Pinnacles of Spring

Hike the High Peaks Trail at Pinnacles National Park

Why drive 80 miles south from San Jose to Pinnacles National Park? Because the wildflowers are in overdrive during spring. Also, for a bunch of other reasons. The park is a place to possibly spy the magnificent—and endangered—California condor soaring while you gain soaring views from the High Peaks Trail on this 5.75-mile loop hike.

The hike is challenging and includes a side trip to the scenic Bear Gulch Reservoir. Start at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area, heading west towards the High Peaks Loop. Join the Moses Spring Trail and in a half mile, follow signs for a detour around the Bear Gulch Caves towards Bear Gulch Reservoir. New green leaves of California buckeye and live oak grow along a trickling creek, mixed with lichen-covered boulders. Following signs for the reservoir, pass through a short section of the talus caves and then climb a narrow staircase. Pinnacles’ signature rock formations surround the serene Bear Gulch Reservoir, with spots along the shore to take a break. When ready, pick up the Rim Trail from the reservoir’s edge. In 0.4 mile, turn left onto the High Peaks Trail, weaving through chaparral hillsides with sticky monkeyflower, big berry manzanita, bush poppy, pines, and buck brush.

man standing at finger like rock formation in Pinnacles National Park

At the 2.8-mile mark, reach the steep and narrow section of the High Peaks Trail, aka the fun and squirrely section! Hand railings provide stability through passageways beside huge, rounded pinnacles. Ledges overlook the park’s spires and valleys as well as the former fire lookout on North Chalone Peak. If you’re lucky, you may see California condors, with white flashes under their wings.

Turn right onto the Condor Gulch Trail at 4.0 miles, descending back to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area. Among the grasslands, spot woolly Indian paintbrush, shooting star, chia, silver lupine, and granary trees riddled with holes from acorn woodpeckers. 

This hike begins from the east entrance to Pinnacles National Park. From San Jose, take US-101 south to exit 353 for CA-25 towards Hollister. Drive 41 miles south on Hwy. 25 and then turn right onto CA-146 west. Drive 3.8 miles and then bear left towards Bear Gulch. The Bear Gulch Day Use Area will be on your left in 1.2 miles. There is limited parking; plan to arrive by 8:30 a.m. to get a spot. Swimming is not advised in Bear Gulch Reservoir for health reasons and habitat protection. No dogs.

{Covid-19 Update, April 2021} Entry fees are currently waived at Pinnacles National Park; please check the park website before you go. Caves are currently closed.

Story and photos by Melissa Ozbek, @melissaozbek

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