The Pinnacles Volcanic Formation developed some 23 million years ago. But it wasn’t until January of 2013 that this area was designated as a national park, making it the youngest one in the state of California. Pinnacles National Park gets its name from towering, domed rock structures that seem to bulge out of the earth. Located east of the Salinas Valley, it’s the perfect place to enjoy natural wonder that still feels a bit off the beaten path.
Pitch a tent at Pinnacles Campground
Peaceful, year-round camping can be found on the east side. (The park has east and west entrances that are not connected.) Reserve your spot and bring gear, or park your camper—RV sites are available. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire ring, and many are surrounded by oak trees, providing shade and privacy. Fall asleep under the stars and wake up to the sound of birds chirping and deer drinking from the waterway nearby.
Rock climb a towering spire on the west side
Chalk up, clip in, and climb on at one of the west side’s many routes. At this end of the park, the rocks are higher, the routes are more challenging and the soft volcanic breccia is more flexible than typical granite—making it a better option for advanced climbers. Beginners can book a trip with a group like Adventure Out, which offers weekend adventures for all levels.
Bird-watch close to 200 different species
California condors are the park’s signature bird. With a nine-foot wingspan and a completely bald head, the impressive creatures are difficult to miss. Bring your binoculars and stay on the lookout for these prehistoric-looking scavengers as well as nearly 200 other distinct species, including turkey vultures, hawks, golden eagles, and peregrine falcons.
Explore Bear Gulch Cave Trail
Get your Raiders of the Lost Ark on with this accessible-but-adventurous 1.5-mile hike. You’ll feel like Indiana Jones as you walk through the trail’s two separate caves. Insider tip: Take a flashlight to navigate the rocky, lightless paths.
Hike Moses Spring Trail
This mile-around, out-and-back hike takes visitors up 377 feet of elevation gain to Bear Gulch Reservoir. Sky-high volcanic structures line the trail, which includes some easy-to-navigate caves. The forgiving terrain and short distance make this a great choice for kids.