Only 112 miles away from SFO, Pinnacles National Park is currently the closest national park to the SF Bay Area (if you exclude national monuments and seashores…looking at you, Muir Woods and Point Reyes). Although some might say that it doesn’t have the same wow factor as Yosemite, the second closest national park to the Bay Area, Pinnacles is a different type of stunning—one filled with epic stone formations, condors, caves and more.
We camped at Pinnacles Campground (Site 62, Loop C) on the last weekend of February 2020. Weather was perfect with highs in the upper 60s and lows in the upper 40s. We were lucky with how enclosed and unique our campsite was. We had tree stumps, trees and green plants surrounding the entirety of our space. At night, we fell asleep to frogs croaking. In the morning, we woke up to birds chirping.
The next day, we woke up excited to hike the Condor Gulch trail to High Peaks trail loop. We made our breakfast and lunch sandwiches, packed up and headed into the park, which was conveniently right next to the campground – big perk of camping! 🙂
Here are our highlights at Pinnacles:
1.) Cool rock formations
This is what Pinnacles is known for. Have you ever seen anything like this? According to nps.gov, the formation of these rocks came to be from multiple volcanoes about 23 million years ago. Beautiful!
2.) Holes in the rock walls
Whether they were man-made or natural, the rock holes made for cool photos and memorable surprises throughout the hike.
The California condor was once extinct in the wild in 1987. All existing condors at the time were captured in efforts to prevent the bird from going extinct. After years of captive breeding at the San Diego Zoo and Los Angeles Zoo, condors were reintroduced into the wild in 1991. Mario and I had the pleasure of learning about this species when we visited the San Diego Zoo in December 2018!
All the condors we saw at Pinnacles had a tag clipped on their wing, which I assume helps rangers/endangered species specialists keep track of them. Some were flying high above the peaks of Pinnacles, scouting for prey. Others were resting at the peaks.
Pinnacles is a pretty dry, rocky area with greenery scattered here and there. We did not expect to see a reservoir near the end of our hike so it was a “WoWoWOWowOw” moment when we saw it. As you can see from the photo, it’s a fantastic spot to take a break and relax.
Another cool thing was that there was a park ranger hanging out next to the reservoir, explaining the history and ecosystem of the reservoir.
5.) Rocks balancing on/between rocks
You will see tons of rocks balancing on each other when you enter the caves. It’s crazy that they don’t just fall, but that’s the amazing thing about it!
These caves looked like they were built by rocks falling on top of each other. It was a tight squeeze walking through the caves, especially with all the little kiddos scurrying around and having a blast exploring the caves. To get a sense of how tight it was, sometimes we stood on the side to wait for others to go up and, at other times, people would stand on the side and wait for us to go down.
Bring a headlight if you can! We did not prepare ahead so we just used our phone light, which also worked. Also, be careful when stepping on piles of small rocks here because you might slip and fall on your butt like I did. 😛
7.) Woodpeckers + additional bird watching
Look at all these holes drilled by woodpeckers! We were lucky enough to see this phenomenon all around our campsite—not many other campsites had tree stumps like we did. Not sure if the woodpeckers kept their acorn in the holes or if another animal decided to repurpose the holes, but, as you can see in the photo above, many holes were filled with acorns or some variety of tree nuts.
We also spotted a hummingbird, crows, tiny brown birds that we do not know the name of and, of course, condors! As we spend more time in nature, I am sure we will grow our lacking bird knowledge. 😛
We drove to Pinnacles National Park with no expectation and came out loving every bit of it—definitely will be coming back for more adventures.