Pinnacles National Park is a protected mountainous area located east of the Salinas Valley in Central California. It is about five miles east of Soledad and 80 miles southeast of San Jose.
The 26,000-acre park is home to 1,000-foot cliffs, high bluffs, irregular, 600-foot spires, huge boulders, and deep, stream-carved caves—a sudden, jarring intrusion into the gently rolling hills and smoothly shaped, chaparral-covered Gallivan Mountains. A combination of several factors created this geographical anomaly:
- The volcanic eruptions that occurred 23 million years ago
- The tectonic movements along the San Andreas Fault 195 miles to the south moved volcanic rock through the middle of the sedimentary mountain range and the additional layers of molten rock flowed up through the fault
- Several earthquakes carved or jarred loose huge boulders that tumbled down canyons and jammed up against other rocks to create deep caves, and
- Eons of erosion continue to shape the rocks and the landscape.
A steep ridge divides the park into two separate sections, one is accessible from the east and the other from the west.
Hiking in Pinnacles State Park
The park has more than 30 miles of trails from flat to uphill climbs through talus caves to rocky spires. If you plan to go into the caves, be sure to bring a flashlight.
We confined our visit to the western section where we hiked two short trails
Prewett Point Trail is a short, easy (other than in the day’s 90+ degree heat) one-mile hike to a view overlooking some of the park’s dramatic scenery.
Balconies Cliffs-Cave Trail is a 2.4-mile uphill climb to another viewpoint and down through two of the park’s talus caves that were formed by boulders falling into valleys, lodging into narrow gaps and further excavated by floods flowing through the narrow channels. Although the temperature and relentless sun kept us from making it to the top of the trail we did scramble into and contort our bodies through one of the caves. With the aid of a flashlight in hand, we were able to see in the darkness of the damp, bat-filled caves.
Not the full experience of this dramatic park, but enough to get a flavor of the dramatic landscape and to provide the incentive to return in cooler weather.