Climbing California

The Rocky Peaks of Pinnacles National Park
Rock structures across a sweeping view of Pinnacles National Park

Nestled in a rugged corner of California's Central Coast Range, Pinnacles National Park is a unique landscape that spans more than 26,000 acres – most of it protected as wilderness. The park's namesake rock formations are the eroded remnants of an ancient volcano, and today they offer an oasis for hikers, campers, and rock climbers. 

Millions of years in the making

The history of Pinnacles National Park begins about 60 million years ago, when shifting tectonic plates acted like a bulldozer, depositing enormous mounds of former sea floor that would become the parallel north-to-south ridges of the Pacific Coast Ranges. Plate tectonics also led to increased volcanic activity in the region – the Pinnacles volcano came into existence around 20 million years ago – that created the stunning rock formations which, after millennia of erosion, are now the "pinnacles" from which the park gets its name. 

The history of humans in the park dates back about 10,000 years, from which time various Native American groups inhabited the landscape intermittently. European settlers came much later, like Schuyler Hain, a homesteader and early conservation advocate who arrived here in 1891. President Theodore Roosevelt preserved the area as Pinnacles National Monument in 1908, and legislation signed by President Barack Obama made it a national park in 2013. 

The still water at Bear Gulch Caves capture a reflection of rock formations
Sean Peck, Share the Experience

Visiting the park today

Pinnacles National Park offers peace and solitude, and is easily accessible from the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas. While some visitors come here seeking seclusion, others are looking to test their outdoor abilities as the park’s terrain presents a challenge for even the hardiest hiker or climber. Most come in spring or fall, when the climate is comfortable and the harsh summer heat is gone.

You can get to Pinnacles National Park through the East Entrance on Highway 146 near San Benito, or the West Entrance on Highway 146 east of Soledad. Note that while both entrances are on Highway 146, no road connects the two within the park; the topography of the park makes a complete east-to-west route impossible. 

A hiker ascends a high peak at Pinnacles National Park
Leigh Swansborough, Share the Experience

Exploring California’s Pinnacles

  • Hiking: Pinnacles National Park has more than 30 miles of hiking trails, most of which are bounded on either side by enormous boulders of volcanic rock. There are few easy trails at Pinnacles, with most being quite challenging. Check out the park's Trail Guide to find a hike and see which trails are accessible from the West and East entrances. 
  • Climbing: You will find a wide variety of climbing routes at Pinnacles, ranging from easy top-rope climbs to the arduous multi-pitch climbs along Machete Ridge. Use caution, and be sure to consult the Pinnacles Climber's Safety Advisory before you get started. 
  • Camping: The shady, secluded Pinnacles Campground, which is accessible only from the park's East Entrance, offers tent and group camping, along with a few RV sites that feature electric hookups. Each site includes a picnic table and campfire ring. 
  • Caving: A vast system of talus caves meanders beneath Pinnacles National Park, with two areas – known as Bear Gulch Caves and the Balconies Caves – open to exploration. The caves harbor a large colony of Townsend's big-eared bats, and certain sections may be closed seasonally to protect them. 
  • Bird-watching: Areas all over the park offer outstanding bird-watching opportunities, including a chance to spot species like the canyon wren, California thrasher, and greater roadrunner. Perhaps most exciting for bird-lovers is that the park is part of the California Condor Recovery Program and manages a release site for free-flying condors.

An Acorn Woodpecker peeks out of a tree at Pinnacles National Park
Renda Glick via Share, Experience Photo Contest

Whether you’re seeking adventure or simply want to look with awe at the incredible landscape, Pinnacles National Park offers an experience like no other. The park's unique terrain and abundant wildlife make every trip a memorable one. 


Very impressed with the content you added for Pinnacles. Looks like an amazing place to visit. I like that show case there is a variety of activities in the area for visitors. The formations remind me of the rock formations at Garden of Gods. The added element of the caves gives the park more depth and sense of adventure. Love the web page you made only change would be if you could add a map link for the park with the rest of the content. Nice job.
My son and I sought out Pinnacles for some hiking, not realizing it was one of the recent National Park additions in California. It was a Monument for so long! AAA didn't even know about it! The ranger was very helpful with some good trail advice. We were quite surprised by the unique cave trails and CCC walkways plus surrounded by numerous birds and their songs made for a fabulous stop on our way up north. I would glady visit Pinnacles again!!
1/21/21 Just visited Pinnacles and the crowds were small and the weather mild. Bird and even condor viewing was quite good. However if you own a dog you will be disappointed. No dogs are allowed on any trails. So you are limited to the main road and campground. Plan ahead.

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