High Peaks Condor Gulch Trail is a 4.9 mile heavily trafficked loop trail located near Paicines, California that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round.
Essential loop at the Pinnacles, one of the best hiking locales in central California High Peaks Trail at Pinnacles National Monument threads its way through the wreckage of a volcano destroyed by the San Andreas Fault millions of years ago. The Monument, about 100 miles south of San Jose, California, celebrates the strange assortment of rock formations created as the volcano gave way to greater forces of plate tectonics. This loop from the eastern entrance of the Pinnacles provides the most direct route to the High Peaks, where a series of ladders and multiple tight squeezes take hikers through a geological maze that has made the Pinnacles a favorite among hikers from throughout California. While the rocks and expansive vistas are the main attractions, you might get lucky and spot some of the rare California condors that nest in the park and soar high above. Trails on this hike: Condor Gulch Trail; High Peaks Trail; Bear Gulch Trail. Starting from the Bear Gulch parking area, you can go either way. Condor Gulch Trail is a bit steeper, so you may want to start out there to get your climbing done on fresh legs and spare your knees on the way down. Best time to go: Springtime adds wildflowers to the awesome scenery, making it a near perfect hike. Summer will be too hot and autumn may be too dry, but winter should be gorgeous if you give the trails a couple days to dry out after passing storm systems. $5 Park Entrance Fee
This trail was amazing. It is definitely a workout, but the experience and vistas are well worth the effort.
We hiked this trail in November. It felt private even though we saw maybe 20 other people.
This hike begins across the street from the Nature Center at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area. It is a loop, marked by a bench and a vault toilet in the middle (nestled in the high peaks). Be advised there is no water here.
The right side of the loop (via Condor Gulch Overlook) is the more technically challenging side with steep stairs that you have to navigate alongside cliffs. The left side is just a trail. Both are steep. However families with young children might find it easier to just go up and down on the left side (which is what we saw many people doing).
We did the loop in the counterclockwise direction as it was easier to navigate going up on the difficult portion than going down.
About 1 mile into it you'll encounter Condor Gulch Overlook. You might see some condors flying overhead but keep going. The views from the top are beyond compare. About 1.7 miles up you intersect the famous High Peaks Trail - take that route. It'll lead you around the Peaks to the vista in the middle by the bench.
As mentioned there are some difficult bits but it is manageable. Bring lots of water, a snack, a jacket for the higher elevations, and hiking poles. Using a single pole make navigating the stairs much easier.
This was one of my most favorite hikes I have ever done. The experience was amazing topped off with seeing 6 condors. It is definitely a not to be missed experience at Pinnacles.
Great! I didn't expect the scenery. We also were lucky to see some condors!
I've gone twice. Love the views of the fog. It's best to start earlier in morning. You can make it around the park by mid-afternoon and still have the rest of the day. Bring plenty of water in the summer. If you've got a camelbak pack, you're golden. Can't wait to go, again!
breathtaking. make sure you bring enough water
Several years ago, I visited the park from its West entrance; this time, I drove to East Pinnacles from King City. Arriving shortly after 7AM, I deposited the Day Use Fee ($10) at the Visitor Center (closed, but the standard self-pay "park fee envelopes" dispensers were available. From there I drove to the Bear Gulch area upper parking lot. This parking lot only accommodates about 12 cars. If you arrive later, you will likely park at the lower parking lot (the two lost are just about .25 miles apart anyway).
I had hoped for a longer hike (larger loop starting from parking lot, to High Peaks, down to "Old Pinnacles" area and back to parking lot (10+ miles) but I was breaking new shoes and decided to switch to the shorter loop, taking the 1.7 miles spur trail when coming down from High Peak, to rejoin the parking lot. All told ,about 5.25 miles.
For a relatively short, hike, this route has much to offer, starting of course with the amazing rock formations the parks get its name from. I am not a climber but it is clear that this is prime rock climbing territory as well. The park is home to a large population of California Condors. When I got to the High Peaks section of the trail around 9:30 AM, it was a gift to see about of dozen of them perched on rocks below me, surveying the valley below and observing a couple of their fellow condors gliding on the thermal currents.
The 5+ miles loop also provides a non-negligible workout (at least for older folks like me). It pretty much goes all up from the parking lop to the High Peaks, through many a short tight switchbacks. The trail is however well cut and well maintained. The highest section is where the metal railings and steps cut in the rock face trace a root through the peaks. Sure footing and a little bit of agility does help manage that section. Sharing that porting of the trail with many others could also result in a few short retreats as there are many "one lane" sections to negotiate.
The trail is clearly popular and probably heavily used by late morning on weekend (I crossed path with several large parties on my way back down). Having started early, I had the whole trail pretty much to myself; I only met a young couple at the very top. There are many picnic spots along the short trail joining the two Bear Gulch parking lot. Could be a nice spot to sit down and relax, stretch before getting back on the road.
The visitor center building also holds a Camping store (several campgrounds nearby). If you realize you have forgotten something (sunscreen, canteen, hat, etc.) you may want to get it there.