Pinnacles of Spring

Hike the High Peaks Trail at Pinnacles National Park

Hiker overlooking Bear Gulch Reservoir at Pinnacles National Park near Monterey

{APRIL 2024 UPDATE: Due to recent storms, before going to the park, please check ahead for weather forecasts, along with trail status and conditions; trails can be muddy and have debris or unexpected hazards; exercise good judgement and caution.}

Pinnacles National 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.

Hiker at Bear Gulch Cave and High Peaks Trail at Pinnacles National Park

Hiker on the High Peaks Trail at Pinnacles National Park near Monterey

Person hiking a scenic trail overlooking the mountain scenery at Pinnacles National Park

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 towards Bear Gulch Reservoir. 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 that in spring can feature 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.

Person hiking near Bear Gulch Cave in Pinnacles National Park near Monterey

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. 

NOTE: Pinnacles National Park is very popular in spring. Arrive early! 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 8:00 a.m. to get a spot. Swimming is not advised in Bear Gulch Reservoir for health reasons and habitat protection. Use a map. No dogs.

Story and photos by Melissa Ozbek, @melissaozbek

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