a relatively short hike, finishing with a beautiful reservoir.

If you only have time for a short hike on the east side of the park, this one covers a lot of bases.

From the parking lot, head along the trail that takes you up to some incredible rock formations and caves on the Moses Spring section of the trail.

Nina sitting on a rock beside Bear Gulch Reservoir with a beautiful landscape in the background.
Peaceful vibes beside the reservoir…

The tunnel-like cave is very cool to explore, but ensure you bring a flashlight or a headlamp as it is very dark in a few spots!

When you emerge from the caves, you’ll be at the reservoir for a well-deserved chill and a snack with a view! If you don’t want to visit the caves on the way back, you can always take the Rim Trail on your return journey.

3. Condor Gulch to High Peaks Trail

Distance:  5.6 miles
Type of Trail: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 1,633 feet

If you want to see it all when you are on the East Side of Pinnacles National Park, the best thing to do is to combo the two trails above, plus include the High Peaks Trail for one of the most epic Pinnacles hikes!

This is exactly what we did, and it was nothing short of spectacular every step of the way.

You’ll start at the Condor Gulch Overlook and join the High Peaks Trail. Just walking on the High Peaks Trail for a while, you will soon see where the Pinnacles got their name.

The rocks up here are crazy, jutting out in various angles. It’s like being on Mars. Some parts are a little narrow and sketchy, but there are some handrails, and the incredible views of Pinnacles National Park make it all worth it.

Nina heading down the High Peaks Trail as it scales down a rocky hill with a metal railing for support and a view of a cloud inversion in the distance.
Check out the views!

You’ll then head down from the High Peaks via the Bear Gulch Reservoir before heading back to the trailhead.

TIP: If you only do one hike in the park, make it this one! But definitely start early; it’s almost entirely exposed.

Pinnacles Hikes on The West Side

If you’re coming off the coast after driving Big Sur or heading south from one of the bigger cities looking for an escape, look no further. The west side is just a stunning at the east.

The High Peaks are probably the coolest part, and you can access both from either side. These are the best Pinnacles trails on the west side…

5. Balconies Cave Trail

Distance: 2.6 miles
Type of Trail: Out & Back
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 383 feet

If you don’t have much time, we recommend taking the Balconies Cave Trail when on the West Side.

Nina hiking along the Balconies Cave Trail with views of rocks and mountains in Pinnacles National Park.
Near the beginning of the trail!

First, it is nice and easy as you follow the trail to the ‘balconies.’ These are huge boulders that have become wedged between towering cliffs. They soon turn into caves where you’re navigating in the dark.

At this point of the hike, we had to duck and weave through and under the rocks while they balanced right above! It’s an obstacle course of volcanic rock formations!

Nina climbing up to an exit from a cave along the Balconies Trail in Pinnacles National Park.
The caves are the main attraction along this trail!

TIP: You 100% need a headlamp for this trail like; seriously, you can’t do it without one. And there’s a chance of getting your feet wet, particularly in spring, so keep this in mind.

6. Juniper Canyon Trail to High Peaks

Distance: 4.2 miles
Type of Trail: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 1,335 feet

Heading up to the High Peaks will allow you to witness incredible rock formations and breathtaking views, but do not underestimate the climb on this hike; there are 34 switchbacks!

Nina in a yellow top hiking along the Juniper Canyon Trail in Pinnacles National Park.
Along the switchbacks!

You’ll start climbing almost from the get-go, up towards the impressive spires of the High Peaks. The Tunnel Trail portion of the loop lets you cool off a little before you reach the top.

The High Peaks are the real highlight. The narrow, twisting trail winds through the rock formations, offering incredible views of the unique Californian landscape.

Nina admiring the view of trees and rocks from the Juniper Canyon Trail in Pinnacles National Park.
Every trail is stunning and this one is no different!

TIP: Unlike much of Pinnacles National Park, this trail is partially shaded by trees, which is important if you visit in the summer, as it can get very hot.

Hiking Pinnacles East to West

Want to see it all? Convinced you need to see every corner of this epic park? No worries, this is the hike for you!

You can start this hike below from either side of the park, so begin from whichever is easiest for you to get to.

7. Hiking Pinnacles Greatest Hits

Distance: 12.5 miles
Type of Trail: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 3,057 feet

Just because you can’t easily drive from the East side to the West side of Pinnacles National Park doesn’t mean you can’t walk it. If you are up for seeing it all, this hike covers the entire park and almost everything above.

You will traverse the crazy balconies section and up to the High Peaks, the scenic Bear Gulch Reservoir, and the Condor Gulch Overlook.

It’s a long one, but when you are done, you can be safe knowing that you have ticked off all of the park’s greatest hits.

Nina walking through a dark cave with a light ray in Pinnacles National Park.
Through the caves along the Bear Gulch Trail.

It’s tiring, and there are lots of inclines and declines, but if you only have a day in Pinnacles and want to see it all, this is one of the best Pinnacles hikes!

Camping at Pinnacles National Park

There’s just one campground on the east side. The Pinnacles Campground is basic but has what you need.

Dirt or gravel sites, with a bathroom and shower room, and some sites feature hookups. There’s a small general store, and there’s even a pool! This comes in handy during those brutal summer months.

A white campervan parked in Pinnacles National Park campground beside two picnic chairs and a picnic bench.
We pulled up to the campsite in our camper!

We camped here for one night before tackling the trails, which was perfect for us since we could make it on the trails bright and early.

When to Visit:

  • Spring (March to May): This is the gold star period! The weather is absolutely spot-on for hiking—not too hot, not too chilly. Plus, the park is a riot of colors with wildflowers blooming everywhere. It’s also a great time for bird watching, including possibly spotting the majestic California condor.
  • Fall (September to November): Another great window to visit, especially if you’re trying to dodge the summer heat. The temperatures are cooler, making it comfortable for hiking and exploring. The crowds start to thin out too, which is a nice bonus.
  • Summer (June to August): It can get really hot, especially in the afternoons, so if you’re visiting during these months, aim for early morning activities. Also, it’s the busiest season, so expect more people on the trails and at popular spots. We went in June and got an early start. The temp was fine and we barely saw anyone on the trails until we were on our way down!
  • Winter (December to February): If you don’t mind a bit cooler weather, winter can be a peaceful time to visit with fewer visitors. Some trails might be closed due to weather conditions, so check ahead.


  1. Early Bird Gets the Worm: Aim to arrive early, especially during weekends or holidays. Parking spots fill up quickly! An early start also means cooler temperatures for your hikes.
  2. Water!: Bring A LOT while hiking. You need more than you think.
  3. Don’t Just Wing It: Cell service is as rare. Download maps and any info you need before you get there.
  4. Footwear: This isn’t a stroll through the mall, so leave those flip-flops at home. Wear sturdy hiking shoes to navigate the rocky and uneven trails like a pro.
  5. Get High: And by that, I mean hike to the higher elevations for some breathtaking views. The High Peaks Trail is a favorite for a reason. Just be ready for some steep and narrow sections.
  6. Condors: Early mornings or late afternoons are your best bet for spotting these majestic birds. Look up; they like circling overhead.
  7. Pack Your Patience: Popular spots like the Bear Gulch Cave can get crowded. Take a deep breath, enjoy the moment, and remember, everyone’s there to enjoy nature’s wonders, just like you.
  8. Leave No Trace: This one should go without saying, but keep the park beautiful for everyone by packing out what you pack in. Yes, even that tiny paper wrapper.
  9. Seasonal Surprises: Check what’s open. Some areas like the Bear Gulch Cave are seasonal due to the bats breeding. Don’t be disappointed—check before you trek.

We hope this helped you plan your trip to go hiking in Pinnacles National Park!

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