Another national park I had never been to; however, I also had no idea where the park is located! Pinnacles National Park is a small 26,000 acres of land with caves and rock formations east of Monterey, in central California. It is nestled between the U.S. 101 Highway and Interstate 5, thus many of us were unaware of this national park as we drove those major highways!
Pinnacles National Park actually has two entrances because you cannot drive through the park from one side to another. We started on the east side where the campground is located so we could stay in a tent cabin. During the day we hiked the Moses Spring Trail through the Bear Gulch Cave to Bear Gulch Reservoir. The squirrels at the reservoir, where we hoped to enjoy our lunch, were obnoxious. It was obvious others fed or left food around for these critters who then expected the same from the next hikers to the area.
There are more trails to hike on the east side of the park. This park has an interesting geology which explains the mountainous areas, the pinnacles, between both sides of the park. They are more beautiful to see on the west side. If camping on the east side at the park’s campground, you do need to drive to the west entrance about 1.5 hours away (or you could hike about 3 miles from one side of the park to the other). There are less trails on the west side; however, there is an interesting Balconies Cave trail to hike through. Sometimes the bat caves are closed mid-May to mid-July for the Townsend’s big-eared bats to raise their young.
These caves are talus caves. They are openings formed between boulders piled up on a mountain slope. Prepare: have a flashlight per person, another layer of clothing as the temperature does drop when deep in the cave, be aware there are some very narrow spaces to squeeze through. The trails are not long, but a light is absolutely needed and we discovered some people were unable to fit through the narrow spaces. We also discovered hiking poles can get in the way, so we did not use them the next day where we would hike through another cave trail.
A recommendation we received which we thought very good on the western side of this park: hike the Cliff Trail to the Balconies Cave Trail, a clockwise direction. We agree. This was an enjoyable way to approach the trails. Another thought: it gets cold at night! It was 25 degrees Fahrenheit in October, so plan accordingly if you are staying in the tent cabins. This park is open year-round. Yes, California condors are here! Look high on the mountains in early morning or just before dusk and don’t confuse them with turkey vultures also here. I did add a new bird to my list: yellow-billed magpie.
Finally, if you travel from one side of the park to another you’ll pass by the town of King City. Food recommendation … tamales, breakfast burrito, pupusas, empanadas, and bread pudding were all delicious at Castro’s Bakery and Deli. I can understand why this place is so busy … loved every meal eaten here.