High Peaks Trail

Pinnacles National Park, California

Elevation Gain4,762ft
Trailhead Elevation1,322ft
Elevation Min/Max1008/2567ft
Elevation Start/End1322/1322ft

High Peaks Trail

High Peaks Trail is a hiking trail in San Benito County, California. It is within Pinnacles National Park and Hain Wilderness. It is 4.9 miles long and begins at 1,322 feet altitude. Traveling the entire trail is 10.1 miles with a total elevation gain of 4,762 feet. The Bear Creek Picnic Area (elevation 1,325 feet) picnic site is near the trailhead. There are also restrooms, drinking water, and parking. High Peaks (elevation 2,638 feet) can be seen along the trail. This trail connects with the following: Moses Spring Trail, Bench Trail, Rim Trail, Tunnel Trail, Condor Gulch Trail, Discovery Wall Approach and Juniper Canyon Trail.

High Peaks Trail Professional Guides

Detailed Trail Descriptions from Our Guidebooks

"The story of the pinnacles began some 28 million years ago when the Pacific tectonic plate first made contact with North America near present-day Los Angeles, and pushed an active underwater volcanic ridge beneath the continent. Widespread geologic havoc followed, and the first strands of the San Andreas Fault began forming."
Allen Riedel
"The hike starts out along a riparian oak woodland streambed, but quickly traverses upward into the spires of the Pinnacles. Getting an early morning start is best to take advantage of the shady side of the mountain and to avoid the warmer temperatures of midday, which can be dreadfully hot even during winter. Portions of this hike may be unsuitable for small children and those afraid of heights."
Vicky Spring & Tom Kirkendall
"From shaded creeks and underground adventures to cliff-hanging trails skirting under gnome-shaped knobs, this loop samples the most scenic and unique features of Pinnacles National Monument. Although the trails can be hiked year-round, spring is especially appealing. The temperatures are still cool enough to be invigorating, the wildflowers put on a colorful display, and the birds are everywhere, nesting on cliffs and pinnacles, in the trees, and throughout the chaparral-covered hillsides. Summer hikers should plan to start early to avoid the mid-afternoon heat. Hikers should always carry plenty water and a flashlight for the caves."
"Established in 1908, Pinnacles National Monument contains more than 26,000 acres in the low rolling hills of the Gabilan Range. The monument is tucked away east of Salinas Valley near Soledad and King City. The oddly shaped geological formations, remnants of an ancient volcano, rise abruptly from the rolling, grassy hills. The Pinnacles landscape is composed of sheer rock walls and tall spires that rise and twist in exotic configurations and surrealistic forms, creating a natural statue garden. The park is divided into two districts: east and west. Both districts are accessible by car, but a road does not make a con- tinuous route across the park—the volcanic peaks form a barrier between the two entrances. Only footpaths link the east and west sides of the park. The area is a hiker’s and climber’s park. The High Peaks Trail is the premier trail at Pinnacles National Monument. The breathtaking trail winds up, over, and around the landscape’s namesake pinnacles. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1 930s and early 1 940s, the trail takes the hiker through a rocky, geological wonderland. The circuitous route winds around giant knobs and towers of volcanic, weather- sculpted formations known as The Pinnacles. The trail travels along a narrow ledge etched into the side of the smooth rock face, up a steep staircase hand-chiseled out of the solid rock."
Hiking the Redwood Coast (Falcon Guides)
Dan Brett
"This hike is the closest a wilderness walk is likely to get to a theme-park roller-coaster ride. The pinnacles themselves are impressive enough, rising unexpectedly from the surrounding gentle hills in giant knobs and towers of rock. But the High Peaks Trail, built in the 1930s and 1940s by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) crews, makes optimum use of this bizarre topography. The CCC crews drilled, chipped, and carved until they had the trail climbing, dipping, and clinging to the rock in the unlikeliest of places."

High Peaks Trail Trip Reports

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The High Peaks Trail, combined with Condor Gulch, was an absolute highlight of Pinnacles National Park for me. Depending on your fitness level and/or sensitivity to heat and sun exposure, this can also be a tough hike. Nevertheless, it is well worth the sweat and strain. After a steep haul for about a mile and a half up the Condor Gulch trail from the Bear Gulch parking lot, keep going as the views just become more and more stunning. As I approached the ridge up to the High Peaks Trail, I saw my very first California Condor and I nearly fell over. This is an incredible, massive bird, with striking long white patches along the undersides of their wings, which span 9 ft. Make no mistake, these rare birds are like small aircraft and much bigger than Black or Turkey Vultures, which you will also see soaring overhead. The higher you go, the more likely you are to see more condors, especially as you hike into the high peaks of the pinnacles that you have spent so much time admiring from below. Navigating the jagged pinnacles can be tricky--it is narrow and steep, and you sort of weave in and out and up and down them, sometimes with the help of railings and steps which have been cut into the rock.

From the high peaks you are rewarded with stellar views of both the east and the west sides of the park. It's completely breathtaking and, even though I spent a beautiful day in early May on this exciting loop, so was the 90+ degree heat. While it is highly recommended that hikers are extremely careful on these trails in the oppressive summer heat, I might have to say the same for even some of the spring months. Take care to bring plenty of water and cool down when you can, maybe checking out the wildflowers (like bush poppies, monkeyflowers, and mariposa lilies) along the trail.
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This seemed to be a popular hike in that we saw a lot of people of different abilities on the trail. If you were to interest someone in hiking, this would be a good trail. Take the camera as there are many scenic views, deer and other animals. The trail is well prepared with railings and built-in steps into rocks at key points. At one point in the loop there you go through two caves. As you hike, pay attention as to if you hear rumblings. This is an active earthquake zone.

High Peaks Trail Photos

Trail Information

Pinnacles National Park
Nearby City
Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park
Local Contacts
USGS 7.5-min. North Chalone Peak
Local Maps

Trail Log