California’s PINNACLES NATIONAL PARK has been designated as a National Recreation Area by the National Park Service. In this bizarre little world of pointed peaks, rocky caverns, and flying condors, California’s youngest and smallest national park is located in an area that few people visit. Although recent years have seen a significant increase in tourist numbers.
Is this the direction in which we all should be heading?
In the wide, lonely, overlooked center of California, where farms, ranches, and vineyards sweep the valleys and hills, where tumbleweeds scamper and scraggly old oaks stand near crumbling barns, these lava remnants rise to become seen. Pinnacles National Park is a literal instance of needles amid haystacks as a result of this.
However, this park is not designed to accommodate large groups of people. Anyone contemplating a visit to this park should also be aware of the realities of driving, parking, and camping in the park itself.
Pinnacles is located about 280 miles north of Los Angeles on Highway 101, halfway between Paso Robles and San Jose, on the eastern side of the Salinas Valley, just behind the town of Soledad, which is most known for its small mission and massive jail.
The majority of the park’s visitors come from the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2019, there were around 177,000 overall visits, and in 2021, which was the busiest year in a decade, there were approximately 348,000.
How far from LA?
What is the size of the PINNACLES NATIONAL PARK?
The park, which is about five hours’ drive from Los Angeles and is almost the same size as Simi Valley at 41.5 square miles. To get to the Gabilan mountains, you’ll have to drive through verdant rolling hills and into the mountains on a narrow, two-lane route (in some spots, one lane) whether you’re going east or west (more on that in a minute).
These are not very tall mountains — the highest point is around 3,300 feet — but they are quite steep. And their past – volcanic and seismic — has fashioned them in the same way that needles, mushrooms, bowling pins, and other objects have been shaped.
Millennia of falling boulders have stuck in tiny valleys among these peaks, forming subterranean caverns known as talus caves as a result of the erosion.
Is it possible for me to enter these caves?
Certainly, as long as you keep out of the path of the bats. Visitors can make their way through the Balconies Cave on the west side of the park and the Bear Gulch Cave on the east side of the park with flashlights, thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps trailblazers who crawled into these caves during the Great Depression and began carving and stacking steps.
When the bat population is hibernating in the autumn, winter, and spring, most caves are normally exposed during these times. In Bear Gulch Cave, you should expect to struggle over boulders, squeeze through a few small spaces, and even crawl a little on your knees at several points in the cave. The use of a light is recommended by the rangers so that you can keep your hands free. Walking sticks are also useful in this situation.
It is possible to hear water trickling through and see patches of light pouring through from above as you go. This is a subtle reminder that massive stones are trapped above your head. I was hoping to hear the sound of bats snoring to fill off the experience. Unfortunately, there was no luck. However, there is no stench of bats.