Best Easy Day Hikes Pinnacles National Park  by Linda B. Mullally and David S. Mullally

Best Easy Day Hikes Pinnacles National Park Guide Book

by Linda B. Mullally and David S. Mullally (Falcon Guides)
Best Easy Day Hikes Pinnacles National Park  by Linda B. Mullally and David S. Mullally
This guide is for those with limited time to hike Pinnacles National Park, or for those who want to sample only the easiest or most popular trails. This first edition of Best Easy Day Hikes Pinnacles National Park was extracted from our more comprehensive guide about our newest national park (January 10, 2013), Hiking Pinnacles National Park, published in March 2015. The park straddles two counties, San Benito and Monterey, in the southern portion of the Gabilan Range ecoregion, which is part of California’s Central Coast Range. The park sits 80 miles south of San Francisco Bay and 40 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean and the Monterey Peninsula, a world-renown tourist destination.

© 2016 Linda B Mullally and David S Mullally/Falcon Guides. All Rights Reserved.

Trails from the "Best Easy Day Hikes Pinnacles National Park" Guide Book
Displaying trails 18 of 18.

Displaying trails 1 to 18 of 18.

If you could do only one hike in Pinnacles National Park, this would be the one—as long as you are not anxious about small dark spaces and do not have issues with high places. This hike offers a close-up view of Pinnacles National Park from the bottom to the top. The trail begins in exposed chaparral before entering a cool canyon and portal to the boulder-tumble tunnel passage known as Balconies Cave. You will need a flashlight in the talus “cave.” You emerge at the junction for the climb up the lofty panoramic trail at the base of the Balconies Cliffs, where raptors roost, before dropping back down to the canyon floor.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.6
This less-than-2-mile route is an easy introductory hike to the chaparral- and rock-dominated Pinnacles realm. The trail is mostly flat, crossing a few seasonal creeks in the open before entering a shadier canyon to the base of Machete Ridge and a climber access trail junction. This hike is a good option for families with young children who cannot get a morning start for longer hikes in the spring, summer, and early fall when temperatures can rise quickly from warm to hot by midday.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.4
This is one of the classic hikes in Pinnacles National Park, with almost half a mile of intimidating, steep, narrow, chiseled rock steps, sometimes assisted by metal pipe handrails on the rock faces. The scenic trail climbs out of leafy Bear Gulch up to the Pinnacles saddle, straddling the east and west sides of the park beneath Scout Peak, before looping around the panoramic High Peaks where condors love to soar. The loop closes back at the saddle. Within 350 yards from the trailhead, the trail cuts through a shady picnic area before reaching the Moses Spring trailhead and a parking area and sign for the High Peaks. At 0.3 mile up the trail, you come to a junction for the Moses Spring Trail to the left and the High Peaks Trail to the right. Bear right on the High Peaks Trail for the 0.5-mile-long gradual climb before the trail transitions to switchbacks in more exposed chaparral terrain. On weekends especially, keep your eyes open for climbers perched on massive boulders or dangling from ropes on the right side of the trail.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 6.1
Rarely does such a short little hike pack so much adventure. This is one of the many unique and distinct worlds within Pinnacles National Park, which has some of the most accessible talus caves in the National Park System. The catch is that you must be sure-footed and comfortable in dark, tight spaces. If you meet those criteria, this hike through one of the park’s most extensive talus caves will astonish you. Bear Gulch Caves happen to also be the home of bats. They are “bat caves” of sorts. Park biologists specifically monitor the Townsend’s big-eared bat population and their migration patterns to determine which caves to close when and for how long, so the public can have access to parts of the talus caves (if not both Lower and Upper Caves) without risk of disturbing the breeding, birthing, and rearing process.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.9
It is worth noting that Pinnacles National Park has some of the most accessible talus caves in the National Park System. Cave lovers who don’t have a lot of time or stamina for a long hike will love this trail. In addition to the unique rock-step climb out of the cave (flashlight required), this hike loops back along the volcanic walls of the gulch, passing Moses Spring, where you may spot the endangered red-legged frog soaking in the freshwater spring. Your passage through the cave on this route will be short but memorable. This hike is also a good alternative to the more exposed hillside and Pinnacles slope trails that can get uncomfortably to dangerously hot in the summer.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.5
This is a sweet trail that combines shade and a moderate incline to open views of striking volcanic formations contrasted by the oasis-like feel of the unlikely body of water at the foot of Chalone Peak’s more arid chaparral zone. The trail then loops through an enchanting boulder tunnel and cliff-shouldered corridor back into Bear Gulch. Within 250 feet from the trail-head, the trail cuts through a shady picnic area before reaching the Moses Spring parking area and another trailhead sign for the High Peaks. Note that although you can park here to hike to the High Peaks, there are only ten spaces, and they typically fill up with rock climbers getting an early start, especially on weekends.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 1.95
This is a “must-hike” moderate trail laced with wooden footbridges across seasonal Bear Gulch Creek, passing beautiful time- and element-sculpted boulders that tumble into cascades and waterfalls during wet winters and early spring. Even in dryer conditions, ferns and clump grass–like sedges adorn the creek bed under the canopy of sycamore, oak, and buckeye trees. Popular Bear Gulch Day Use Area boasts several tempting trailheads. The Peaks View trailhead at the east end of the parking lot is the gateway to Bear Gulch Trail, one of the park’s most enchanting hikes and voted one of the favorites among park employees. Bear Gulch Trail is unmarked except for the trail sign that reads To Peaks View. This hike is a moderate rather than easy 2-mile out-and-back because what goes down must come up.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2
This seasonal waterfall spills over a broken bluff above CA 89 near Lassen Volcanic National Park’s Southwest Entrance.
Chester, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.4
This trail is exposed, with a mile-long uphill huff and puff that rewards with views and a seasonal creek that drapes over the rocks at the overlook. The hike makes for a pleasant picnic destination on late spring afternoons.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2
If you have already hiked among the rock formations on other trails in the park, you may think this trail starts out a little ho-hum as you hike through the chaparral flatlands staring up at the base of more towering rock palisades. The best is yet to come. The Civil Conservation Corps’ engineering feat of metal catwalks, steep Incan pyramid–like footholds picked out of the rock, and metal pipe handrails on the High Peaks’ narrow ledges has an almost Italian Dolomites Via Ferrata flair that will charge your adrenaline batteries. You might even be rewarded with spotting condors on their midday soar. The trail begins in open chaparral terrain by the information panel. Walk 150 feet up the trail in the fenced trail corridor to the Condor Crags interpretive panel and turn right. Enjoy the wispy shade of the juniper and gray pines spread among the buckeye trees for the first mile. From here on, the trail climbs up the exposed rocky flanks, treating you to views of various element-sculpted volcanic rock monuments. The trail is at its most challenging, unique, and precipitously exciting from the High Peaks via Tunnel Trail junction at 1.2 miles for almost 2 more miles. On this section you will use rock-chiseled footholds and metal pipe handrails installed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s. The views are breathtaking; the trail itself is a heart thumper and not for the timid or anyone fearful of heights.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 4.3
This is a lovely hike away from the weekend crowds. Hikers get a taste of the Pinnacles wilderness area, crossing a meadow and walking through rolling chaparral with two knoll viewpoints looking back at the west face of the Pinnacles and the North Chalone Peak fire tower. This hike is a nice contrast to caves, tunnels, and steep trails into volcanic high peaks where you are hiking in the postcard. The trailhead at the far end of the Chaparral Picnic Area takes you away from the weekend fray and opens the portal to a more serene scene across a meadow, rewarded with a colorful spring bloom of wildflowers following a wet winter and plum-colored buckwheat bushes in the drier months.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 3
This is the easiest route to the Balconies Cave from the park’s east side, as it is a mostly level trail with a moderate climb on the return lollipop along Balconies Cliff. The trail begins in the open, paralleling the wide Chalone Creek before veering into a shadier corridor with multiple seasonal West Fork Chalone Creek crossings. The short but dramatic passage through the talus cave requires a flashlight, careful footwork, and some limberness. The trailhead is in the Old Pinnacles Trail parking lot at the end of the road. From here the gravel and coarse sand trail follows the wide and seasonal Chalone Creek on the left. The trail veers right toward the Balconies Cave at the junction for High Peaks Trail and Bench Trail going left. Just ahead on the left side of the trail is an information panel about the Chalone Creek restoration.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 5.2
This is a nice snapshot of the lush Bear Gulch area via the sweetest mile of trail in the park. There’s something enchanting about hiking up this narrow gulch laced with six wooden footbridges across seasonal Bear Gulch Creek, which is lined with buckeyes, sycamores, and oaks. Ferns, cattails, clump grass–like sedges, cascades, and a waterfall are some of the seasonal centerpieces. Peaks View Day Use Area welcomes you with a strategically located bench to absorb the view of the High Peaks on the horizon and an educational panel about the relationship between condors and the Pinnacles. This is a perfect spot for admiring the unique ancient geological formation where condors nest and roost once again.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 2.7
This is an easy route for visitors with limited time or energy looking to begin a hike with a peek at the High Peaks on the western horizon before enjoying a bit of solitude on a shady, mostly flat trail. If winter and spring have been reasonably generous with rainfall, the rocky Chalone creek bed can be a spectacle of deep blue bush lupine and brilliant goldenorange California poppies. This hike has the option of being made even easier and shorter with a vehicle parked in the Old Pinnacles trailhead parking lot for a shuttle back to Peaks View Day Use Area.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 3.3
This historic property is part of Pinnacles National Park’s newest land acquisitions and is part of the park’s future interpretive program. This is a convenient, flat, skip-and-a-hop type of hike from the visitor center or campground. It is ideal for a leg stretch or end-of-day stroll with young children or folks with limited stamina, or for visitors who like to round off the park’s geologic wonders with a dose of nostalgia for early California ranching life.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.5
This hike puts a whole other face on Pinnacles National Park. Rather than formidable volcanic fortresses and phenomenal talus caves, this hike, which is suitable for families with very young children or for any less-than-hardy hiker, is a pleasant stroll past a historic ranch house and through another homestead, crossing meadows bordered by rolling hills with majestic oaks. Whether you hike in the lush green of spring or the warmth of the golden fall, the landscape transports you back to an earlier California setting. A short spur on the way back treats hikers to a surprise peek of the High Peaks. You may be the lucky hiker who spots a bobcat.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 3.8
If you can get past this hike’s lackluster section along the campground road, you will be rewarded with two condorspotting telescopes on an ADA-accessible concrete pad within 250 feet of the trailhead. From the 0.5-mile mark to Peaks View Day Use Area, it’s a relaxing stroll along a creek and through pine woodland, ending with a postcard view of the High Peaks’ volcanic palisade. At the start, this may seem like an odd hike since it follows the paved campground road for the first 0.5 mile, but it should not be dismissed for several reasons. The parking is easy and ample behind the visitor center. It is one of the closest trailheads to the visitor center and therefore the quickest way to get moving after the drive. Since parts of it are ADA friendly and wheelchair accessible, you may get the best view of condors in flight without much exertion.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 3
This very short, flat and narrow, unmarked dirt trail is as rich in views as it is poor in challenge. It’s too convenient to the West Pinnacles Visitor Contact Station to miss as you drive into the park, and it is spectacular at sunset. At the time of publication, this portal to stunning views was slated for improvement per the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). If ever a hike in the park epitomized “short and sweet,” this unmarked trail is it. Just 120 feet from the Visitor Contact Station, it is the most easily accessed trail, offering an unobstructed and stunning view of the unusual volcanic outcrop for which the park is named.
Soledad, CA - Hiking - Trail Length: 0.1
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