PDF format maps of Pinnacles National Park, from the National Park Service:
(624 kb); detail map - High Peaks
The towns nearest to Pinnacles National Park are all small places on the west side, along US 101: Gonzales, Soledad, Greenfield, King City, and none offers many facilities.
Away from the highway, the roads pass through quiet farmland, occupying valleys between low, rounded hills, all covered by short, brownish grass and with only scattered trees, houses and livestock to interrupt the empty, rolling landscape. The national park has two entrances; road 146 approaches from both west and east but does not cross the mountains, so there is no through route. The distance by car from one side to the other is 56 miles and the drive takes around 2 hours, since the roads are narrow and winding in places. A hike between the two entrances also takes around 2 hours and passes through the best scenery, found in the mountains occupying the middle of the park - known as the High Peaks, or the Pinnacle Rocks. The east side approach road, along Bear Gulch
, is the most used as this passes the majority of the facilities; the west entrance (Chaparral
) has just a ranger station plus parking, and is reached by a narrow, 12 mile road from Soledad. In some places this reduces to a single carriageway, and the route is not recommended for RVs or other large vehicles. From roads end, 3 trails depart to the north, west and east; the most popular routes are the Juniper Canyon Trail to the High Peaks, and the Balconies Trail which leads to volcanic rocks and a talus cave.
The eastern access road (CA 146) branches off CA 25, 30 miles south of Hollister, and leads up a wide, partly wooded valley alongside Bear Creek, past a privately operated campground that offers drinking water, hot showers and even a swimming pool. Deer are often spotted walking over the site, and the place is clean & pleasant. The mountains are visible to the west though they seem unremarkable from a distance as the volcanic formations are hidden behind more conventional rocks. The road bends around a side canyon and ends next to the visitor center, just as the main valley (Bear Gulch) starts to become relatively narrow. The center has exhibits, a small selection of books for sale, a public telephone, and flashlights for use in the caves. The surrounding vegetation is typical of the chaparral zone, mostly small oak trees and bushes, reflecting the low elevation, moderate rainfall and long hot summers of this part of California. In spring though, the area bears many species of wildflowers, and this is the time that most people visit. The main hiking area is to the west, further along the canyon - within 2 miles are Bear Gulch Cave, Bear Gulch Reservoir, and many rock climbing sites, while 2 miles further are the extensive formations of the High Peaks
. See the hiking index
for more details of the various trails.