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Pinnacles National Monument

Updated on October 7, 2014

Sunshine on Pinnacles


Pinnacles:The Point of Perfection

A national monument that even many native Californians haven't visited, Pinnacles National Monument is the perfect place to commune with nature, hike, rock climb, and try to spot wildlife, including the endangered California Condor, all in half of an ancient volcano.

Pinnacles Location

Pinnacles National Monument:
5000 California 146, Pinnacles National Park, Paicines, CA 95043, USA

get directions

Pinnacles National Monument


Pinnacles' History

Pinnacles National Monument has a long history of human-occupation. Amerindian artifacts show that they visited the area, though probably didn't live there all year round, since Pinnacles has such extreme summer heat. Costanoans, or people of the coast, lived in western central California, and two subgroups of the Costanoans, the Chalone and Mutsun, lived nearby. The Chalone and Mutsun peoples are still around and are working to gain tribal recognition. Before the European intrusion, the Amerindians around Pinnacles probably hunted rabbits, deer, elk, and antelope, gathered acorns to grind into meal, and gathering grass seeds, leafy parts of plants and plant bulbs as well. They wove baskets and lived in brush huts.

When the Spanish Missionaries arrived the life of the Amerindians change dramatically. Between 1769 and 1823, the Spanish established 21 missions between San Diego and Sonoma, and used the Amerindians as their labor-force to do so. The mission closest to Pinnacles National Monument is in Soledad, and was built in 1791. This is on the west side of Pinnacles, near where the Chalone Amerindians lived. Of course the Spanish conscripted the Chalone, as well as the Mutsun people, and forced them to labor building the missions as well as being indoctrinated into the Catholic faith. The diseases they brought, along with their rosary beads and bibles, killed off huge numbers of the Amerindians in California and though we have no real idea of the numbers of pre-European Amerindians, it's estimated that there were 300,000 Amerindians in 1770, and by the mid-1800s, there was less than half of that.

When homesteaders from the east starting arriving in California in the mid-1800s, California was transformed again. The 1849 gold rush caused a huge influx of people, as well as getting the US to make California into a state. In 1891, Schuyler Hain, a homesteader, arrived in the Pinnacles area from Michigan and during the next 20 years become known as the "Father of Pinnacles". Entranced by the beauty there, Schuyler started leading tours up and through Bear Valley and into the caves. He also started trying to protect the area by speaking to groups and writing articles. He succeeded, and in January 1908 Pinnacles was named as a national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt. In that same time period Roosevelt also set aside Muir Woods and the Grand Canyon to be protected as national monuments. The original Pinnacles National Monument was 2500 acres.

In the thirties the CCC, or Civilian Conservation Corps. made a camp at what is now the Old Pinnacles trailhead area. During the next decade, working in the cooler winter months, the CCC boys worked to improve Pinnacles. They fixed roads and created trails, constructed the dam that forms Bear Gulch Reservoir and added concrete steps and guard rails on the trail to the caves. In 1936, they also started leading visitors through the caves using lanterns.

Ever since its creation, Pinnacles has been added to and enjoyed. It is now around 26,000 acres from its original 2500, and is a great place for us all to enjoy.

Dates and information from Pinnacles National Monument, History and Culture

Pinnacles Park


Geology of Pinnacles

Geology of Pinnacles

Pinnacles has a rich geologic history. Quite a long time ago, a volcano erupted. This was hundreds of miles south of the Pinnacles. Half of this volcano was on one tectonic plate, the Pacific Plate, and the other half was on the North American Plate. Well, as most people know, those two plates are moving differently from one another. The Pacific Plate is moving northward, and the Pacific Plate is moving southward. They aren't moving very quickly, only about as fast as your fingernails grow. As time passed, this slow movement adds up though, and it has moved half of the volcano (The Pinnacles) hundreds of miles north of where it formed, and where its other half still resides.



Pinnacles Guidebook

Pinnacles National Monument
Pinnacles National Monument
A nice little paperback guide to the Pinnacles, this would be great to carry around and browse through while you're there. You can never have too many guides to an area.

Hiking In Pinnacles

Pinnacles has some wonderful hiking spots. There are trails close to parking lots and easy to get to, and there are trails far in the wilds, where there aren't many people.

One of the most popular trails, the Bear Gulch Trail passes through caves filled with the trickling sound of water, and occasionally endangered bats. Another popular trail allows you to climb high into the sky where it's often possible to spot enormous and endangered California Condors soaring through the sky.

It's a nice trail through talus caves, up to the reservoir. Be smart and bring sweatshirts and flashlights, since it is cold and dark in Bear Gulch Cave. Also, it's important to make sure this trail will be open before deciding to take it. It is closed part of the year to protect an endangered bat species that raise their young inside.

Trail Going through Cave


Walking Bear Gulch Trail


Hiking Through a Bat-Filled Cave


Climbing the Reservoir Trail


Bear Gulch Reservoir

Bear Gulch Reservoir
Bear Gulch Reservoir | Source

Pinnacles Trail Guide

Pinnacles National Monument Trails Map (Tom Harrison Maps)
Pinnacles National Monument Trails Map (Tom Harrison Maps)
If you plan to do any hiking while at the Pinnacles, you'll need this trail guide. Pinnacles National Monument has trails going every which way, and you'll want to know where they go and where they'll take you.

Looking Out of a Talus Cave


Rock Climbing In Pinnacles

Rock Climbing In Pinnacles

One of the things Pinnacles is best known for is its rock climbing. Shear rock faces afford lots of fun and chance to try out your experienced rock climbing skills.

Rock Climber at Pinnacles

Rock Climber at Pinnacles
Rock Climber at Pinnacles | Source

Important Things to Remember When Climbing at Pinnacles

*Pinnacles is a National Monument. Keep your climbing low-impact and avoid damaging the rocks or area.

*There are often climbing restrictions due to nesting birds of prey and other endangered animals. Check out what areas are closed before planning your route.

*Use toilets when available. Really, please. No one wants to deal with your crap.

*Use waste containment pouches and pack them out if there isn't a toilet available.

*Stay on climber access trails when they're available.

*Avoid damaging the surrounding area while hiking to your climb. Don't cause erosion or kill plants by taking shortcuts.

*Don't damage the rocks. This area belongs to all of us, not just you, so be polite and don't screw it up.

*Each move you make, think low-impact. Yes, there are some things that are unavoidable, but there are some things you can avoid.

*Don't damage the lichen. Clean individual handholds as necessary, but you don't need to harm entire areas.

*Do not stage or belay from park trails unless the trail is a designated climber access trail

*To avoid marring the appearance of the rocks, use natural colored anchors.

*Motorized drills are not allowed in Pinnacles National Monument.

*Avoid leaving slings at rappel stations, but if you have to, use camouflage webbing so it blends in to the rock.

*The rocks at Pinnacles are soft. This can cause anchors to pull right out. Always use caution and test each one before depending on it.

*There's lots of loose debris at Pinnacles, watch out for it and of course, if you dislodge any yell "rock!" in case there's anyone beneath you.

*Chalk mars the area for others, so think about it before you use it.

*In some areas you may not need chalk. There's lots of dirt and dust.

*Use chalk substitutes if chalk is needed.

*Summer at Pinnacles is HOT. If you must climb during summer, bring water and plan for the heat.

And always remember, behaving with courtesy to others that want to enjoy the park is extremely important. Don't mar the beauty that is Pinnacles and ruin it for everyone else. You don't want to be the reason they close Pinnacles to rock climbers.

Rock Climber's Guide to Pinnacles

Climber's Guide to Pinnacles National Monument, 2nd (Regional Rock Climbing Series)
Climber's Guide to Pinnacles National Monument, 2nd (Regional Rock Climbing Series)
Rock climbing is very popular in Pinnacles. Most nice days have at least one person scaling seemingly, unable-to-be-scaled rock walls. If you love to do that too, then you will really want to check out Pinnacles, it's a rock climber's dream. Pick up this book, so you know where you can go and what you can do while you're there.

More Climbing Information About Pinnacles

Want to know more about climbing the rocks in Pinnacles National Monument? Check out these links.

Sitting in Nature

Sitting in Nature
Sitting in Nature | Source

What to Do in Pinnacles

What To Do In Pinnacles (What To Do In ...)
What To Do In Pinnacles (What To Do In ...)
Download a guide to the Pinnacles now.

Condors of Pinnacles

Condors in Pinnacles

Pinnacles National Monument is probably best well-known for being the location of the release of several California Condors. These birds are the largest in North America and extremely endangered.

California Condors were hard hit by lead-poisoning, poaching, and habitat destruction. The species was basically decimated and most people thought all hope was lost. But some people wanted to try to save the condors, bring them back from the brink of extinction. Only 22 California Condors were left in the entire world, so they were captured to prevent anything from happening to the remaining few. These condors were then studied and breed in captivity. Through a lot of hard work and immense patience, the biologists were able to get the Condor's population numbers quite a bit higher and they were just barely saved from extinction, though they still got a tough fight ahead of them to come back fully.

California Condors are regularly seen in the Pinnacles area, one of the few places where you'll likely have luck seeing them, so it's worth a trip to Pinnacles just to try and spot these incredible birds with an incredible story of survival.

Return of the Condor

Return of the Condor: The Race To Save Our Largest Bird From Extinction
Return of the Condor: The Race To Save Our Largest Bird From Extinction
One of the few places you can see the endangered California Condor in the wild, Pinnacles National Monument really brings out the naturalist in you. Plan ahead by reading this book about California Condors, so if you happen to see one you'll know a little about them.

Wildflowers In the Area

Wildflowers In the Area
Wildflowers In the Area | Source

Video of Pinnacles National Park

Learn About the National Parks of the West

Fodor's The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West (Full-color Travel Guide)
Fodor's The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West (Full-color Travel Guide)
Learn more about Pinnacles and all the amazing National Parks of the West with this great guide. The western United States are filled with so very many incredible parks, many of which you may not have heard of.

© 2009 Alisha Vargas

Reader Feedback

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    • Grasmere Sue profile image

      Sue Dixon 

      10 years ago from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK

      I visit this lens because my son has recently visited the area and said how great it was. Blessed by an angel- so much detail! Added to my Angel lens

    • Susieee Mac profile image

      Susieee Mac 

      11 years ago

      Hi Alisha. I'm a local whose very happy the Pinnacles is in my backyard. :) I enjoyed your lens so much that I'm gonna try to figure out how to link it up with mine.


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