A Day Trip to Pinnacles National Park

by Mar 16, 2020Adventures, National Parks, Travel0 comments

Good Adventures Require Early Mornings

Sometimes great adventures require some sacrifice. When we are traveling, I enjoy being able to relax and sleep in and not have to worry about getting up and getting ready for work. However, sometimes those plans have to go, and a morning before the birds are even up is required.

When we visited the Pinnacles National Park, we stayed the previous night in Hollister Hills OHV California State Park about 30 minutes north of the park. We had called to get a site in the park, but it was full. The state park was an excellent alternative. I would recommend staying in the state park before staying at the national park because of the cost as well as having showers. We were warned that the state park could get noisy because of the OHVs, but we didn’t experience that.

Breaking camp at the early hours is easier to do when it is a little warm out. Often spring mornings can be brisk and undesirable to leave a warm sleeping bag and cozy sleeping partner. Thankfully, it was not cold when we arose.

Our drive into the park was pleasant. As we parked, the day was just beginning to dawn. Our goal was to get the golden hour post sunrise up at the reservoir. To accomplish this would require almost a mile of hiking in through some caves to get there. We packed up and made a swift journey along the trail.

Hiking Through Pinnacles National Park

This first section of the trail winds through rock tunnels and then climbs through the Bear Gulch Caves. These are not dangerous caves, but there are some rock steps and pretty cool caverns to wind through as you make your way along the trail. It added a lot to our journey.

Our goal for the day was to get some photos at the reservoir and then make a larger loop around the park with time to still drive into Death Valley before dark. Yes, sometimes our days are too packed and seemingly unrealistic. At least the days leading up to this stretch of our journey were more relaxing.

Seeing a lot in a short amount of time is often the game of our travel experiences. This type of travel is great for seeing a lot, but not always suitable for experiencing a lot. Tight timelines impede our ability to get to know a place and experience.

Today, we were able to gain some experience in the Pinnacles while still keeping our stay short. The park is small, and there is a lot that we could see in a small amount of time.

Bear Gulch Reservoir

The rocks around the reservoir were gorgeous. Unfortunately, it was a bit windy, and I didn’t get the reflection picture that I wanted to get of the monolith reflecting in the reservoir. We even waiting around for at least thirty minutes to see if it would change. Below is the image that we did get. Pretty, but not the reflective gem I was looking for. Since we had no luck we continued with our journey into the park.

From the reservoir, we headed our way up to the peaks areas. For the first few hours of the morning, we were all alone. We enjoyed the songs of birds, the smell of the outdoors, the open vistas, and the sound of the breeze with no other travelers. Our first other human encounters came a few miles in when we approached the saddle that connected the east area of the park to the west.

Pinnacles National Park has two separate entrances divided by the ridgeline of the Pinnacles’ High Peaks. Each of these parking areas is a couple of hours away by car. But only a few miles through the backcountry.

California Condors

We continued up to the upper area of the peaks. Shortly before the top, we witnessed our first California Condor perched on a rock. We passed some hikers that mentioned that they had seen a few others perched as well. One of the key reasons to visit the Pinnacles is to be able to witness the Condors.

Towards the end of our hike, we came across a volunteer that was tracking Condors with a radio antenna. He taught us a lot about the differences of Condors from Turkey Vultures. Also, he explained to us that they were once nearly extinct and were then brought into captivity to increase the population and later released back in the wild. They are able to track all Condors from the time that they hatch. There are only two real places where Condors are seen in the wild; here in Pinnacles and the Big Sur area.

At the top of the peaks, after climbing some rock steps, we witnessed these magnificent birds flying all around us. There were at least eight birds, if not more. Two of them were flying very aggressively. They even flew within twenty feet of our heads, and we could hear their rushing sound as they soared and cut through the air. It was a marvelous and intense feeling to experience their mighty flight.

Concluding Our Journey

We finished up our hike down off of the High Peaks and through Condor Gulch. Unfortunately, there was not the time to take the trail over to the Balconies area, but being able to witness the Condors certainly made up for anything else that we could have done.

We experienced the Condors, the caves, the reservoir, the High Peaks, and beautiful gulch canyons. The rock formations that make up the area throughout the park were lovely. I can see why climbers enjoy coming here.

We were lucky to be able to find as much solitude as we did on a Saturday in these central Californian national park. I highly recommend a visit to Pinnacles National Park next time you are somewhere around Bakersfield, California. Or, better yet, plan a trip specifically to this park, and I don’t think that you will be disappointed.

Trip Photos

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