Pinnacles National Monument is a protected mountainous area located east of central California's Salinas Valley. The Monument's namesakes are the eroded leftovers of half of an extinct volcano.The Monument is divided by the rock formations into East and West Divisions, connected by foot trails; there is no through road that connects the east end west entrances to the park. The east side has shade and water, the west has high walls. The rock formations provide for spectacular pinnacles that attract rock climbers. It is popular with advanced rock climbers due to the many difficult and challenging climbs. The Monument is most often visited in spring or fall because of the intense heat during the summer months.
As mentioned in other reviews there's a $15/vehicle park fee and it's busy later in the day so get there as close to the 9am open as possible on weekend days.
We combined the High Peaks trail with the Bear Gulch and Reservoir trail for about an 8 mile loop.
Started from Bear Gulch day use area and headed through the caves to the reservoir. The caves had a couple really tight sections so not a good way to go if you're claustrophobic. You should also have a headlamp or flashlight if you go this way. We didn't see any of the bats but I think we heard some.
After checking out the reservoir we headed up to High Peaks and then came back down Condor Gulch trail. The climb was great (somewhat strenuous and steep in sections) and the views at the top were amazing. We even did a little scrambling up some of the big rocks at the top which was fun.
Only real complaint was that we didn't see any of the condors, although we saw a lot of wildlife including other birds, lizards, and deer.
Bring a lot of water, the hike is exposed and the air is very dry so you lose water quickly without really knowing it.
$15.00 entrance fee to access parking lot nearest to trailhead, visitor center opens at 9 AM.
This was quite the hike; definitely worth the 2 hour drive down from Redwood City. The first leg of the trail is a great, straight up climb of about 1,000 feet spread out over 1 1/2 miles. It's the perfect segment to get your initial workout in so you can ease up and enjoy the scenery once you get to High Peaks.
After you pass the Bear Gulch Junction, the scenery becomes much better and the pinnacles can be clearly seen. The trail narrows and becomes rockier as you pass Hawkins Peak; The Balcony and other trails can be seen in the distance. If you leave early in the morning, you'll be able to see a town covered by fog. There's also an option to weave through the Pinnacles by taking the Tunnel Trail, though it's strenuous both descending and ascending.
To get to the summit of High Peaks, you'll have to climb practically straight up over boulders. Fortunately, footholds and safety railings have been installed to aid you to the summit, but it's still not recommended for the faint of heart. There's also climbing options near the summit of High Peaks.
The rest of the trail is average at best, so to speak. The descent (depending on which route you take) is relatively wide and has many switchbacks. The trail starts getting heavily used come ~10:30 AM; we saw multiple groups and/or families on our descent. You'll eventually reach another parking lot, which is mentally tough due to the fact that you'll want to be done with the hike at this point.
We parked at the end of Chalone Creek road, which was a bad idea. The 1.8-mile Bear Gulch trail leading back to the parking lot offers little scenery or challenge, especially in September, when the creek is dried up and there's very little green grass. This downgrades my rating from a 5-star to a 4-star trail. If you can, taking the Tunnel Trail/Juniper Canyon up to High Peaks would be a better idea. It's roughly half the length, but it appears more strenuous with a lot of scenery. When I come back, I'll be sure to do that.
Kylee L. on Bear Gulch Trail
Fun easy hike through the caves up to the reservoir. Caves are really cool, narrow with stairwells. Best to have a flashlight but iPhone will work. Reservoir is reminiscent of the lion king - lots of water snakes.
This place was amazing! The initial climb is not for the faint of heart, as said below in another review. Please know that if you plan on going from June/ September it will be very warm as there is not shade on this trail. Bring extra water, bug spray, sunblock, hat, and proper shoes. Honestly, your Nike free's shouldn't be worn on any hike. Bring your camera, it's gorgeous out there!
Really nice hike, with good combo of sun/shade and mostly flat. Caveat, we missed a turn in the caves and wound up scrambling up a really steep, dangerous wall, thinking it was the trail. It was _A_ trail and eventually, we found the real trail.
Hiked to the fire tower on top of North Chalone Peak from the Juniper Canyon Trail today (Soledad side) and it was pretty intense! 7.7 miles one way, totaling at 15.4 miles total. My husband and I each carried a gallon of water each and we ran out of water around mile 10. Bring plenty of water!