Pinnacles National Monument: Wikis


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Pinnacles National Monument
IUCN Category III (Natural Monument)
Location San Benito County & Monterey County, California, USA
Nearest city Soledad, California
Coordinates 36°29′13″N 121°10′1″W / 36.48694°N 121.16694°W / 36.48694; -121.16694Coordinates: 36°29′13″N 121°10′1″W / 36.48694°N 121.16694°W / 36.48694; -121.16694
Area 24,514 acres (9,920 ha)
Established January 16, 1908
Visitors 158,637 (in 2004)
Governing body National Park Service

Pinnacles National Monument is a protected mountainous area located east of central California's Salinas Valley. The Monument's namesakes are the eroded leftovers of half of an extinct volcano.

The Monument is divided by the rock formations into East and West Divisions, connected by foot trails; there is no through road that connects the east end west entrances to the park. The east side has shade and water, the west has high walls. The rock formations provide for spectacular pinnacles that attract rock climbers. It is popular with advanced rock climbers due to the many difficult and challenging climbs.[1] The Monument is most often visited in spring or fall because of the intense heat during the summer months.



First set aside as Pinnacles Forest Reserve in 1906, Pinnacles has had several different federal management agencies, ranging from the United States Forest Service to the General Land Office and ultimately to the National Park Service. In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt created Pinnacles National Monument with the power given him in the Antiquities Act of 1906. To commemorate the people and organizations instrumental to the creation and early protection of the park. Pinnacles National Monument celebrated its Centennial in 2008 with numerous dedicatory events.


Entrance to Balconies Cave at Pinnacles National Monument

Pinnacles NM lies about 40 miles (64 km) inland from the Pacific Ocean and about 80 miles (130 km) south of the San Francisco Bay Area. The monument is in the southern portion of the Gabilan Range, part of California's Coast Ranges.

Elevation within the boundaries range from 824 feet (251 m) to 3,304 feet (1,007 m) at the peak of North Chalone Peak.

The climate is Mediterranean, typical on the Southern and Central California coast. The Santa Lucia Mountains lie between the Monument and Pacific Ocean, blocking much of the moderating influence of the Ocean. In comparison to the nearby coast, temperatures have a daily larger range that can be 50 °F to 100 °F (10 °C to 38 °C). The average rainfall is 16 inches (410 mm) per year. Snow can fall in small amounts at higher elevations between mid-December and January.

The vegetation is about 80% chaparral with woodlands, riparian and grasslands merged into the chaparral. The diversity of intersecting ecosystems and altitude has led to great number of animal species that call the Monument home.


The Monument is located near the San Andreas Fault, which had a hand in creating the unique formations the Monument protects. The Pinnacles are part of the Neenach Volcano which erupted 23 million years ago near what is Lancaster, California today. The movement of the Pacific Plate along the San Andreas Fault split a section of rock off from the main body of the volcano and moved it 195 miles (314 km) to the northwest. It is believed that the pinnacles came from this particular volcano due to the unique breccias that are only found elsewhere in the Neenach Volcano formations. Differential erosion and weathering of the exposed rock created the Pinnacles that are seen today.

Large scale earth movement also created the talus caves that can be found in the Monument. Deep, narrow gorges and shear fractures were transformed into caves by large chunks of rock falling from above and wedging into the cracks leaving an open area below.

Since the Pinnacles were moved to this area, the San Andreas Fault has shifted 4 miles (6.4 km) to the East of the Monument. The original location of the San Andreas can be seen in the Chalone Creek Fault. Two other large faults are known to run through the Monument, the Miner's Gulch and Pinnacles Faults. These faults parallel the San Andreas and were most likely caused by major movements of the main fault.

Seismic activity is frequent in the Monument and United States Geological Survey maintains two seismometers within the boundaries. Evidence of past and ongoing seismic activity can be seen in offset streams where they cross faults. Valley bottoms and terraces show signs of uplift.


Peregrine Falcons live in this area and a California Condor re-establishment program has been in place since 2003. Bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes, California Quail, Wild Turkeys, and many other birds and mammals live in the area. Like many parks in central California, Pinnacles has had a small problem with wild pigs (a mix of feral domestic pigs and imported wild boars) disturbing the landscape on a regular basis. As of Spring 2006, the core of the park is pig free. The culmination of a ten-year, multi-million dollar effort has succeeded in eradicating pigs from the main area of the park. National Park Service personnel along with IWS has worked to remove pigs from inside the park, and establish and monitor an exclusionary pig fence that runs for approximately 24 miles around the perimeter of the park. Current monitoring for potential breaks and breaches in the fence is needed to ensure that the pigs do not return to devastate the park.

Pinnacles Wilderness

More than 80% of the park is designated as the Pinnacles Wilderness area (15,985 acres/6,469 hectares), which provides even higher protection for the rock spires that give Pinnacles its name, as well as Chalone Peak, the highest peak in the Gabilan Range, and includes the creeks and canyons that are habitat for the endangered red-legged frog.[2] The United States Congress in 1976 enacted Public Law 94-567, adding Pinnacles Wilderness and several others to the National Wilderness Preservation System.[3]


There are several trails for day hikers, some of which are strenuous. The trails provide views of the surrounding hills and valleys on clear days. The San Andreas Fault is visible from some vantages along the trails.

A view from the High Peaks Trail

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Johnson, Elvin R.; Cordone, Richard P. (1992). Pinnacles Guide: Pinnacles National Monument, San Benito County, California. Glendale, CA: La Siesta Press. ISBN 910856-71-58.  
  2. ^
  3. ^ PDF document of legislation from

External links

Pinnacles National Monument travel guide from Wikitravel


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Pinnacles National Monument [1] is a United States National Monument that protects a wilderness area containing the remains of half of a long-extinct volcano. It offers rugged hiking trails over high rock formations and through talus caves. Located approximately two hours (by car) south of San Jose in California's Central Coast region, the park is remote enough to avoid massive throngs of visitors, but close enough to the Bay Area to be a good day-trip option.



The initial 2,060 acres of Pinnacles National Monument was set aside in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt to preserve the unusual rock formations and the talus caves found in the park. The Civilian Conservation Corps began developing some of the trails and facilities in the park between 1933 and 1942, including the distinctive tunnel that is found on the tunnel trail. Today the park has been expanded to contain 24,265 acres and attracts over 150,000 visitors annually.


The pinnacles for which the park is named are the remains of a 23 million year old volcano. Located along the San Andreas fault, half of the volcano was pulled 195 miles to the northeast as the tectonic plate on which it sits shifted. The current rocky outcroppings have been eroded to approximately one-third of the volcano's original height, but still offer a challenging vista for hikers and rock climbers.

Flora and fauna

The park is home to 149 species of birds, 49 mammals, 22 reptiles, 6 amphibians, 68 butterflies, 36 dragonflies and damselflies, nearly 400 bees, and many thousands of other invertebrates.

The endangered California condor, the largest flying land bird in North America, has recently been re-introduced into the park and can occasionally be seen gliding on updrafts near the rocky cliffs. Turkey vultures are commonly seen, and the park is also home to golden eagles, prairie falcons, Cooper’s hawks, and sharp-shinned hawks. Mammals in the park include black-tailed deer, bobcat, gray fox, raccoon, jackrabbit, brush rabbit, ground squirrel, chipmunk, and several kinds of bats.


The climate of Pinnacles is typical of the Mediterranean climate of California, with cool wet winters and hot dry summers. Summer temperatures of over 100°F are common, but coastal fog will often come into the valleys at night. Nighttime summer temperatures of 50°F are common, making for enormous daily temperature swings.

Winter climate is akin to the California deserts, with mild days and nights often dropping into the low 20s °F. The average precipitation is approximately 16 inches (400 mm) per year. Nearly all of the precipitation is in the form of rainfall, with the majority occurring from December to March. Snowfall is rare, but does occur in significant amounts about every 10 years.

Get in

By automobile

An automobile is the only practical means to reach Pinnacles National Monument. Park entrances on the east and west sides are not connected to each other by a through-road. The west entrance can be reached via U.S. Route 101 near the town of Soledad, then east along California Route 146 to the Chaparral area. The east entrance is reached via California Route 25, south from the city of Hollister or north from the town of King City, then west on California Route 146.

If unsure which side of the Monument to visit, be aware that a foot trail system connects both sides of the park. For those wanting to visit a talus cave, the west side trail heads are closest to the Balconies Cave Loop. For views of the High Peaks without leaving your car, the rock formations are also visible from the west parking area. However, the road to the west side of the monument is winding and narrow, and may not be the best option for those traveling in a motor home or similar recreation vehicle.


All private vehicles entering the park must pay a $5 entrance fee that is valid for seven days. For individuals traveling by foot, bike or motorcycle the fee is $3, also valid for seven days. Those with an America the Beautiful Pass ($80, allows entrance to all national park areas for one year) do not need to pay the entrance fee. The Pinnacles Annual Pass, which costs $15, also waives all entrance fees.

Get around

By car

The park has two entrances, Pinnacles East and Pinnacles West, which are not connected by roads. Parking areas just inside the park entrance often fill during the Spring, and it is therefore advisable to try to arrive early. On some weekends during the spring a park shuttle may be available on the east side of the monument to take visitors from overflow parking areas to trailheads and the visitor center.

By foot

The park offers 30 miles of hiking trails, easily accessible from the parking areas inside of both entrances and ranging in difficulty from easy two-mile loops to trails leading across high cliffs and over rocky outcroppings.

By bicycle

Bicycles are allowed only on paved roads within the park. Bicycles and motorcycles are not allowed on trails.

  • High Peaks. The remnants of a volcano, the high peaks are a series of interesting rocky pinnacles that dominate the landscape and gave the park its name.
  • Balconies Cave. A talus cave, formed from falling boulders creating a "roof" over a narrow canyon. This cave is one of the most popular in the park, and can be visited from either side of the park by following the Balconies Cave trail. A flashlight is required through the cave. The cave is dark, wet, and some scrambling over rocks is required.
  • Bear Gulch Cave. Portions of Bear Gulch Cave are closed throughout the year in order to protect a colony of Townsend's Big-eared bats; the cave is closed entirely from mid-May through July. A flashlight is required through the cave.
  • Balconies Cliffs Loop (2 mile loop). A moderately easy hike that gains 300 feet of elevation, this trail offers excellent views and passes through Balconies Cave, a talus cave formed from boulders filling in a "roof" over a narrow stream canyon. A flashlight is required through the cave; a head lamp is recommended to leave your hands free. Some areas are narrow and may require scrambling to pass through. Portions of the trail may require wading during the winter and spring; cave may closed during periods of heavy rainfall. The trailhead is near the west entrance parking lot, and the trail may be combined with loops that lead to the High Peaks area.
  • Juniper Canyon (4.1 mile loop). A strenuous hike that gains 1600 feet of elevation during its climb from the west entrance parking lot up to the High Peaks. Excellent views, and it can be combined with the tunnel trail and the "Steep and Narrow" section of the High Peaks Trail to make a spectacular loop.
  • North Wilderness Trail (9.7 mile loop). A strenuous hike. Due to construction on the east side of the park, this loop should be started from the main parking area on the west side. Much of this trail follows the Chalone Creek bed and is marked by rock cairns. Makes a loop by combining with the Old Pinnacles and Balconies Trails.
  • High Peaks Trail. Numerous trails join with the High Peaks Trail, a strenuous trail through the rock formations. Some parts of this trail are narrow and require climbing steep rock stairs and may not be suitable for those who are afraid of heights. For all others, the view and the geology are incredible.
  • Moses Springs - Rim Trail Loop (2.2 mile loop). A moderate hike that gains 500 feet of elevation. The trailhead is on the east side of the park near the Visitor Center that offers picturesque views. Hike through Bear Gulch to Reservoir, Bear Gulch Cave is open seasonally, then along the rim of the gulch with panoramic views; also connects with High Peaks Trail; trail guide available at Visitor Center.
  • Bear Gulch and Old Pinnacles Trails. This trail follows the canyon bottom and a seasonal stream. Take the Bear Gulch Trail from the east side visitor center and connect to the Bench Trail at the canyon bottom. The Balconies Cave trail may be joined on the return trip.
    Note: The Bear Gulch Caves are open seasonally. The caves are open year round, except from approximately mid-May through mid-July, when parts are closed due to Townsend's Big-Eared Bat roosting activity. Actual closure dates depend on arrival and departure of the bats. Check the official National Park Service web site for current status.
  • Condor Gulch Trail (1.7 miles one way). A moderately difficult hike to an overlook (1 mile), and more strenuous beyond; good views of High Peaks on the way to the overlook where they tower overhead, even better from close to the junction with High Peaks Trail; geology trail guide available.
  • Chalone Peaks Trail (8.6 mile round trip). Starting at the reservoir on the east side, this trail gains 2040 feet as it climbs gradually to North Chalone Peak, the highest point in the park. The last mile is on a dirt road. For a longer hike, an unmaintained trail continues 1.6 miles farther to South Chalone Peak, with a unique vista from the southern end of the Gabilan Range.
  • Bench Trail. The Bench trail can be combined with Balconies Cave to create an interesting loop. The trail begins near Pinnacles Campground and provides a sunny hike along Chalone Creek. Connects with Bear Gulch Trail to Visitor Center. Preferred way to access the park from the campground. Please note: the Chalone Creek Area is closed for construction and no facilities are available.
  • South Wilderness Trail (6.5 miles round trip). A moderately difficult hike that leads through valley oaks along the fire road for first half a mile. Turn to the right at the South Wilderness marker, and then follow the trail and/or creek to park’s south boundary. Opportunity for more solitude and wildlife viewing than on the popular trails. Begins on the Bench Trail in the east side of the park; hike from the Bear Gulch Visitor Center or the Pinnacles Campground.

Bird watching

There have been over 140 species of birds documented in the park, but for the average visitor the most interesting will be the California condor, the largest flying bird in North America. Nearly extinct, condors were reintroduced to the park in 2003. These giant birds can live as many as sixty years and are often confused with turkey vultures, but can be distinguished by their bald, pink heads and small patch of white feathers on the leading edge underside of their wings. Other notable birds likely to be seen by casual birders include the prairie falcons that nest on the high cliffs, as well as golden eagles and red-tailed hawks.

Rock climbing

The rock in Pinnacles is volcanic in origin, and may pose difficulty for climbers used to granite. Park regulations are as follows:

  1. Climbing is not allowed on routes where rock fall or dropped gear might injure people using established hiking trails. This ban includes, but is not limited to routes 58 through 68 and 339a (as numbered in the Climber's Guide). This does not apply to routes above climber access or social trails.
  2. No power drills may be used for bolting.
  3. Some formations may be closed from January through July in order to protect nesting falcons and eagles. Check with a Park Ranger for information on specific routes, or check the climbing information boards at the East and West trailheads. While the closures are voluntary, climbers or hikers who disturb nesting birds or other wildlife will be fined.
  4. It is highly recommended that climbers use brown or gray webbing for anchors to reduce the scenic damage caused by webbing left behind on climbs. Also, the use of "chalk balls", instead of loose chalk, is recommended to minimize the amount of chalk left on hand holds.


The visitor centers sell postcards and books of local interest, but otherwise there are no items for sale within the park. Nearby towns have grocery stores and can provide any needed supplies.


There is no food sold in the park. Water is available at visitor centers. Nearby towns have restaurants, bars, and grocery stores.



There is no lodging within the park. The closest lodging is the Inn at Pinnacles (, located four miles from West Pinnacles. Rates start at $200 per night, and it is only open on weekends (typically Friday through Sunday).


Camping is allowed at Pinnacles Campground, which, as of April 2006, is part of Pinnacles National Monument. The campground is located just outside of East Pinnacles on California Route 146, and is operated by a concessioner for the National Park Service. This campground offers camping for $10 per person per night, with a maximum charge of $35 per site per night. RV sites are available for $15 per person per night, with a maximum charge of $40 per site per night. A charge of $5 per extra vehicle may also be assessed.


Overnight camping is not allowed in the backcountry of Pinnacles National Monument, although the east side of the park is now open 24 hours a day for hiking.

Stay safe

The park is a relatively safe place, but there are a few issues to be aware of. For one, when hiking through Balconies Cave or Bear Gulch Cave, bring a flashlight; a headlamp is recommended to leave one's hands free. The caves are dark, footing is uneven, the rock may be slippery, and ceilings can be low. Avoid unnecessary noise in the cave which can be disturbing to wildlife and visitors.

During the summer and early fall temperatures may exceed 100°F, making sun protection and adequate water absolute necessities. Drinking water is only available in the developed areas -- there is no water available on any of the trails. In addition, hikers should wear proper footwear to avoid slipping or twisting an ankle.

Rock climbers should remain alert for rocks that may become dislodged or equipment that may be dropped onto unwary hikers below. Existing protection hardware is not maintained by the park and should be tested before using. Clean-climbing practices means removing slings, etc. after use. Be aware of advisories concerning cliff-nesting birds.

Dangers from the local flora and fauna are limited. Poison oak can cause a nasty rash; wetter areas may have thick stands of this shrub, while hotter, drier areas tend to be devoid of this noxious native species. Stay on trails to avoid encounters with this plant, and learn to recognize it ("Leaves of three, let it be"). Stinging nettle is another annoyance. Touching the plant will cause a burning sensation with all leaf hairs sticking to the skin. Watch for this tall plant in moist areas such as cave entrances and along stream edges. The only poisonous snake in the park is the Pacific rattlesnake; keep to trails, avoid heavy brush, and watch where hands and feet are placed in rocky terrain to avoid this snake. Rattlesnake bites require prompt first aid, so keep an eye and ear out for these animals. The last rattlesnake bite was in 1995, and the animal is protected in the park.

This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!


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