Pinnacles National Park: Much More Than Just Condors

Pinnacles National Park offers a fascinating blend of rich wildlife and complex geology, presented on a background of spectacular scenery featuring 22 million year old volcanic formations. We had hiked there before and car camped but this was our first visit with the trailer. Pinnacles campground has many RV sites, with and without hookups (Campground map). We chose to dry camp because the non-hookup sites offer generally more privacy due to the greater levels of vegetation and more space between the sites.

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We were in site 42, and were able to position the trailer so that we could use the outdoor shower, which is on the port side, in complete privacy.

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We chose to start our hike on the little-used North Wilderness Trail. It’s not shown on most park trail maps, so use this map. Start at the Old Pinnacles Trailhead parking area and take the Balconies trail along the West Fork of Chalone Creek. In less than a mile there will be a sign indicating the start of the North Wilderness Trail, which meanders back and forth across a tributary creek. If you’re there in winter or early spring, be prepared for water crossings!

The North Wilderness Trail is 7 miles long, and will take you to the Chaparral Trailhead parking area at the west entrance of the park. In springtime you can enjoy beautiful wildflower vistas.

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Had an unexpected wildlife sighting on the trail; a Blainville’s Horned Lizard (I think, there are multiple species) on the edge of the trail. We had never seen one before in the wild. They are not rare, but they tend to stay in the shrubs and are very well camouflaged!

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From the Chaparral Trailhead you can take the well-used Juniper Trail up to the High Peaks area, a short steep climb which can also be enlivened in springtime by spectacular wildflower displays.

The views from the High Peaks Trail are always worth the effort!

While up there we saw a sight we had never seen before; a condor roosting in a tree just 30 ft above our heads. We’ve seen them soaring almost that close, but never roosting.

On the way back to the Old Pinnacles Trail going downhill on the High Peaks Trail, there were more wildflowers to enjoy.

That trail route comes out to about 13 miles and 2,300 ft of elevation gain, a very nice day in springtime temperatures. Be aware that in May it can be in the 80’s, and in the summer much hotter. Our favorite time is early spring. The campground is very popular, so book your site months ahead!

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