Pinnacles National Park – West Entrance
Pinnacles National Park is one of those rare parks where you can’t drive from one end to the other. Unfortunately, the park is divided by the pinnacles its named after. The view of the pinnacles is less impeded from the west parking lot. If you want to see this spectacular vista, I have to warn you. Parking is very limited and the road is a little sketchy, a single lane road shared by both directions of traffic with blind turns. If you get there early and you can stomach the drive, you’ll definitely be rewarded.
There are several trails that start or connect to the west side parking lot but the one I was most interested in was the Juniper Canyon Trail to the Tunnel Trail and back up to the top of the pinnacles again. I wanted to see these massive structures from the opposite side. I, also, had another reason for doing this trail and that was in the hopes of seeing the elusive California Condors.
Juniper Canyon Trail is relatively flat at the start and then it earns it’s ranking as a hard hike. Unlike the gradual incline of the eastside, The trail is steep here and the trail quickly rises with short switchbacks.
There are multiple places you can stop and admire the canyon below as you catch your breath. Also, scan the tops of the pinnacles and scan for the condors. I made my way to the trail intersection where I took the Tunnel Trail and more switchbacks. The long tunnel wasn’t far and as I cleared it I could see the tops of the pinnacles more clearly. This trail would meet The high peaks trail at the top and as I was getting closure to it I could see the tops of the lower elevated pinnacles.
As I made a turn around one of the many switchbacks, I noticed three people looking in the direction of the valley. I stopped and one of the women directed my attention to the top of a near by pinnacle. I turned to see what she was so excited about and there they were, two California Condors appearing to be sun bathing. They were just laying on there belly without a care in the world. They eventually got annoyed of our presence and walked to the opposite side of the rock and away from my view. I must have stayed there for about 40 minutes, as I ate some snack, and the birds did eventually walk back into view. They eventually had enough of me and flew away. If the woman didn’t stop me, I would have totally missed them.
It was time for me to make my way down to the valley and press on to another portion of the park. Most people continue on to High Peaks Trail and then reconnect with Juniper Canyon Trail to make the descent back down to the valley. I had already done this portion the day before so I went back down, retracing my steps and saving some time to take another trail.
I took a quick brake in my car before getting back on the trail again. This time, I made a left on the trail. I took the Balconies Trail to the Balconies Cliffs. Normally, hikers form a lasso shaped trail by taking the Balconies Cave Trail to the Balconies Cliffs Trail but the cave was closed due to Covid. So, I made my way up to the cliffs. After hiking the pinnacles from both sides, the incline of the cliffs was liking walking just one flight of stairs. The views here are different from the other trails as you lose the of sight the pinnacles but it’s just as spectacular.
I found a spot I could just sit and enjoy the view as I listened to the wind blowing through the valley. I could have stayed here all day. Like they say, nothing lasts forever and it was time to hike back to the trailhead and the parking lot.
I made it back to my car and it was time to drive up that one lane road I was so afraid off. I drove slowly as I new there would be more traffic in the afternoon with late arriving hikers making there way to the trails. I encountered a couple of cars and had to drive on the edge of the road so two vehicles could fit on this narrow road as my car brushed up against the leaves and limbs of a tree. That wasn’t even the scariest moment. That came when I was close to the visitors center as a vehicle sped down the hill and I had to stop with my right side tires off the road as he so impolitely sped down without a care.
Pinnacles National Park is newly minted as it became a national park in 2013. It needs to add to its facilities, definitely add more parking and widen that west entrance road, to be at par with the other national parks. It’s an amazing little park and definitely worth a visit. Witnessing the endangered California Condors also made the time and effort I put forth worth it. If your looking to visit both sides of the park, I would suggest staying in King City which is about the same distance from both entrances. If you want to camp during your stay then you would have to do it on the eastside.
The park is only a four-and-a-half hour drive from my Southern California home so I’ll definitely be hiking these trails again.