High Peaks Trail is a 6.7 mile lightly trafficked loop trail located near Paicines, California 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.
I recommend going the reverse route and saving the caves for the end of your hike. This trail was moderate...I would not rate this as "hard." We hiked a total of 6.1 miles and it took us about 3 1/2 hours with breaks and exploring the cave. We were lucky enough to see condors at the high peaks! By far the coolest part of the hike is navigating the narrows you climb stairs as steep as a ladder hanging on to a steel bar. I'm terrified of heights and wasn't sure if I could handle this but it was actually a lot of fun! You never feel like you're "on an edge." The safety bars are very sturdy. You have to be able to crawl and duck through narrow small spaces. It's pretty rad! The views were spectacular and the elevation gain was gradual. We started around 1:15 and finished around 4:45. The park visitors center closes at 5:00 this time of year (February) and the last bus back to the parking lot is at 5:30 so don't miss your ride! This trail doesn't offer much tree coverage at all so if you go on a hot day- make sure you're prepared for that. Enjoy this unique hike!
Great trail to give an understanding of the pinnacles area. Fantastic in the spring when wildflowers abound. A bonus is the opportunity to see California condors.
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.