Pinnacles National Park – East Entrance
There are some travelers and hikers who set out to visit and/or hike every national park in America. We’re lucky, our country is blessed with so many beautiful national parks. Even foreigners make there way to some of these parks. There are some parks that are less visited than others, difficult location or just lack of publicity can be the cause of that. While I was planning a future road trip along the California coast I came across one of those obscure national parks that I had never heard of before. Pinnacles National Park is east of Monterrey and a beautiful place to hike, I discovered during my research. It just recently became a national park in 2013 and fairly small in comparison to the other national parks. It’s home to many of the endangered California Condors that love to nest in the high peaks that the park is named after. I was sold, the park would be my next destination. I took a three day weekend to visit the park which is only four and half hour drive from my home. The park is a little peculiar, the west entrance and the east entrance isn’t connected. It’s divided by the same pinnacles the park is named after. I definitely wanted to hike both sides of the park so I got a room at King City, Californian, centrally located approximately half way between the two entrances.
The first day I visited the more popular east entrance which has more trailheads than the west and has campgrounds. But, before I even got to the park I was definitely taken with the rural drive through the farm lands consisting of beautiful rolling hills. It’s Spring and the fields were still green and vibrant. This park is small and has limited parking. I’ve heard that they have to sometimes close the park by 9 a.m. during the weekends due to overcrowding. And, if you want to park near the more popular trailheads, then you better get there early. It was a weekday so I didn’t worry too much.
I got to the parking lot in front of Condor Gulch Trail by 9:30 a.m. and there were three or four spots still available so I was happy. My first hike would be the Condor Gulch Trail to High Peaks Trail creating a loop. It’s a very popular hike with some of the people just hiking up to the Condor Overlook. The trail is rated “hard” and is fairly steep which discourages some of the more casual hikers so the trail will get less congested after the overlook.
At this point, I would consider this portion a moderate hike, even with the incline. And, I thought to myself “It’s not that difficult”. Then, I made the left turn on to the High Peaks portion of the loop and the trail kept rising. Until, I noticed that the trail was getting congested. People were securing their backpacks and getting into a single file, all while social distancing of course.
The trail had gone vertical. People were going up the cliff one at a time, up the rock that had been chiseled with steps for hikers to climb. Thankfully, there is a metal railing on one side you can secure yourself to it as you ascend. I was lucky, I didn’t have to dodge any one coming down the opposite direction.
Some will do this loop from the opposite direction, starting at the High Peaks Trail first. It’s a great view of the east side of the park from here and a great opportunity to catch your breath when you reach the top. It’s, of course, all down hill from here. The trail will intersect with multiple other trails so make sure you continue on High Peaks Trail. Take this until you get to a small parking lot. Since I was parked in front of Condor Gulch Trail, I had to walk another five minutes to complete my loop and have lunch.
With lunch completed, it was time to hike my next trail. I wanted to see the Bear Gulch Reservoir. Normally, I would have taken the Bear Gulch Cave Trail but it was closed due to Covid. I had to hike back to the High Peaks trailhead, a central point for multiple trails, and take the Moses Spring Trail up to the reservoir. Again, it’s elevated but a short trail about approximately 1.2 miles round trip.
You’ll pass a small cave and ascend a set of rocky steps right before you get up to the reservoir. It can get crowed since this hike is popular with families. I took the short trail to the left just to get away from the crowd.
I found a rock along the water, far enough to dampen the noise of the crowd. It’s a pristine location and I wish they would create a trail around the whole reservoir. If you want, you can create a loop if you take the Rim Trail on your way back.
Definitely get to the park early, by the time I had lunch, the two Bear Gulch parking areas were already full and people had to hike more than a mile just to get the the trailheads. I had read that on weekends people had to park at the visitor center and hike an extra three miles each way just to get to the trailheads. There are trams from the visitor center but aren’t in service due to Covid. The talus caves, formed by fallen boulders, also remain closed due to the pandemic. Something I can look forward to on my next visit.