The cool and clear weather makes this a great time for a family trip to Pinnacles National Park. Located about 5 miles east of Soledad and 80 miles southeast of San Jose, this national park is known for high temperatures during Spring and Summer making it a perfect place for a Fall or Winter hike.
The national park has entrances from the west side near Soledad and from the east side near Hollister, but there are no roads that connect the two sides. Family fun activities include hiking, cave exploration, camping, and bird watching.
There are more than 30 miles of hiking trails with hikes ranging from easy to strenuous, all day hikes. Two popular hikes pass through talus caves: the Bear Gulch Cave is closer to the east parking areas, and the Balconies Cave is closer to the west entrance. From the west entrance, an easy hiking loop starts at the Chaparral parking lot goes over the Balconies Cave along the Balconies Cliff trail and then through the Balconies cave. Be sure to bring a flashlight as it is dark inside the Balconies Cave. Also, be prepared for a rock scramble. By following this trail in a clockwise fashion, you will scramble up the rocks. If you follow the trail in a counterclockwise fashion, you'll come to the Balconies cave after .5 mile, scramble down the rocks in the cave, and then follow the Balconies Cliff trail back to the parking lot. From the east entrance, you can drive to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area and then hike to the Bear Gulch Cave, which is home to a colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats. In order to protect their habitat, the park closes areas of the cave as needed throughout the year so be sure to check the status of the caves before going.
There is a campground with tent, RV, and group sites near the Pinnacles Visitor Center near the east entrance. A small store and a seasonal pool are within the campground. You can visit recreation.gov to make reservations for Pinnacles Campground.
The Pinnacles is located on the Pacific Flyway and more than 160 species of birds have been sighted at the park. The park participates in the California Condor Recovery Program and now manages 27 free-flying condors. We saw several of the condors from the High Peaks Trail, a strenuous hike best suited to older teens and adults.
Pinnacles National Park
East Side of Park (Pinnacles Visitor Center)
30 miles south of Hollister
36.493545, -121.146646 GPS
West Side of Park (Chaparral Visitor Contact Station)
14 miles east of Soledad
36.477352, -121.226114 GPS