Hiking · National Parks in US · Travel

Pinnacles National Monument: Northern California’s Hidden Hiking Gem

I love hiking. It should come as no surprise to people who know me. But you might wonder why I don’t have very many solo hiking posts on this blog. Well, I have hiked at quite a few places around the bay area (Mt. Diablo State Park, Sunol State Park, Muir woods, Big Basin, Black Mountain in Rancho San Antonio), but never felt like blogging about them. They all make for great hikes (and I really mean it πŸ™‚ ) but, I never found anything unusually striking about any of them. Or rather, they all have typical hiking trails found everywhere. But after hiking at Pinnacles National Monument, I decided that this is a hike recommendation I am going to put up on the blog. The obvious reason being that it was different from all the others I previously mentioned. Different because you get to hike through caves, you can picnic at a water reservoir, you get to see pinnacle like structures along with some great panoramic views of the mountains and you get to do some bird watching – all in just one hike! Amazing, right? And let me tell you that it is quite thrilling too when you are hiking the steep and narrow parts of the trails at Pinnacles.

We have been in California for over 7 years now, but I had not heard about Pinnacles until last year when we were preparing for our Half Dome Hike. I found a great write-up on Pinnacles and put that on my never-ending bucket list as a hike to do. Recently, when a friend was visiting from India, we decided to make a day trip to hike at Pinnacles. Pinnacles National Monument is about 75 miles from San Jose, CA. Since the east and west entrances of the park are not connected, we picked the east entrance since there were more hiking options from there.

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Our first stop was at the visitor center to pick up trail maps and get some basic information. After picking up information we parked at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area. We choose to hike the Condor Gulch – High Peaks Loop and added the Rim and Moses Spring trail loop to it. We started the hike clockwise (as opposed to the anti-clockwise recommendation you will find on a few other sites). So the first part of the hike was traversing through the Bear Gulch caves. There are a few completely dark portions on the cave trail so a flash light may be required. When your hike starts with a mini caving excursion, you obviously start having expectations. Once out of the caves, we decided to take a small bifurcation to see the Bear Gulch reservoir. The reservoir is pretty, although swimming is not allowed. Nevertheless, it makes for a great picnic and relaxing spot. After a quick stop at the reservoir, we continued on the Rim trail and headed for the Condor Gulch area.

Pinnacles is home to the endangered California Condors, and we spotted a lot of them! This is definitely the main attraction of the hike. Once you are half way into the hike, you also get to see the Pinnacle like formations that were formed due to volcanic activity. I have seen Pinnacle formations at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon as well as Bryce National Park in Utah, but the vastness of these lava formations make Pinnacles National monument scenic and breathtaking. Also, along the hike you will spot a lot of rock climbers trying to climb rocks. The most exciting part of the hike is when you are at the Steep and Narrow section of the High Peaks Loop. As I mentioned earlier, I can’t pick a hike to name to compare the thrill you experience while climbing the steep parts at Pinnacles. For me, this was the best part of the hike πŸ™‚ This part of the hike offers stunning views of the valley too! Once we were done with the steep part, we continued back down along the trail to return to the Bear Gulch Day Use area.

Bear Gulch Reservoir

The best time to hike Pinnacles National Monument is either late winter or early spring. The trails are not shaded for the most part, so I would assume that it might get quite hot during the summer months. We did spot a few wildflowers, but I was expecting more on that front. Pinnacles National Monument is famous for its wildflowers provided you pick the right trail and the right time to hike it! Based of the pictures I saw from the trail map, visiting the Balconies Cave is probably going to be my next hiking trail at Pinnacles!!

If you like hiking and have not been to Pinnacles and are looking for a new refreshing hike around the bay area, go to Pinnacles. I can positively assure that it will make for a great hiking day trip! Especially with a bunch of great friends πŸ˜€

Photos courtesy of Mohnish Kodnani (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mohnishkodnani/)

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