Pinnacles National Park is one of the newest and most underrated (and best) national parks in the United States. It’s known for its diverse wildlife, variety of spring wildflowers, and miles of trails.
Pinnacles National Park is truly a must-visit for tourists looking for the perfect spring getaway to escape the freezing winter weather! The park is smaller than most other parks in California, so you might think there’s not much to it.
But you’ll find stunning geological formations, like its many talus caves, make it well worth a visit! The caves offer plenty of exploration and breathtaking views you won’t find anywhere else in California.
Although the park has the most pleasant weather year-round, knowing the best time to visit Pinnacles National Park is critical. Here’s a guide to help you plan a camping or day trip.
Why You Should Visit Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park was only assigned a full national park status in 2013. Previously, the area was a national monument until President Obama signed a bill to convert it into a national park.
Pinnacles Nation Park stands out due to its unique geological formations characterized by rocky caves and pointy peaks. These unique formations are the result of an ancient volcanic area that erupted 23 million years ago.
Initially, the volcanic area was located 200 miles southeast of the park until the Pacific plate shifted northwards. The shift caused the area to break away, carrying two thirds of it to Pinnacles’ current location.
Rain, wind, and glacier erosion revealed the formations over the years, leaving the park’s unique landscape of canyons and rocky monoliths behind.
The park has two talus caves that formed after earthquakes caused large boulders to get lodged between rock walls. The caves are home to species like the Townsend big-eared bat and have an incredible network of passages worth exploring.
Another highlight of Pinnacles National Park is the variety of endangered animals here. It’s home to the rare red-legged frog and the California condor, one of the largest birds in North America.
There are also more than 400 bee species in the park, and it’s no wonder – this place is full of beautiful wildflowers. You’ll also see different wildlife species, including bobcats, black-tailed deer, raccoons, chipmunks, rabbits, foxes, and squirrels.
Pinnacles National Park is also incredibly easy it is to traverse. With only 26,600 acres, you can see all its main attractions in a day or two. Take that, Yosemite!
The best way to explore its beautiful features is to go for a hike. Use either of the two entrances (east or west) – both sides have breathtaking scenery and an incredible network of trails. If you want to go camping or hiking, use the east entrance.
Begin your journey at the Old Pinnacles Trail, which stretches five miles to the Balconies Cave. Since the route is relatively easy, it’s possible to cover the entire length quickly.
Be sure to take the Balconies Cave and Cliffs Trail, too, which is surrounded by caves. You can take the Condor Gulch trail for a clearer view of the park’s landscape. A few minutes into the hike and the high peaks start to come into view!
The popular Moses Spring-Rim Trail loop provides another route to explore the park. The 2.2-mile loop leads you to Bear Gulch Cave, one of those cool talus caves.
It’s also the park’s main attraction but remains closed between mid-May and mid-July to protect young bats. However, the entire park is open for a week in late October and late March, and the lower half of the cave is available most of the year.
The cave isn’t challenging to maneuver, but it needs some scrambling over rocks and climbing many stairs in the dark. You can bring the kids along, but you must guide them through the narrow paths.
Towards the exit is a long flight of stairs carved into a rock leading you to the park’s best views. From here, you get to access the amazing rocky monoliths.
A trip here isn’t complete without visiting the wineries outside the park. There are two wineries near the west entrance of Pinnacles National Park that may be worth checking out when you go!
Overall Best Time to Visit Pinnacles National Park
The best time to visit Pinnacles National Park is mid-February to early June. This period has excellent weather and fewer crowds for maximum enjoyment!
Pinnacles National Park is so nice during mid February through early June. These periods are the sweet spot where you get fewer crowds, great weather, and amazing views!
Temperatures range from 60F to 65F in February and March, so it’s nice and mild. Snow won’t be a concern at this time of year, making it easy to enjoy outdoor activities like bird-watching and hiking.
Towards the spring months (April-June), the temperatures rise to 78F, with June experiencing highs of 80F. Tourists visiting in late June have a chance to participate in the Steinbeck Festival, a three-day celebration of the life and accomplishments of John Steinbeck.
Cheapest Time to Visit Pinnacles National Park
The cheapest time to visit Pinnacles National Park is during the summer season from June to August.
You won’t get discounted rates on your entrance, but you’ll find that accommodations may be cheaper at this time of year. You have the hot temperatures to thank for that!
The high temperature levels in summer deter tourists from visiting the park. Highs can reach dangerous levels that make hiking and sightseeing a bit more uncomfortable. If that won’t deter you, it may be a cheaper time to go.
You may find that flight costs are lower, accommodations and camping is cheaper, and you can explore many areas without the large crowds experienced during spring.
Least Busy Time to Visit Pinnacles National Park
The least busy time to visit Pinnacles National Park is in the summer months – July, August, and September.
Summer is actually the off-season for the park as the temperatures discourage many tourists from visiting the park. It gets really hot (into the 90s) and sunny at this time of year!
The crowds are smaller than in the previous winter and spring seasons, so you can access many areas without standing in line or waiting for your turn to take shots of incredible views.
If you do visit during this period, carry lots of sunscreen and drink water to stay hydrated. There isn’t much shade along the paths and it’s easy to overheat in this weather.
If you find yourself visiting in July, you may find the California Rodeo Salinas feast in session. The four-day event showcases concerts, parades, and different rodeo events and is the largest rodeo in California.
Worst Time to Visit Pinnacles National Park
The worst time to visit Pinnacles National Park is from October to December. The weather gets chilly and the park will be crowded.
October to December are actually really popular periods for Pinnacles visitors, but that’s one of the reasons it’s not a prime time to go. Crowds mean your views won’t be as spectacular and the trails will be packed.
The temperatures fall to highs of 60F- 78F at this time of year, providing the perfect escape from the freezing winter weather. While that’s a treat compared to the hot summer days, it’s also the main draw for thousands of other visitors.
If you must go in fall or winter, it’s a great time to attend the Salinas Air Show. This is a celebration of the industry’s aviation excellence for the last 40 years. It’s a full day of entertainment characterized by numerous educational exhibits.
Things to Consider
If you really want to make the most of your trip to this stunning park, you need some guidance. Here are some helpful tips to help you plan and enjoy a visit to Pinnacles National Park to the fullest!
- There’s an entrance fee. Private vehicle owners are required to pay $30 the first time they visit the park, which is valid for seven days. Motorcyclists, hikers, and bikers pay $25 and $15 for 7-day entrance, respectively.
- Bring an insect repellent. Carry and spray an insect repellent on your skin. This especially applies if you’re visiting the redwoods, which are known breeding grounds for mosquitoes. You’ll be glad you came prepared!
- Carry a flashlight. Flashlights come in handy when exploring caves and other dark passages. It’s a great tool to have on-hand for emergencies, too.
- Bring lots of water. If you’re planning to go hiking, carry plenty of water. This is extremely important in the sunny, hot summer months! Most of the trails don’t have shade, and once you’re up in the rocks, it gets 10 degrees hotter. Water will keep you hydrated and help prevent overheating on the trail.
- Climbing is best left to the experts. Most of the rocks in the park are made from weak volcanic tuff and breccia. This makes them a little fragile for climbing if you’re a novice. If you’re skilled and decide to go climbing here, be alert and don’t take chances.
- Watch out for rattlesnakes. If you’ll be hiking in the evening or late afternoons, you should watch out for rattlesnakes. The snakes emerge from their hiding places to soak in the warmth of the sun. Listen carefully for the rattle sound and be alert as you hike through rocky areas!
- Ask about the best activities. Be sure to stop at the Visitor Center when you arrive! You can ask about the best trails, hikes, and activities for your age and fitness level. You’ll also get the best seasonal advice for the time of year you’re there.
- Avoid bringing your dog. It might sound like a great idea to bring Fido, but this isn’t the place to bring your furry best friend. Dogs are only allowed in areas where cars can go, not the trails in Pinnacles National Park.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still got some questions you need answers to before you head to Pinnacles? Here are the most commonly asked questions about visiting Pinnacles National Park. Review them to see if you find your answer!
Which is the best side to visit in Pinnacles National Park?
The park's west side is the best if you don't want to walk on uneven terrains. It also provides a better view of the peaks from the Chaparral Trail parking area.
How many days do I need to explore Pinnacles National Park?
A two-day trip is enough to explore the park. You have ample time to hike the east and west sides of the parks, explore the cave, and rock climb. A day's trip only gives you a general feel of the scenery.
Which Pinnacles National Park entrance is better?
Both entrances have their pros and cons. While the east entrance leads you to the campground, it has more trails than the west entrance.
The west entrance is also less crowded and closer to the Monterey Bay area.
What's the fastest way to get to Pinnacles National Park?
The fastest way to get to the national park is by flying to Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport. Upon arrival, rent a car and drive to the park.
What's the cheapest way to get to Pinnacles National Park?
If you're traveling on a budget, renting a car in San Francisco and driving to Pinnacles National Park is best.
This route is a little bit longer (two hours) but renting a car in San Francisco is cheaper than in San Jose.
Do you need to make reservations when entering the park?
No, visitors don't need to make reservations to enter the park. You will need to make reservations for camping in advance.
You can also pay your entry fee ahead of time online if desired!
Are the Pinnacles National Park trails kid-friendly?
Most trails at the park are steep and hilly but still kid-friendly. They're also pretty short, allowing you and the kids to take one long day's trip.
Can you drive through the park?
It's not possible to drive through the park and get the awesome views. Try to determine the best entrance (east or west) to use according to the views you want to hike to see.
So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Pinnacles National Park?
The overall best time to visit Pinnacles National Park is the late winter/early spring (mid-February) through early summer (mid-June). The weather is perfect for outdoor activities like hiking, and the beautiful blooms of wildflowers create breathtaking scenery you don’t want to miss.
The cheapest time to visit Pinnacles National Park is June through August. The least busy time to visit is also the summer months, extending into September.
It gets pretty hot and sunny during the summertime, but great deals can be nabbed and trails will be less crowded.
The fall season from October to December is usually the worst time to visit, but not because the weather’s bad. It’s the busiest season for the park and prices for accommodations and flights may be much higher during this period.
If you’re looking for amazing views, a national park you can explore fully within a day or two, and the chance to make memories along winding, rocky trails, Pinnacles will thrill you at any time of year.