Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park sees around 220 thousand visitors each year

Named for the eroded leftovers of a portion of an extinct volcano, Pinnacle National Park’s massive black and gold monoliths of andesite and rhyolite are a popular destination for rock climbers. Hikers have access to trails crossing the Coast Range wilderness. The park is home to the endangered California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) and one of the few locations in the world where these extremely rare birds can be seen in the wild. Pinnacles also supports a dense population of prairie falcons, and more than 13 species of bat which populate its talus caves.


Pinnacles National Park is a geological dream

Located near the San Andreas Fault along the boundary of the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate, is an excellent example of tectonic plate movement. The Pinnacles Rocks are believed to be part of the Pinnacles-Neenach Volcanic Field that occurred 23 million years ago near present-day Lancaster, California, some 195 miles (314 km) southeast. The giant San Andreas Fault split the volcano and the Pacific Plate crept north, carrying the Pinnacles. The work of water and wind on these erodible volcanic rocks has formed the unusual rock structures seen today. Today, these rocks give many species of plants and animals a place to call home.

Fault action and earthquakes also account for the talus caves that are another Pinnacles attraction. Deep, narrow gorges or shear fractures were transformed into caves when huge boulders toppled from above, and wedged in the fractures before reaching the ground. These boulders became the ceilings of the talus caves that now entice not only people, but also several kinds of bats.

The topography of Pinnacles is not all spire and crag, however. Elevations range from 824 feet along South Chalone Creek to 3,304 feet atop North Chalone Peak, and much of the park consists of rolling hills.

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Native American History

There is a still much research to do on the Native American history at Pinnacles National Park

For time untold, indigenous people have lived around Pinnacles, honoring this unique place and making use of its resources. This was a place where indigenous people harvested useful plant and animal resources, but no archaeological evidence has been found to suggest a village existed within park boundaries. Although there has not been a comprehensive archaeological study in the park, some sites have been known and recorded, but in order to protect the sensitive nature of these sites they have not been included on maps. A bedrock mortar might be an obvious cultural resource, the oak trees that produced the acorn and the water from the creek that mixed with the flour to make porridge are all important cultural resources too. The entire landscape is a a cultural resource from the indigenous perspective.

Pinnacles National Park continues to learn about the history of Native peoples, but many archaeological records are incomplete. There was no written record prior to European colonization as most stories and knowledge were passed from generation to generation in an oral tradition. Unfortunately, this transfer of knowledge was disrupted by the arrival of the Spanish in 1769 and the introduction of the mission system which prohibited people from speaking their Native language or engaging in their cultural practices. During the process of colonization that continued with Mexicans and then early Americans, it was safer to hide one’s native identity and pretend to be Spanish. Some people retained knowledge from the time before the mission and many Californian Indian people are working today to ‘relearn’ as much of their traditional ecological knowledge as they can.

The park works hard to ensure a positive and productive relationship with tribal groups. Members of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and Chalone Indian Nation volunteer, work, and participate in eco-cultural restoration projects at Pinnacles. The ancestors of these people managed the land and its resources through sophisticated, non-agricultural practices that included weeding, pruning, sowing seeds, and selective harvesting. One of the most effective tools of indigenous landscape managers was fire. Fires were intentionally set at carefully chosen times and places to keep woody vegetation from encroaching on grasslands and to stimulate growth of many culturally significant plants. Tribal members work with Pinnacles to reintroduce indigenous management techniques to restore native plants. We can learn a lot from traditional ecological knowledge that has been passed on from generation to generation about how to care for this special place.

There are ample plant and animal resources within Pinnacles that would have provided food, medicine, and materials throughout the year. In the spring people may have been in Pinnacles rebuilding temporary brush huts and gathering leafy parts of plants, grass and wildflower seeds and plant bulbs for food. They may have used Pinnacles as a gathering site for prized basket weaving materials such as the strong roots from the Santa Barbara sedge (Carex barbarae) or flower stalks from deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens). In the fall people gathered acorns from the oak trees and pine nuts from the gray pine (Pinus sabiniana).

A Condor Soars across a blue sky.
A Condor soars across a blue sky. Photo by Kurt Moses.
Acorns were a major food source for the Chalon, Mutsun and many other California Indian tribes. Acorns were gathered in baskets and dried in the sun, then some were ground into meal and the rest stored in granaries. Wildflower seeds, like those that come from chia (Salvia columbariae), and red maids (Calandrinia ciliata) were gathered in great quantities and some seeds were replanted to ensure future harvests. Rabbits were hunted for food and the skins were cut into strips and woven into blankets and capes. Deer, elk, antelope, and possibly fish from the Salinas Valley were also major food sources.

Condors have a significant role in Amah Mutsun mythology, it was the condor (or wasaka in Mutsun) who escorted the spirits of deceased relatives to the next world across the sea. A condor ceremony was traditionally held approximately every two years to honor and communicate with the dead. The Amah Mutsun conducted a ceremony in 2011 to celebrate the return of the condor to Pinnacles and work towards the conservation and recovery of all threatened and endangered species.

Pinnacles National Park worked with the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band to gather this information, to learn more visit

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Photo courtesy of NPS

Park History

How Pinnacles became a National Park

The Bacon Ranch, located near the campground, offers a glimpse into the past when homesteaders lived at Pinnacles. Photo by Kurt Moses.
The Spanish had a dramatic impact on the Native Americans who frequented Pinnacles. They traveled into California from Mexico and eventually established 21 religious missions between 1769 and 1823, stretching from San Diego to Sonoma known as “El Camino Real”. The mission closest to Pinnacles was built in Soledad in 1791. The Spanish sought to establish a route from Mexico or New Spain up to northern California, they believed they had a God-given right to claim land for Christ and the King. Captain Juan Bautista de Anza led an expedition to establish an overland route to the San Francisco Bay Area from Mexico. Visit this site to learn more about Juan Bautista de Anza.

The Chalon Indians lived in the area east of Soledad Mission — close to what is now the western side of Pinnacles National Park. Willingly or not, many of the Chalon and Amah Mutsun people became neophytes (baptized mission workers); however, the mission way of life was devastating to native people. A combination of diseases brought by the Spaniards and harsh changes to their way of life killed many Chalon and Mutsun people, and damaged their cultures. In 1770 the native population in California, which was already dropping from the effects of European diseases, was estimated at 300,000. By the mid-1800s, it was cut in half.

Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821 so California became a territory of Mexico. The Californios of the state rebelled against Mexican rule to establish its own republic, which lasted only a year. California was converted again during the Mexican-American War when it was claimed by the United States in 1847. There was often ethnic tension in the Pinnacles area, between natives, hispanics and white homesteaders. Another interesting character present in the early history of Pinnacles was Tiburcio Vasquez, one of California’s most notorious historic outlaws. He was born in Monterey in 1835 and roamed through the state during a twenty year career of cattle rustling and larceny. He settled near the quicksilver mines of New Idria in 1870 and he was known by many homesteaders from Bear Valley all the way to the Salinas Valley. Many stories told of him hiding in the rocks and caves of Pinnacles.

Pinnacles Boys
Photo of Park Service Director Stephen Mather with the Pinnacles Boys in 1924. The older man with his hands resting on a wooden staff is Schuyler Hain, the “Father of the Pinnacles”, Mather is to the left of Hain (Pinnacles Museum Collection)
In 1891 Schuyler Hain, a homesteader, arrived in the Pinnacles area from Michigan. At first he did not consider Pinnacles much more than a local curiosity but his opinion began to change as local newspaper reporters began traveling specifically to Pinnacles to take in the sights. One reporter wrote an article praising the beauty of the rocks and attention spread to other residents of nearby towns. Hain realized that Pinnacles was unique enough to draw outsiders and that by protecting the land, it would draw visitors, help the local economy and preserve it against private exploitation. During the next twenty years he became known as the “Father of Pinnacles,” leading tours up through Bear Valley and into the caves. Hain wrote articles urging for the preservation of the area and acted as unofficial caretaker for many years. His efforts proved fruitful with the establishment of Pinnacles as a 2500 acre national monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt.

The Bacon family were neighbors and friends to Hain and were also involved with the establishment of Pinnacles National Monument, the family grew up playing amongst the trees and creeks of Pinnacles. Horace Bacon established a ranch opposite the eastern entrance and was the school master at Bear Valley School (located on Hwy 25 one mile north of the Hwy 25 and Hwy 146 junction) for twenty years. The Bacon Ranch was eventually acquired by the National Park Service in 2006 and can be accessed via a short hike on a dirt road behind the visitor center. The Bacon family, Hain and a group of other locals known as the Pinnacles boys were responsible for much of the public infrastructure and development of the park in the early years of its establishment. They helped build the first entrance road into the Bear Gulch area, a one way road with designated times for travel. Their efforts laid the groundwork for further development of the park by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Hermann Melville, who lived on the west side of Pinnacles spent a great deal of time exploring the peaks looking for copper and other mining opportunities. He owned the Copper Mountain Mining Compant, he lead tours and owned much of the land in the Balconies and Old Pinnacles area. After Melville’s death in 1933, the park service added his land to Pinnacles which included most of the western entrance.

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Photo courtesy of NPS


The best things to do in Pinnacles National Park

Hiking Trails

There are over 30 miles of hiking trails at Pinnacles National Park, ranging from easy, flat walks to more challenging, all-day hikes. Please remember to carry and drink plenty of water, especially during the hot summer months.


Pinnacles Campground is now within the boundaries of Pinnacles National Park, and is managed by a concessionaire. Reservations are handled by or 1-877-444-6777. Tent, RV, and group sites are available.

Ranger Programs

Ranger programs will be offered throughout the fall, winter, and spring. See our Program Schedule for a full list of programs or check our events calendar to learn about programs that may be offered during your visit.

Rock Climbing

There are hundreds of routes on both sides of the park. If you’ve never climbed at Pinnacles, be sure to read our climber’s safety advisory. You’ll also want to check our raptor advisory page for information on routes that are under adisory to protect nesting prairie and peregrine falcons.

Talus Caves

There are two talus caves at Pinnacles: the Bear Gulch Cave is closer to the east parking areas, and the Balconies Cave is closer to the west entrance. Check the status of the caves before you plan your visit.

Bird Watching

From the California Condor to the Acorn Woodpecker, birding can be very productive at Pinnacles National Park. Check our birding page for information on where to go and what you might see.

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Photo courtesy of NPS


There’s likely to be something blooming at Pinnacles no matter what the time of year

Despite the dry climate, there’s likely to be something blooming at Pinnacles no matter what the time of year. Pinnacles is noteable for the wide variation of its plant communities. From arid sandy washes to deep canyons with permanent water, Pinnacles can be a land of extremes. When combined with intense seasonal variation, the effect is a landscape with many different kinds of habitat in close proximity.

Plant Communities

Digital Herbarium
Visit our natural history collection, maintained to document the park’s biodiversity and to support park’s resource management program.

Vegetation Mapping
Researchers have created a vegetation map that shows how different plant communities are distributed throughout the park.

Trees and Shrubs
Pinnacles hosts varieties of oak, pine, buckeye, manzanita, and more.

Invasive Plants
Some plants at Pinnacles present a threat to the biodiversity of the park. Learn more about how park biologists manage invasive plants.

Discover the fern species that thrive in the niches of Pinnacles ecosystems.

Learn about what’s blossoming at Pinnacles and how to identify colorful flowers you might see during your visit.

Many of PInnacles’ rock surfaces appear to be painted in shades of red, orange, yellow, green, and brown from lichen growth.

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Animal Life

From canyon bats to mountain lions, hummingbirds to condors, Pinnacles provides a haven for thousands of diverse animal species

From canyon bats to mountain lions, hummingbirds to condors, Pinnacles provides a haven for thousands of diverse animal species.

We often associate certain animals with particular habitats, but many animals need more than one type of habitat to meet all of their needs. As a result, some of the best wildlife habitat is near the edge where one type of habitat meets another. Much of Pinnacles is a mosaic of different habitats, creating abundant opportunities for diverse wildlife species to thrive.

Pinnacles is also an island of intact natural habitat in a sea of growing human development. The park and surrounding area is the only remaining home of several sensitive species, such the big-eared kangaroo rat, Gabilan slender salamander, Pinnacles shield-back katydid, and Pinnacles riffle beetle. But it also provides refuge for many common species typical of California. We may currently take these species for granted, but as natural habitats throughout California continue to diminish, these species will become much less common and widespread. Though we have lost certain vulnerable species, healthy populations of many animals appear to be strong within Pinnacles’ protected boundaries.

Find out which cold-blooded, slimy critters you may see at Pinnacles.

Pinnacles boasts birds of all shapes and sizes, from condors and falcons to woodpeckers and hummingbirds.

The streams at Pinnacles don’t last year round. Meet the few fish species that have managed to beat the odds.

Pinnacles is home to a variety of unique species that creep, crawl, fly, and pollinate.

Meet the furriest members of the wildlife community at PInnacles.

Discover many scaly species that thrive at Pinnacles.

Sensitive Species
Learn about the species at Pinnacles with special conservation status.

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Photo courtesy of NPS

Hiking Trails

The best hiking trails at Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park has more than 30 miles of trails that showcase the beauty of the park up close and personal. Hikes range from flat stretches of grasslands to uphill climbs through talus caves onward to the rocky spires that Pinnacles is famous for. If you are new to the park, consult with a ranger at the Pinnacles Visitor Center, the Bear Gulch Nature Center, or the West Pinnacles Visitor Contact Station. They can provide advice about trails, as well as recommendations for different fitness and experience levels.

Always take plenty of water for each person in your group.
Bring a flashlight if your hike leads through a cave.
Trails from Pinnacles Campground

Pinnacles Visitor Center to Bear Gulch Day Use Area
2.3 miles one way, 1-1/2 hours
Elevation: 300 feet
Walk along Chalone and Bear creeks from the Pinnacles Visitor Center to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area. A section of the Bench Trail between Peaks View and South Wilderness Trail may be accessible to visitors in wheelchairs.

Pinnacles Visitor Center to South Wilderness Trail
6.5 miles round trip, 3 to 4 hours
Elevation: no gain
Follow this unmaintained trail to the park boundary, or simply meander through the magnificent grove of valley oaks. Begin at the campground and follow the Bench trail to the South Wilderness marker. This trail is an excellent choice for bird and other wildlife viewing.

Pinnacles Visitor Center to Balconies Cave
9.4 miles round trip, 4 to 6 hours
Elevation: 300 feet
Hike along sunny Chalone Creek on the Bench and Old Pinnacles trails to Balconies Cave. On the return trip, cross over the cave via the Balconies Cliffs trail for views of the largest rock formations in the park. Flashlight required in the cave.

Trails from Bear Gulch Day Use Area

Moses Spring to Rim Trail Loop
2.2 miles round trip, 1 to 1 and ½ hours
Elevation: 500 feet
This loop is a good choice for rock formations, talus caves, and the reservoir on a short hike and also a good choice for children. Bear Gulch Cave is open seasonally. Flashlight required in the cave.

Condor Gulch to High Peaks Loop
5.3 miles round trip, 3 to 5 hours
Elevation: 1,300 feet
Walk through the heart of the Pinnacles rock formations, particularly along the Steep and Narrow section of the High Peaks trail. Add the Rim and Moses Spring trails to extend the loop to 6.1 miles.

High Peaks to Bear Gulch Loop
6.7 miles round trip, 4 to 5 hours
Elevation: 1,425 feet
Climb into the High Peaks and descend along the ridge through meadows of grasses and, in the Spring, wildflowers. Return to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area under the shade of sycamore, buckeye, and Oak trees along the Bench and Bear Gulch trails.

Condor Gulch Trail
1.7 miles one way, 1 to 1-1/2 hours
Elevation: 1,100 feet
Moderate to Overlook, Strenuous beyond
This trail offers spectacular views of the High Peaks, whether you hike just a few minutes or the entire trail. Condor Gulch Overlook is only one mile up the trail.

Chalone Peak Trail
9 miles round trip, 3 to 5 hours
Elevation: 2,040 feet
Climb to the highest point in the monument, North Chalone Peak, and be rewarded with views of the surrounding valleys. Continue on an unmaintained trail to South Chalone Peak for a longer hike.

Trails from Old Pinnacles Trailhead

Old Pinnacles Trail to Balconies Cave
5.3 miles round trip, 3 to 5 hours
Elevation: none
This sunny hike to Balconies Cave also leads to towering rock formations: Machete Ridge and the Balconies Cliffs. Begin at the Old Pinnacles Trailhead. Flashlight required in the cave.

Trails from West Pinnacles Contact Station

Prewett Point Trail
0.9 miles round trip, 1/2 to 1 hour
Elevation: 70 feet
A gently hike with great views of the Hain Wilderness. The stabilized trail is 5 feet wide for 0.4 miles to the largest overlook. Between the largest overlook and the trail junction (counterclockwise) it is 3 feet wide for 0.25 miles. There is little shade, and the sun can be intense in the late morning and afternoon.

Jawbone Trail
1.2 miles one way, 1/2 to 1 hour
Elevation: -560 feet
Easy to Moderate
The Jawbone Trail leads northeast from the Prewett Point Trail, descending to the Jawbone Parking Area. From there it connects to the Chaparral Parking Area (0.3 miles).

Trails from Chaparral (West Pinnacles)

Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop
2.4 miles round trip, 1 to 1-1/2 hours
Elevation: 100 feet
Easy to Moderate
This trail crosses up and over the Balconies Cave, then descends back down to the Old Pinnacles trail, which leads back through the cave. Scramble through the talus passages of the Balconies Cave. Wading may be necessary in the winter when precipitation creates flooding. Flashlight required in cave.

Juniper Canyon Loop
4.3 miles round trip, 2 to 3 hours
Elevation: 1,215 feet
This steep trail climbs along switchbacks to the heart of the High Peaks. At the top, circle through the rock formations along the Steep and Narrow section of the High Peaks Trail and begin the descent down on the Tunnel Trail.

North Wilderness Trail Loop
9.3 miles round trip, 5 to 8 hours
Elevation: 1,020
This unmaintained trail climbs along the ridge tops and then descends into the Chalone Creek bed, where it is marked by rock cairns. Return along the Old Pinnacles and Balconies Trail.

High Peaks to Balconies Cave Loop
8.4 miles round trip, 4 to 5 hours
Elevation: 1,540 feet
Begin by climbing into the High Peaks, and the rest of the loop is downhill or flat. Return along the Old Pinnacles and Balconies trails, going over or through the cave. Flashlight required in the cave.

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Photo courtesy of NPS

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