Enjoy Pinnacles The Newest National Park
Pinnacles National Monument has become a National Park. How this will change the area's status Is unclear.
5000 Highway 146, Paicines, California 95043
Pinnacles National Monument is about 30 miles south of Hollister, California. This is a wonderful place to visit no matter what time of year you visit. Summers tend to be hot, despite being so close to the ocean.
The Pinnacles are less than 40 miles from Monterey as the condor flies, There are two entrances to Pinnacles. Beware! When camping you need to enter from the east entrance. You can get into Pinnacles National Monument, to hike. from state Highway 101, but you can not get to the camp grounds.
The largest population of California Condors in the state draws people from around the world. For those unfamiliar with California's micro-climates, Beware! The beach areas of Northern California tend to be chilly during the summer. The micro climate of Pinnacles is usually significantly hotter or colder than the coast. When we visited the park in January the highs were about 69 with lows around freezing while the coast stayed in the 50's. During the summer it is not unusual to encounter temperatures near 100F.
Idea For The Trip
Many years ago a friend of mine visited Pinnacles National Monument over Easter Break.She told me “You have to go during the spring because summer is too hot”. When I would travel to Southern California on interstate 5 or US 101 that long-a-go conversation would come to mind as I passed the signs for Pinnacles National Monument. A few years ago I tried to get reservations for Pinnacles during Easter break unsuccessfully. This was my first clue that Pinnacles would be a memorable trip.
My son asked, “Can we borrow your trailer to go camping”. As my husband and I thought it over the request changed to,” Would you like to go with us”? The kids didn't want to go very far "Pinnacles National Monument was the perfect location", I though. The reservations in January were abundant and easily made on the web site. We live in Livermore, California and had two options for getting to Pinnacles. Interstate 5 to 152 to 25. It took about 21/2 hours pulling a trailer and stopping for dinner in Gustine. The alternative route Interstate 680 to US 101 to 25 took us less time on our second trip, but we weren't pulling a trailer and we had no traffic..
It was very dark and not a soul was around when we arrived. We found the office and the drop box to pay the $5 vehicle charge. We needed a pencil to write our names on the list. One of 3 restrooms and only showers are next to the visitor center/store. This is the only national park I have ever been to with a swimming pool. The showers are next to the pool and are pay. They use quarters: 50 cents for 3 minutes, 75 cents for 4minutes and so on.. The RV spots were very close together, but since there were only 2 other campers spaced hundreds of yards apart we didn’t mind. It might get noisy when the camp is full. The next morning browsing through the camp store was interesting. There was a nice selection of books on animals and birds to complement activities in the park. As I was looking at the books several rock climbers arrived, and received alerts on Condor activity. High season starts mid to late February, so there weren't many groceries, but the ones that were there were well chosen. You could pull together a meal with there stores.
As the morning progressed the tent camping spots began to fill up. The sites for tents are wonderful spacious sites surrounded by scrubs and trees. There are group camping sites too.
Benito the Condor
We found our camp site and one of two other campers in the area came out to warn us. “I have seen coyotes today, so watch your dogs”. In the middle of the night my daughter-in-law and I went to the restroom. We were nearly back to our trailer when we heard a coyote baying. We didn't stay around to see where it was.
The next morning we found the part of Bench trail that goes to the store. There were telescopes set to watch the California Condors. The information boards about the condors were very informative. We didn’t see any condors in the morning, but we were alert and on the look-out throughout the day. We weren’t disappointed. In the early afternoon we saw one of those majestic birds. We decided to cook outside and while we prepared dinner 4 or 5 condors soared overhead. About sunset we discovered why there is a fence around the park. The gate had signs warning of wild pigs. About 30 pigs came into the campground. Our dinner wasn’t quit done cooking. Since they were some distance we quietly watched what they did. There were sows with piglets and boars. They foraged for acorns until almost dark and we got noisy. They looked at us turned around and left the way they came. We didn't bother them and they didn't bother us. Please leave wildlife alone. Do not get close to wild animals. Boar are nasty mean animals if they chose to be so.
Wild animals are just that. Unpredictable! Do not try to take selfies with wild animals.
Hiking Climbing and Splunking
The trails at the park range from the easy.(Bench Trail) which, has benches you can sit and watch sunsets. to the strenuous (High Peaks Trial) which is about 8.5 miles with an elevation gain of about 2,000 feet. Note that when starting from the campground you add significant distance to your hike. You might want to drive to your trail head. If you are planning on climbing the rock formations or visiting the Talon caves remember to look at the Cave and Raptor Alerts in the visitors center. The visitation to the caves is very restricted because of the Townsend bats that nest there. They return year after year so during their time in the caves access is restricted. Flooding is also a problem that will close the caves.
Just a couple of hours from San Francisco and about an hour from Monterey, Pinnacles is a wonderful place to camp and hike. Remember to get to the campground you must enter by the east gate we arrived very late at night and it would be tragic if you enter the west side and discover there is no camping . The road through the park does not connect to the two gate though you can hike from one to another.
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