Pinnacles becomes a national park

February 26, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
If you're looking for spectacular scenery close to home, America's newest national park is nearby. The Pinnacles National Park is just three hours west of Fresno.

Pinnacles has been known as national monument for more than 100 years. Only now, it's expected to become a more popular destination.

The only thing that changes is the name. Pinnacles remains an amazing place to visit, but by elevating it from a national monument, to a national park, it's going to become a bigger destination. And a lot more visitors are expected to explore this rugged natural wonder, located in San Benito County just east of Monterey.

The name Pinnacles comes from the towering rock spires created by an ancient volcano. Formations like Condor Gulch, Machete Ridge and the Balconies Cliffs make for breathtaking views.

More than 30 miles of trails let hikers like Caroline Rose and Sue Gattuso of Santa Cruz get close to the scenery.

Rose said, "The trail is right through the valley where there is sheer cliffs on both sides just very very pretty."

Beneath those majestic rock formations there are plenty of caves you can explore, if you don't mind doing a little crawling.

"We had a great time, we did the loop and I think it was about an hour and a half, we went through the caves first and that was quite a fun experience," said Rose. "Make sure you've got a flash light because there are some areas in there that are just pitch black."

Pinnacles was declared a national monument by President Teddy Roosevelt back in 1908. In January of this year, President Barack Obama made it a national park. Pinnacles covers more than 30,000 acres. Half of that is wilderness. It's home to a wide variety of wildlife including the California condor.

While there is a lot to offer visitors the parks out of the way location between the Central Coast and the Central Valley mean Pinnacles doesn't have the hustle and crowds of many national parks.

"It's one of the most peaceful parks I've been in in California," said Gattuso. "You can go up one of the trails, and stop for a minute it's just silent and quiet."

That's expected to change, a little.

"Going from Pinnacles National Monument to Pinnacles National Park is really going to introduce us to the world," said Park Ranger Nichole Andler. "More people will be looking for national parks to visit and so they will find Pinnacles."

But finding it is a bit of a challenge. There are two entrances to the park, on the west side it is accessed off of Highway 101, ten miles from Soledad. This takes you right to the spectacular rock views. The eastern entrance, from Highway 25 south of Hollister brings you to the campground, and trailheads. It's a scenic three to four mile hike to the west side. But if you don't hike you can't drive through the park, so getting from the one side of the park to the other requires you drive out and around, it takes about an hour. However you get to or through Pinnacles, those who come, say it's well worth it.

And from now until June, before the summer heat sets in is the best time to visit.

"Now that it's such a famous place we expect a lot of people to come here before the summer and I wanted to get here before the crowd," said Rose. "So it was a perfect day for that."

Pinnacles is a great day trip, but be aware it's a bit isolated. There's a small general store on the east side of the park, but it would be a good idea to pack or pick up your own food and supplies before you get there.


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