High Peaks Trail is a 6.7 mile lightly trafficked loop trail located near Paicines, CA that features beautiful wild flowers and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail is primarily used for hiking and birding and is accessible year-round.
Directions from East Entrance Station: Follow the park road to Chalone Creek Picnic Area. The High Peaks Trail begins from there and ends at the Bear Gulch Visitor Center, which is 1.6 miles south.
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.
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!
Absolutely incredible after the initial climb!!!
It was an exciting discovery! I'm glad to change our target summit from North Chalone to High Peaks. Not for the faint of heart. Climbing the rocks was fun but please be careful.
Exquisite spring time hike requiring 5 hours, with time to rest and eat. Condor, turkey vultures and peragrin falcon sitting are common. Wild flower blooms expected.
breath-taking but super hard
Started out of Bear Gulch and departed on to Juniper Canyon as part of a 10 mile loop around the park. Great trail, looks like it would be very hot in summer. Saw 4 condors, lots of good views on both sides of the ridge. It is hard compared to the other trail in the park, but this trail compared to other "hard" trails is pretty easy if you are used to elevation gain.
it gets hot. Bring enough water
This hike was fantastic! We started from the chaparral side, took the juniper canyon trail to the high peaks. It was tiring at first, a little switchbacky, but it goes fast. Once you're at the top the rest of the trail is down hill. The views are incredible, unlike something I've seen before. Freud would have him self a field day with most of those rocks. The caves were cool, fun to go through and had to do some scrambling (my favorite). We saw some bats, but sadly no condors or tranchulas. The map says to allow four to five hours for this one, but if you're anything like me and like to stop to admire the view and take a few photos, please give yourself more time. Ended up doing 10.6 miles and loved every second of it!
Loved this hike. Wish I had my FitBit then so I would know how many flights of stairs I climbed. Can be strenuous, but well worth the climb.
Absolutely wonderful hike! Great work out, beautiful views. A perfect day. Did 12 miles total, including this hike. Definitely going back, worth the drive!
Wow! This is a beatiful spot with fantastic rock formations ans a fabulously maintained trail. Would go again without hesitation. We went in January and the weather was perfect about 60 degrees. We didn't see condors, but earlier hikers did that day. Pretty strenuous uphill but excellent footing, handrails on the most vertical bits.
Not only a great hike...but loaded with wildflowers on the spring...and if your time is right Turkey Vultures overhead
This trail is great for anyone interested in seeing volcanic/arid flora and fawna. I liked it because, unlike Yosemite, it featured a wide varity of rock formations. Kinda like abstract art. Deffinately go early in the day as it gets VERY hot in this area ( around 100 degrees F in summer). It also takes you through some seasonal Talus caves, which are pretty cool. Check on the status of the caves on the NPS website before you go! All in all a nice hike. With one fairly long strenious bit, and then its pretty much downhill or flat. I deffinately recommend that you leave from the Old Pinnicals Trailhead instead of the East enterance. It takes you straight up into the High Peaks portion of the trail allowing you to eliminate the hardest bit first. I would compare the hard stretch to Sub-Dome on the Half Dome trail but with more shade. Also this takes you right past the Chapperal Ranger Station around mid-hike. Which allows you to refill water. 3 Liters should be more then enough to get you there to refill and deffinately enough to get you back to the trail head. All in all its a great hike in a very diffrent environment. If your used to the deep greens and steep granite of Yosemite this trail is a must. Its a whole diffrent biosphere. :-)